UCLA had $21.7 million deficit for 2020, putting two-year total at over $40 million

For all of its historical success on the field, UCLA’s athletics department generally has been in the middle of the pack among Power Five public schools when it comes to finances. Rarely spectacular, almost always steadily growing — but never out of balance.

Now, for a second consecutive year, UCLA has recorded a massive annual operating deficit — just over $21.7 million for its 2020 fiscal year, according to the financial report it submitted to the NCAA in January and provided to USA TODAY Sports in response to an open-records request.

This means UCLA has totaled more than $40.6 million in operating debt over its past two fiscal years. And that’s without facing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on revenue.

UCLA recorded an annual operating deficit of just over $21.7 million for its 2020 fiscal year, according to the financial report it submitted to the NCAA in January. (Photo: Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports)

UCLA is not alone among Power Five — or even Pac-12 Conference — public schools in stacking up eight-figure deficits recently. What makes this surprising is that prior to the 2019 fiscal year, UCLA never had reported an annual operating deficit in the 14 years for which USA TODAY Sports has compiled these data for all NCAA Division I public schools, most recently in partnership with Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.

Plus, UCLA accomplished this with relatively little of its annual revenue coming from student fees or institutional support — less than $3 million each year.

“This past year was a challenging one financially in all of collegiate athletics, with UCLA athletics being no exception,” UCLA said in a statement provided by athletics spokeswoman Liza David. “The pandemic’s impact will be felt throughout the coming years, but we are committed to reaching long-term fiscal stability for our athletic program. We will continue to provide our student-athletes a championship experience on and off the field and build on our rich history of developing them for success in sports and in life.”

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UCLA began this school year with 118 NCAA championships, according to its athletics website, and it has produced hundreds of Olympians. How the athletics program goes forward financially remains unclear as it continues to transition to new athletics director Martin Jarmond, who took over for longtime AD Dan Guerrero eight months ago.

Last year, The (San Jose) Mercury News reported that UCLA athletics’ 2019 deficit will be covered by an interest-bearing loan from the campus’ central fund. Although USA TODAY Sports asked in writing how the 2020 deficit would be addressed, David did not provide that information.  

This is in contrast with the University of California system’s other Pac-12 school in Berkeley. University and athletics department officials there have acknowledged that nearly $85 million in annual operating deficits from 2015 through 2019 weren’t treated as accumulated debt, to be repaid by the athletics department at some point. They were simply covered by the university. In addition, Cal provided a net total of nearly $2 million more in student fees and institutional support.

For fiscal 2020, Cal reported a $3.2 million operating surplus, but that was based on revenues that included a net of $20 million in student fees and institutional support.

Many college athletics departments felt the effects of the pandemic during the last three to four months of fiscal cycles that ended June 30. In most cases, both revenues and expenses ended up declining. Even Texas’ perennial financial juggernaut saw operating revenues drop by about $23 million to just over $200 million and operating expenses drop by more than $30 million to just under $174 million.

UCLA’s revenues fell to $97.7 million in 2020 from $108.4 million in 2019. Its expenses fell to $119.4 million from $127.3 million.

Some of UCLA’s income decline was attributable to the pandemic. For example, it reported a $2 million decrease in revenue from the NCAA, which had to drastically cut distributions due to the Division I men’s basketball tournament’s cancellation. Also, UCLA reported $12.2 million in contributions, down from $16.4 million in 2019.

There also was part that likely had little to do with the pandemic. UCLA’s total ticket sales for 2020 were $14.7 million, down from $18.9 million in 2019 and its lowest since 2012.

Schools across the country have been seeing attendance at games decline, and UCLA’s trouble in fiscal 2020 likely was exacerbated by having six home football games during the 2019 season after having seven during the 2018 season. In addition, the Bruins had a 3-9 record in 2018 and a 4-8 mark in 2019. Overall, football ticket revenue was down by more $3.2 million in fiscal 2020.

On the expense side, spending was down in nearly all categories except administrative and support staff compensation, which increased by about $1 million to $24.1 million.

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