Reducing football schedule delivers financial blow to Iowa athletics. Here's how much it will sting

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa lost three home non-conference football games Thursday two months before a season clouded by coronavirus concerns was even set to begin.

The Big Ten Conference announced that it will shelve all sporting events against non-league opponents for at least the fall season. That leaves the Hawkeyes without the three games scheduled for September at Kinnick Stadium, although it's possible the league could add a conference game to help make up for that.

In normal times, the loss of any home football game would mean a setback of roughly $3.2 million for a Hawkeye athletic department already trying to manage costs. And that doesn’t count lucrative TV contracts that have brought in more than $40 million annually for football broadcasts alone. That money is already up in the air. If there are no football games to show, there’s no commercials to sell, and thus no money to disperse to power-conference universities who have come to rely on it.

This is an unknown situation for Iowa, but it's going to sting. How bad could it be? Let's take a look:

It was already clear that any games at Kinnick this fall were unlikely to be played in front of capacity crowds. Hawkeye athletic director Gary Barta, who originally held out hope that that would be the case, scaled back expectations when he ordered a halt to football ticket sales June 30, when about 40,000 of them had already been claimed for the 69,250-seat stadium.

► Previously:Iowa announces halt of ticket sales due to coronavirus uncertainty

And two of the non-conference opponents that Iowa was scheduled to face in September — Northern Iowa and Northern Illinois — were unlikely to draw sold-out crowds anyway. Plus, the Hawkeyes were scheduled to pay Northern Illinois $1.15 million and Northern Iowa $650,000 for their Kinnick visits. Surely, Iowa will try to get out of those contracts now that the games have been scrapped.

The third non-conference game is the one that will sting more financially. Iowa State was scheduled to be Iowa’s guest on Sept. 12 for an annual Cy-Hawk game in which both teams could very well have been ranked. That one would almost certainly have packed the house.

Fans at Kinnick Stadium wave to patients in the adjacent Stead Family Children's Hospital during the 2018 Cy-Hawk football game. That one won't be played in Iowa City this fall, along with two other non-conference games, which will cost Iowa's athletic department millions of dollars.

Iowa averages about $3.4 million per home football game in ticket revenue. Add on another $200,000 or so in money from parking and concessions. Then subtract about $400,000 in costs associated with hosting such a large spectacle — on stadium workers, security guards and more.

Those seven home games are the big-ticket items on Iowa’s sports docket each year. And the prospect of losing that money already had led Barta to trim $15 million from his 2020-21 budget. The caveat with that announcement last week was he was assuming a full schedule of football and basketball games, with fans in attendance.

That won’t happen now.

Expect more painful cuts to come for Barta’s department. So far, no sports have been proposed for elimination and no staff positions have been excised.

Football brings in more than five times the revenue of all other sports combined at Iowa. It subsidizes much of the operation. Losing up to three home games is significant.

But the Hawkeyes are still set, for now, to host Big Ten foes Michigan State, Northwestern, Nebraska and Wisconsin. There’s a chance the league will add a 10th game to this year’s schedule, giving Iowa one more home contest. It’s still an open question how many, if any, fans would be allowed to pay their way into Kinnick Stadium for those, but it could be an opportunity for Iowa to recoup some costs from a football season that already promises to be unlike any other.

If it gets played this fall at all.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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