"Despite commonalities in spending, athletic departments finance their programs using very different revenue sources. The FBS programs are more likely to fund large portions of their budgets from athletic operations. In 2010, more than 80 percent of the budget at the typical FBS college or university came from “generated” revenues, such as ticket sales, conference payouts, and donations. In contrast, more than 70 percent of athletic budgets in the smaller FCS and DI-NF programs came from revenues “allocated” by the university; this athletic subsidy includes money from student fees, institutional support, and government appropriations.
The largest revenue source for FBS schools is ticket sales, which generated nearly 25 percent of FBS revenues in 2010. With larger stadiums and NCAA attendance requirements, these programs depend heavily on their extensive regional fan base for support. Again, there are significant differences among FBS institutions, with the smaller FBS programs operating more like the FCS subdivision than the larger, higher spending programs. Among lower spending schools in the FBS (quartiles 3 and 4), ticket sales represented less than 20 percent of total revenue and institutional subsidies comprised about 40 percent to 60 percent of their budget.
In addition to ticket sales, the top half of FBS programs also are heavily reliant on donations from alumni and other supporters, who provided almost as much revenue as was generated from ticket sales. NCAA and conferences payments—from television agreements and participation in bowl games and tournaments— generated approximately 22 percent of revenue for the top programs.
Newly negotiated television contracts are expected to significantly boost athletic revenues for the top programs in coming years, creating even more disparity in college athletics. For the top five conferences (ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pacific-12, and SEC), current media contracts are expected to generate more than $1 billion per year, with average conference revenues ranging from $12 million to $20 million per school per year. College sports are big business, and these contracts exceed the annual media contracts for Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and the National Basketball Association. But even with lucrative outside funding sources, athletic programs have not become more self-sufficient; since 2005, all subdivisions have increasingly relied on institutional support, although FBS institutions depended more heavily on revenue increases from donor contributions, licensing, and NCAA payouts.” — Donna M. Desrochers, Delta Cost Project at American Institutes For Research