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Florida Gators start to feel pinch of tight economy

GAINESVILLE — For the third consecutive year, the University of Florida Athletic Association will donate $6 million to the university, but there are signs the nation's economic problems could be affecting the Gators, too.

During its annual June budget meeting on Tuesday, the UAA's Board of Directors authorized the use of $500,000 from budget reserves to help fulfill the donation. And the Gators are in the midst of an aggressive marketing campaign designed to raise awareness of still-available season football tickets — including premium luxury seats.

Florida athletic officials are projecting a budget increase in 2012-13 of less than 1 percent — to about $96.7 million, which UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said has "no built-in raises" for staff, but maintains health and pension plans.

"If you look at this budget, you'll see our expenses increased very little this year," Foley said. "Our staff and our coaches did an excellent job on holding the line on expenses, understanding this is a challenging economic environment for everybody, certainly for the campus, but also for UAA. Our revenue increased very, very little. We did have a small ticket price increase a year ago that generated some significant dollars ($1.3 million). But we froze an increase in booster (fees) as well."

Gator Boosters generates one-third of UF's operating funds, projected to be $33.8 million in the upcoming year. SEC revenue from bowl games, TV contracts and championships ($16.5 million) and football and basketball ticket sales ($21.1 million and $2.2 million respectively) make up a large portion of the budget.

But the Gators took in $1.29 million less in luxury club seating sales this past year — the first time since 1990 that Florida has had consecutive seasons of decline in projected ticket related contributions, and the third consecutive year of projected decline in basketball ticket-related contributions.

Since the marketing campaign launched about three weeks ago, about 1,200 season football tickets have been sold. It includes social media and direct emails to local businesses and organizations. But Florida remains about 250 season tickets short of last season's total, although more than 50,000 have been purchased. UF's 137-game home sellout streak was snapped last season after three games did not sell out.

"People may want to focus on a couple hundred tickets that aren't sold, and not focus on the tens of thousands that are sold," Foley said. "That's a phenomenal amount of season tickets to sell in that short amount of time."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com. Follow her on Twitter at @gatornews.

Florida Gators start to feel pinch of tight economy 06/12/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 8:40pm]
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