A new report out of the University of Wyoming suggests its athletics programming makes significant contributions to the economy of the state’s southeastern corner.
The study, conducted by Roger Coupal, UW professor of agriculture economics, and Tim Jackson, a graduate student of agriculture economics, estimates athletic events in the 2015-2016 academic year in Laramie created more than 250 jobs and stimulated $16.7 million in economic activity in Albany and Laramie counties.
Revenues from ticket sales and events, as well as visitor expenditures, were used to evaluate economic activity surrounding athletic events. In addition to football and basketball games, the program included activity resulting from athletic summer camps in Laramie. The report concludes the overall effects on southeast Wyoming’s economy are “substantial.”
Even during the current economic crisis in Wyoming through the last two years — UW’s state funding has been reduced by more than $41 million — the State Legislature has continued allocating taxpayer dollars to UW athletic programs with perennial support from Gov. Matt Mead. Though some Wyoming lawmakers, including Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, have said in the past they would prefer to see such monies spread across campus, significant allocations and matching funds were funneled to athletics.
These include an $8 million allocation to improve athletic programs, a $20 million state match for the $44 million High Altitude Performance Center and $5 million for the $13.2 million phase II of Arena-Auditorium renovations. Internal allocations are also paying for expenses such as a $3.5 million new scoreboard at War Memorial Stadium and UW football coach Craig Bohl’s contract extension, which starts with a base salary of $1.4 million in 2017 with annual raises and incentive packages.
Bill Sparks, UW senior associate athletic director for business operations, said the report is tangible evidence of something the athletic department knew for years, but only had anecdotal accounts.
“We hope people will view this as a return on the investment that the state, university, governor and so forth have invested in our programs,” Sparks said. “We hope this shows, with a tangible number, what we bring back to the community. And we hope they’ll see it in that positive light.”
One of Albany County’s greatest economic drivers is tourism. In a December interview, Fred Ockers, executive director of the Albany County Tourism Board, said there’s no bigger boost than a home football game.
“There’s nothing that compares to potentially doubling the size of our community,” he said.
The report’s data comes from the 2015-2016 football season when the UW Cowboys ended the season with a dismal 2-10 record. However, UW turned that around in the 2016-2017 season, won eight games, including all six regular season home games. Laramie also hosted the Mountain West Conference Championship game at War Memorial Stadium, where the Cowboys hosted the San Diego State Aztecs.
Sparks said he expects increased economic activity in the area from the 2016 season. He said the athletics department hopes to continue working with economists at UW on future studies that could reflect increasing economic activity with a potentially more successful football program.
“Obviously, with a conference championship, that would be reflected (in a future study),” Sparks said. “We think the economic impact would be greater if you look after this year.”
In the coming three football seasons, UW is scheduled to host three power five schools in the University of Oregon, Washington State University and the University of Missouri. Power five conferences are those in National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level of collegiate football.
“We’ve got a period of time coming up … that should, in itself, generate significant ticket sales revenue,” Sparks said.
Additional revenue could also start pouring in from beer and wine sales starting this year at War Memorial Stadium and Arena-Auditorium as the UW Board of Trustees approved the policy in November. Sparks said net revenue generated could be in the $300,000-$400,000 range, a portion of which would also be invested in alcohol education programs on campus.
“At other institutions that have implemented beer and wine sales, results typically show a positive impact on concessions, in addition to jobs,” he said.
In looking at the economic activity in Albany and Laramie counties, the report did not include residents of those counties, as they could have been spending money in those economies regardless of athletic events or summer camps.
2015 economic effects of UW athletic programs in southeast Wyoming:
169: Jobs generated from athletic department operations
84: Jobs generated from visitors as a result of athletics
$10.6 million: Economic activity resulting from athletic department operations
$6 million: Visitor-stimulated economic activity
Total industry earnings growth comparisons for southeast Wyoming economy:
3.21: 2014-2015 percent change
2.56: 2006-2015 percent change
0.58: 2014-2015 percent change
2.66: 2006-2015 percent change