On the evening of March 10, Long Beach State Athletic Director Andy Fee sat in the crowd-less Walter Pyramid bleachers watching the women’s basketball team compete against Cal Poly in the Big West Tournament.
“We’ll get through the Big West basketball tournament at least, and who knows what happens after this,” Fee thought to himself as he looked on.
He remained hopeful, but Fee knew things weren’t heading in a positive direction. Two days later, the Big West Conference announced the rest of the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled and all spring sports were suspended indefinitely.
The Long Beach State Athletic Department has reported an estimated $1.8 million loss in revenue stemming from the absence of ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and donations due to the cancellation of spring competition, according to Fee.
The revenue loss has put the athletic department in “recovery mode,” forcing it to look for creative ways to maintain the budget while keeping team operations in order.
“We don’t have a lot of excess,” Fee said via phone call with the Forty-Niner. “A lot of people think of athletics and they think of the big schools like Ohio State or USC. We don’t charter flights anywhere. When we cut, we’re cutting into muscle. We’re not cutting into fat.”
The department has done it’s best to reduce costs where it’s needed most. No Long Beach team has seen any direct cuts, nor have any scholarships been rescinded.
Fee said they’ve already committed scholarships to athletes for the upcoming year that will be honored, and scholarship funding, along with student-athlete success, will continue to be a top priority.
Corporate sponsors, an important source of income for the athletic department, are at the top of that priority list as well. If the economy is spiraling downwards and the coronavirus pandemic continues, Fee said these sponsors may not renew their deals for next year.
“[Sponsors] rely on us providing something in return,” Fee said. “If we can’t promote them because there’s no games, that’s income that doesn’t come our way.”
The athletic department has remained in touch with corporate sponsors, such as the Aquarium of the Pacific and Dignity Health Care, to discuss potential sponsorship agreements should the suspension of athletic events be carried over to the fall.
Although fall sports remain in question, Fee and the rest of the athletic directors in the Big West meet weekly via Zoom to discuss the future.
Among the discussions have been ways to cut costs within the conference if competition resumes with a limited crowd. One idea that has been discussed, but is far from certain, is cutting the number of teams who make conference tournaments, “because that saves money.”
“We’re looking at ways to save money as a whole, but we’re also looking to each other for best practices,” Fee said. “We’re all kind of going through the same thing. Maybe to varying degrees, but we’re all going through the same thing of having to cut costs, look for different streams of revenue, and it’s difficult.”
Fee and other Big West athletic directors are optimistic that sports will return to normal in the fall, but Fee said it all depends on updates from the Department of Public Health and campus medical professionals.
“My hope is that it’s a return to what we consider normal,” Fee said. “We also understand that might not be, so what does [the new normal] look like? I don’t have definitive answers in that respect, but we are looking into it.”
As of now, the athletic department is determining whether or not it should begin selling tickets for fall sports.
Fee said he already has staff working extra hours to refund those who purchased tickets for spring 2020 competitions, and he doesn’t want to add on to that load by rescinding fall tickets.
There’s a possibility that face-to-face classes will be switched to online instruction in the fall. However, the cancellation of face-to-face classes wouldn’t mean the cancellation of fall sports.
“If we could find a way to play, say there’s gatherings of 50 permitted, unfortunately, fans couldn’t be there, but I would love for [games to resume],” Fee said. “We want to make sure, even in that capacity, that it is safe for the student-athletes, the coaches, support staff and anybody that would be at that event.”