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How might COVID-19 hurt the money-making opportunity for high school athletic departments in Johnston County?
While no decision by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has been made on the fate of spring sports, athletic directors say the potential financial hit could be significant if sports teams do not return to the field.
While the abrupt end to spring sports is something no school has dealt with before, the athletic directors at Johnston County’s largest and two smallest high schools agreed — amidst all kinds of factors — they’d lose money, even if they aren’t sure just how much yet.
“Yes, it will definitely be a loss,” Princeton athletic director Travis Gaster wrote in a text message to the Johnstonian News Friday morning. “There is no way to know the exact figure for lost gate revenue, but it will be significant as our community does an outstanding job of supporting our athletic teams by showing up to games.”
No more games would mean no more money from the gate and concessions stands until the fall, which helps offset the cost of, for example, the upkeep of facilities, uniforms and paying officials for home games. Even taking into account fewer costs like gasing up buses for road games, a loss would be nearly unavoidable.
Speaking in broad terms, Corinth Holders athletic director Scotty Williams assessed the hit would likely produce a net negative for his school, which is to say a loss for the spring, but would not be a figure that couldn’t be made up in football season.
On a particularly good night at a spring baseball game, the school might earn $600 to $700 in revenue, while in the fall the revenue ceiling for a good football team could reach as high as $10,000 per game, Williams estimated.
“That’s a sizable chunk of your operating budget,” Williams said of football’s revenue. “Not just for basketball, but for a lot of other sports. Having it cost you football would have been a big deal.”
The loss of a full fall season would be much more threatening for a school with a football program, though that isn’t to say Corinth Holders wouldn’t miss the money from it’s baseball team, for example, which had the potential of a deep playoff run after reaching last year’s NCHSAA 4-A championship series.
But how might the loss impact a school with no football program?
Neuse Charter athletic director Gail Browning, who runs the only high school athletic department in the county without football, said she will be sitting down to figure that out in the coming days. The school is coming out of its biggest money-making time of the year, but just might have to get creative to make up the difference if the stream of money is disrupted.
Compared to indoor sports, the spring has always been a struggle to raise funds at Neuse Charter because the Cougars play many of their games at public parks, where it can be hard to collect gate but the school must still foot the bill for renting fields and paying officials.
“I would say basketball would be our money-maker,” Browning said. “Basketball is a sport that is widely seen in the community. It’s also an indoor sport on our campus, so it’s easier for us to collect gate.”
However, money can come from other avenues in the spring, like with the sale of senior banners, so the actual impact could be complicated and multi-faceted. To bridge the gap, Browning would be open to finding new ways for athletics to raise funds, should it come to that.
At Princeton, Gaster expects a financial hit to impact the athletic booster club, which runs the concessions stands at games and has already purchased supplies that will eventually spoil and cannot be returned.
The school may also be forced to cancel its lone annual athletics fundraiser, a reverse raffle held the first weekend in April every year. With door prizes, a dinner and a chance for a supporter to win $5,000, the event raises about $8,500 for the athletic department each year — a valuable figure that can go a long way.
Losing that money would hurt, Gaster said, but he’s confident even without it, the community would find other ways to support the school.
“We are very fortunate at Princeton to have a community that really takes care of our school,” Gaster wrote. “While the virus outbreak precautions will cause us to lose a significant amount of revenue, I feel confident our community will do everything they can to ensure none of our athletic department's needs are not met.”
Amidst all the numbers and financial costs, athletic directors expressed something else is of greater concern — the toll of no spring sports on athletes, seniors or not.
Browning noted with school moving online and athletics paused, the routines of athletes have been uprooted. On the other hand, Gaster brought up how players will miss out on the “sense of family, discipline and accountability” that sports provides beyond the box scores and games themselves.
“Revenue lost from the current shutdown of spring sports is something that can be replaced,” Gaster said. “The lost experiences for the kids however are irreplaceable.”