The economics of playoff football: Sac-Joaquin Section takes a big bite out of local gate

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The stands at Auburn’s LeFebvre Stadium may be full for Friday's high school football playoff showdown between Placer High and Oakdale. But while the gate will be one of the biggest of the year it isn’t the financial windfall for the home team that many would expect. Instead, the non-profit Sac-Joaquin Section of the California Interscholastic Federation will be the beneficiary of the lucrative playoff gate for its own use. And because it runs the playoffs, it also dictates a ticket hike. Prices are now $9 for adults and $5 for students instead of the $6 and $4 paid during the regular season. At Colfax, the Falcons are also into their second playoff game of the season and will be depending on the booster-club operated snack bar to bring in extra funding for football. Glenn Young, president of the Colfax Football Boosters Club for the past five years, said the CIF structure leaves booster club members who man the snack bar having to pay to attend the game and some supporters grumbling about higher ticket costs. “It’s kind of a hard pill to swallow,” Young said. “They (higher playoff ticket prices) are always a grumble. The Colfax and Placer stands last week (during the first round of playoffs won by both teams) had spots open. Part of it could be the economics for a family of four.” Will DeBoard, Sac-Joaquin director of communications, said the vast majority of funding the Lodi-based section office takes in comes from playoff ticket revenue. During last year’s playoffs, total gate receipts were $566,230, with 70,000 people paying admission. In comparison, TV and radio income was just $7,200 and shirt and program sales were $8,170. Expenses last year, including payments to host schools, game officials and mileage for visiting teams, were $230,100. From football last year, the Sac-Joaquin section netted $351,000, DeBoard said. Under a scenario that will play itself out under the Friday night lights for a total of 76 teams who made the playoffs in the Sac-Joaquin section – up from 58 two years ago – home teams like Placer are paid $1,500 for hosting a playoff game and visiting schools receive $3 a mile for team travel. In the case of Placer’s football team last year in the playoffs, a deep playoff run meant three home games and increasingly larger and more enthusiastic crowds. But there was no spike in revenue to invest back into local high-school athletics. Against Foothill, Placer drew 869 paid attendees for a total gate of $6,985, according to Sac-Joaquin Section statistics. From that gate, the Sac-Joaquin Section subtracted $1,500 payment to the school for hosting the game and $551 for officials and mileage to the game for the visiting school. When Placer played Calaveras the next week, paid admission increased to 1,022 and the gate improved to $7,526. The CIF section took $4,882 of that. The next week, again in Auburn, LeFebvre Stadium swelled to 1,723 ticketholders and the gate increased to $12,091. The Sac-Joaquin section took $9,243 of that total. Rain on four of five playoff weekends kept attendance down last year and the section was able to return about $30,000 of its playoff revenues to schools, DeBoard said. That was down from $86,000 the year before – about 40 percent of the sections’ profit, he said. DeBoard said that since 1993, when current commissioner Pete Saco took over, the Sac-Joaquin Section has returned $1.33 million in profits to its 190 member schools. That comes out to an average of $78,506 per year returned to schools, he said. But Mark Lee, Placer County athletic director, said that Pioneer Valley League schools didn’t actually see its share of that money last year. Instead, it was used to pay expenses with the CIF sanctioned league. Saco is paid $134,000 a year. He oversees the CIF Sac-Joaquin staff of six and works with a volunteer board culled from high schools in the area. They’ve kept playoff ticket prices at $9 for the playoffs for the past three years, DeBoard said. Tickets for section finals like the one Placer played last year in Stockton rise to $12 because instead of a host high school, the section will have to rent a stadium, he said. “Playoff tickets are still kind of the price of a movie,” DeBoard said. “We still consider it a pretty decent value.”