University of Louisville

Mark Story: Louisville basketball tops UK, nation in 'intrinsic value' calculation

Exterior of the  YUM center on Tuesday  November 16, 2010 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Exterior of the YUM center on Tuesday November 16, 2010 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Mark Cornelison

Kentucky beat Louisville in the 2012 men's basketball Final Four and cut down the champion's nets two nights later. Yet among the sports-business crowd, U of L is seen as college basketball's undisputed champion.

On the Monday of the NCAA men's basketball tournament championship game, The Wall Street Journal published a chart based on the work of an Indiana researcher that ranks the nation's college basketball programs by their "intrinsic value."

According to those ratings, the most valuable men's hoops program in America belongs to U of L. Kentucky — which even Louisville fans would acknowledge is the most popular college hoops team in this state — was only the 16th "most valuable" men's college hoops program.

The study done by Ryan Brewer, an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, places the "intrinsic value" of the U of L men's basketball program at $211.5 million. The worth of Kentucky men's basketball is "only" $73.7 million.

What gives?

In a phone interview last week, Brewer explained that his calculations were purely financial evaluations extrapolated from the athletics budget numbers that university athletic departments submit to the federal government annually as part of gender-equity disclosure.

"When you look at the revenue being produced from men's basketball, the University of Louisville is far outperforming everyone else," Brewer said. "It's not just Kentucky."

For fiscal year 2011, Louisville reported net revenue from men's basketball in excess of $27 million. UK reported some $6.5 million in men's hoops revenue.

"Kentucky spends a lot, too," Brewer said. "In my evaluation, that (negatively) impacted their standing." UK budgeted men's hoops spending of $10.16 million in 2011.

In coming up with "intrinsic values" for the top 100 men's college basketball programs, Brewer said he examined the revenues and expenditures for each program, then made risk assessments and growth projections for each. He also did the same for 115 of the nation's 120 Football Bowl Subdivision programs.

Not surprisingly, the values of elite major-college football programs dwarf that of similar men's hoops operations.

By Brewer's reckoning, the top eight football operations are all valued at more than half a billion dollars each. Texas is the most valuable with an intrinsic worth of $805.1 million.

Five of the top 10 — No. 2 Florida ($630.2 million), No. 5 Georgia ($564.6 million), No. 6 Alabama ($522 million), No. 8 LSU ($504.2 million) and No. 9 Auburn ($488 million) — are Kentucky competitors in the Southeastern Conference.

According to Brewer's purely financial evaluation, the historically mediocre UK football program is far more "valuable" than Kentucky's celebrated men's basketball operation.

UK football's intrinsic worth is $207.7 million. That ranks 24th in the country but only 10th among the 14 SEC schools (ahead of Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt).

Conversely, Louisville football is not as valuable as U of L basketball. The Cards football program has a "worth" of $120 million and stands as the 43rd-most valuable in the country.

Even before U of L moved from Freedom Hall into the posh KFC Yum Center, the Cardinals were the most profitable men's basketball program in the country. But in the 2-year-old Yum Center, Louisville has taken its basketball earnings to the proverbial next level.

There are 71 luxury boxes in the Yum Center, most of which are sold for around $85,000 a year. According to figures compiled by ESPN sports business reporter Kristi Dosh, U of L made $5.7 million from suite rentals in its first year of play (2010-11) in the Yum Center.

Louisville also generated a staggering $20.2 million from basketball-related contributions, the (insert throat clearing sound) "donations" required for the opportunity to purchase premium seating, etc.

Playing in the aging Rupp Arena, UK has no basketball revenue from luxury suites and reported $14.9 million in K Fund "donations" across its entire sports program for 2010-11.

So the answer of why Louisville basketball is so much more "valuable" than the more prestigious Kentucky program is basic: U of L has monetized its program's popularity to a degree far beyond what UK has done.

Given the mania that surrounds Kentucky men's basketball in our state, that might be the biggest upset in college sports history.