Buyout won't break the budget

This is the second of a three-part interview Cattracks.net conducted with UA Athletic Director Jim Livengood four days after the announced firing of football coach John Mackovic. In this portion of the interview, Livengood discusses how attendance figures and TV revenue affects the budget, and what Arizona has done to cushion the blow in its effort to stay in the black.

Cattracks.net: What's the difference between the announced attendance and the actual number of people who show up? Let's use the Oregon game as an example. Oregon is the worst fair-weather attended game I've personally seen. It was announced at 40,000, but if there were 30,000 fans there, you're probably lucky.

Livengood: "There's a difference obviously, but what we announce is based on the hard cash of tickets sold. Normally by Tuesday or Wednesday of the following week we know what that is. We were a little bit over in the UTEP game. We were over for the LSU game, down for Oregon, down for TCU. Not an appreciable amount you can't make up. But you have to remember, when the announcement (to fire Mackovic) was made, we had budgeted for five TV games this year. We have four and we'll probably get two more TV games worth $300,000. You make those up pretty quick."

Cattracks.net: What kind of sales pitch do you go into to try to convince people to pick up TV games?

Livengood: "Part of it is relationships you build through the years. It's not me, but I've done this for a long time. I did it in Pullman. People wondered why I got to work at 5:30 in the morning. It's because 5:30 in Pullman meant 8:30 in New York. New York is where the TV market is. New York is where the decisions are made. You're not going to catch TV people by calling them at 8 o'clock west coast time and have it be 11 o'clock because they're going to be at lunch. Afternoons are a no-brainer. You're not going to catch them. I've had to hustle and hustle for TV games for a long time. The good news here is our TV packages, which I've been a part of for a long time in the Pac-10, are good enough. This is a bonus for us to have UCLA on TV. That's a $300,000 game."

Cattracks.net: From a fan attendance standpoint, how does the trickle down effect work? If you budget for 40,000 and let's say you have 30,000 actual bodies, how much does that hurt from a concession stand and merchandise standpoint?

Livengood: "It has a trickle down because of numbers, and it's all on quantity, but the thing is, not bemoaning this, but we get such a small percentage of merchandise and concessions. There are many schools that have control over concessions and merchandise, and there it's a bigger deal, but the percentages here are low. It's important, I don't want to leave that impression, but it's not earth shattering."

Cattracks.net: About the fan attendance, you were quoted in one of the newspapers as saying, ‘You know what, at least they're talking.' On the other end, I would argue, ‘Yeah, they're talking, but they're not showing up.' What has to be done to make Arizona a football town?

Livengood: "Whoever takes over the role as head coach obviously has to have great energy in that part of it. There's no question about that. The thing that has to happen more than anything else is we have to show we're going to be a football team that has a chance to contend that is exciting and fun to watch. Quite simply, those two things right there need to bounce off each other. It's not a hard equation. We present a football team that has a chance to win. I'm not saying we're going to win all the time. A chance to win and fun to watch, and people will spend entertainment dollars and come to it. It's very hard to go back and find two really good University of Arizona teams in a row. You might find two, you wouldn't find three. We need to string together two or three seasons where people have reason for optimism. Rather than coming into the 1994 season after the Fiesta Bowl or coming into the 1999 season after the Holiday Bowl, we need to have a season where we're excited and then have another good season. Not great, but just a good season, and then when you go into your next spring and summer campaign, people will say, ‘By golly, the Wildcats are developing a program.' We've not done that."

Cattracks.net: Do you have to show it, or do it?

Livengood: "You have to do it, but you have to show it as well. There has to be reason for optimism. That's not all on the coach. That's on the team, and that's on a lot of things. This is a great example. It's the wrong year to have a really young team because arguably it's the best home schedule we've had, maybe ever. When you consider the four Pac-10 schools in here, we've never had Washington, Oregon, UCLA and USC at home in the same year. Then you throw a good TCU team and LSU in there, and it's a really good home schedule. I think people would like to have both, a good opponent and a win. But given a choice you'd rather win."

Cattracks.net: Arizona was 10-2 in 1993, then 8-4 the following season, but in the revolving door that is the Pac-10, the key to building a program seems to be stringing together three good seasons.

Livengood: "There are so many times that teams will have a flash in the pan year. I think it's consistency. You can sell the sizzle because the program has arrived. Washington has done it for a number of years. Oregon State is in that mode now. They went through so many years of not winning. Dennis (Erickson) brought them back into that, but they'll go up and down a little bit. Oregon definitely, but even though they sell out they lost some sizzle at the end of the year when they finished 7-6. That was a tough year for Oregon, particularly coming off a Fiesta Bowl win the year before. UCLA and USC are going to draw on the name. Stanford is Stanford. Cal is going to be up and down. Jeff Tedford has done a nice job of getting them back to believe. Arizona State is Arizona State. We need to first of all get there. I really do think it's a major thing of people thinking we have a chance to win."

Cattracks.net: So this is at least a three-year investment?

Livengood: "There's nothing magical about three years, but I think there has to be some consistency built."

Cattracks.net: So at the minimum, you're looking at some sort of long-term investment on top of what's being experienced right now.

Livengood: "Absolutely, but even that part of it is not like the old days. The old days in college football, coaches had anywhere between a three and five-year plan to get there. Nowadays it's a one-year plan. Fans have seen the pros do it. The expectation is if someone new comes you'd better win next year."

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