In letter, Michigan's Warde Manuel asks football season ticket holders for help

Orion Sang
Detroit Free Press

Michigan's athletic department continues to project a steep budget deficit this fiscal year, and it is seeking help from football season-ticket holders to help offset the costs.

In a letter to ticket holders Thursday, athletic director Warde Manuel asked for donations to help the athletic department combat "a historic financial challenge as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic."

"Given the anticipated loss of revenue due to limited or no fans at our games, our department faces an unparalleled level of financial uncertainty," Manuel wrote. "As a direct result of COVID-19, we budgeted $61 million less in revenues this year which could easily double if the decision is made not to play any sports.

"In addition, we are also facing significant costs related to safely returning our student-athletes and staff to campus with COVID-19 protocols in place. Additionally, if fans are allowed to attend games this season, we are ready to implement significant measures to safely welcome them to our facilities."

Warde Manuel takes questions about his new head basketball Juwan Howard Thursday, May 30, 2019 at the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan already has announced there will not be football season tickets available this season. In Thursday's letter, Manuel asked season ticket holders to consider "converting your previous preferred seat contribution/season ticket payments towards a tax-deductible gift to the Champions Fund." The athletic department is offering several benefits to those who convert payments to a tax-deductible gift. 

During a meeting with the university's board of regents June 25, Manuel projected a $26.1 million deficit for the 2021 fiscal year (which began July 1), based on operating revenues of $135.8 million and operating expenses of $161.9 million. The expected shortfall is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and expected declines in revenues from spectator admissions as sporting events either occur without fans or with limited attendance. 

During the June meeting, Manuel also projected preferred seat contributions to decrease $17 million, due to lower anticipated attendance and potential refunds. Total revenues are expected to decline close to $65 million. 

Manuel wrote in Thursday's letter that the athletic department plans to implement numerous cost-saving measures, which include a $10.9 million reduction in team and game expenses; a $3.8 million reduction in operating expenses; a delay on all significant capital and construction projects; the elimination of an annual contribution to the facility deferred maintenance fund; a year-long hiring freeze for non-essential positions; and nearly $4 million in salary reductions.

Manuel, football coach Jim Harbaugh and men's basketball coach Juwan Howard are among the department's employees to accept a pay cut, with each taking a 10% salary reduction from Aug. 1 through the end of the fiscal year.

"While these reductions will help mitigate the uncertainty of the upcoming year, the reality is that our immediate decrease in resources threatens the support we are able to offer our student-athletes for the foreseeable future," Manuel wrote. "Without additional resources, the level of investment in our programs will have to be reduced even further."

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.