Clemson football’s recent rise to prominence, including two national titles in the past three years, has raised revenue to new heights each year, making it now a nearly $50 million business annually.
The program alone generates more money than three quarters of all 230 NCAA Division I public schools included in a database of college athletic revenues compiled by USA TODAY Sports.
That equips Clemson to reinvest into the football program with competitive salaries, comprehensive student wellness programs and immaculate facilities. It also equips Clemson to provide those same resources to nonrevenue sports on campus. Football revenue also helps Clemson operate in the black without any money from the school or the state.
The Greenville News and Anderson Independent Mail reviewedthe comprehensive annual financial reports the university released publicly for fiscal years 2006 to 2018. According to those documents, the football program generated at least $43 million each season from 2012 to 2017. Revenue peaked at $54.2 million in 2016, the year Clemson won its first College Football Playoff national championship.
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich is often asked where all that money comes from. He frequently prefaces his response by explaining where it does not come from.
The Clemson athletic department is an official division of the university. However, financially, it operates without assistance from the university. The funds used for scholarships, coaches’ salaries and stadium upgrades come from a different collection plate than the funds used for professor salaries, research and dorm upgrades.
“We are a tub on our own bottom. We pay all our own bills,” Radakovich said. “We don’t receive any student fee dollars. We don’t receive any university aid. No tuition dollars go to supplement athletics. No taxes that anyone in the state of South Carolina pays support the Clemson athletic program.”
Clemson associate athletic director and CFO Eric George estimates that merely 25 of the 230 public Division I schools operate independently from their universities.
The Clemson athletic department thrives through the confluence of multiple revenue streams, including contributions from its fundraising arm IPTAY, ticket sales, media rights, advertisements, sponsorships and distributions from the NCAA and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Contributing to Clemson: Donors give millions to Clemson and IPTAY. Here’s what they get in return
The Clemson football program generated $53.9 million during the 2017-18 academic year, $22.9 million more than it produced in 2009, Dabo Swinney’s first full season as head coach. Football accounted for 42 percent of the total revenue the athletic department reported in 2017-18 and generated 312 percent more revenue than the both basketball programs.
That revenue total reflects a phantom figure for the out-of-state tuition fees the university waives for scholarships athletes. The athletic department counted that as $1.6 million in revenue for the football program, but that total is also reflected in the figure of athletic student aid. Clemson actually spent $3.8 million in football scholarships that year, but $5.4 million is reflected in the report.
Ticket sales supply the largest chunk of football revenue. Clemson reported a program-record $24.9 million in ticket revenue for the 2017 season. Clemson generated at least $20.9 million in ticket revenue in five of six seasons from 2012 to 2017.
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For media rights, the Atlantic Coast Conference distributes an equal amount of revenue to its member schools. In 2017, Clemson reported that figure at $26.97 million for the entire program. The football program accounted for $16.3 million of that total.
Clemson football also generated $5.2 million in contributions and $1.2 million from gameday program, concession and parking sales in the 2017 season. Clemson football reported $750,00 in royalties from its Nike partnership in 2017. That figure will increase in future reports. Last year, Clemson signed a 10-year, $58 million extension with apparel provider Nike. The company elevated Clemson to the top tier of its college partners, and Clemson elevated the annual value of its apparel agreement by 92.9 percent.
Through its Nike sponsorship and partnership with the marketing firm JMI Sports, Clemson produced $13.6 million from royalties, sponsorships and advertisements across the entire athletic department in 2017-18.
That year was only the second time Clemson generated more than $50 million in one season.
Here’s where all the money comes from:
Clemson Football Revenue 2017-18
Ticket Sales: $24,856,086
Bowl Revenues: $2,891,254
In-Kind Car Leases: $42,828
Institutional Support: $1,551,104
Program Sales, concessions, novelty sales, parking: $1,268,336
Royalties, advertisements and sponsorships: $750,000
Endowment and Investment: $20,103
Sport camps: $919,005
ACC Distribution: $16,346,384