As Wyoming athletics emerge from one of the most financially tumultuous seasons in program history, the administration will be forced to reevaluate existing revenue sources for their future benefit.
Driven by increasing demand to cut state budgets due to market instability in the mineral industry, and exacerbated by the covid-19 pandemic, Wyoming athletics will lose nearly $4 million in projected revenue for the 2021 financial year.
Wyoming athletics currently rely on the energy sector for many donations, donations which, if the market continues down the path that it is on, may soon become less frequent.
“We are very concerned that our most generous economic sector – primarily oil and gas companies and individuals – will be unable to make large gifts going forward,” said University of Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman.
Currently many of the university’s athletic buildings and facilities sport the names of individuals, or companies, involved with the oil and coal industries in the state. Jonah Field (where the Cowboys play their home football games), the Mick and Susie McMurray High Altitude Performance Center (a high quality training center for university athletes), and the Rochelle Athletic Center (student athlete gym) were all, in part, purchased through the donations of individuals with connections to the oil and gas sector.
With many of these large institutions on campus being built with contributions from oil and gas, it is becoming clear to many that in a world which is increasingly moving beyond fossil fuels, Wyoming athletics must find new alternatives for funding.
“We will need to work very hard to find new donors who have capacity to keep our programs moving forward,” said Burman.
Finding new donors that meet the necessary funding will be important in the years to come, as Wyoming deals with the fallout of the energy sector.
Wyoming relies heavily on the production of oil, natural gas, and coal to provide funding to state institutions, among them is the University of Wyoming. With a downturn in production, and the economic ramifications of this downturn becoming more evident, university directors have been asked to find places in the budget that can be cut out.
“We have been asked to take nearly $1 million in state budget reductions,” Burman explained.
The stain of budget cuts can be felt in most normal years, but unfortunately 2020/2021 has been no normal year. The covid-19 pandemic has made it so that the athletic department is unable to sell tickets to live sporting events, and has led to the doubt and uncertainty of whether or not teams would have a chance to play at all, these factors have had a profound impact on the Wyoming athletic department.
“This past year has been catastrophic,” Burman said, “we initiated dramatic budget reductions and asked our employees to take an on-going salary cut (only unit on campus to do this). Bottom line is the pandemic will force us to be $4 million short in this fiscal year.”
The economic volatility brought upon by a pandemic, coupled with the states ongoing financial issues, have put the future of the UW athletic department in question. In order to compete at a high division 1 level there are certain amounts of funding that must be met, funding that the university must now raise on its own, something that has quietly been happening during the pandemic.
“The fanbase at UW has been very supportive during a very difficult time,” Burman said. “Many donated their tickets back to UW and continued to make donations as if we were competing as normal. Many of our corporate partners worked with us to find creative ways to provide advertising so we could still bill them during the pandemic.”
Despite the past year, and even looking to the unknown future, one thing is for certain when talking about Wyoming athletics, people love them.
“The positive side is UW Athletics is important to the people of Wyoming and I think supporting the Cowboys and Cowgirls is important to them,” Burman said, while stressing the importance of fan support, “we will need more Wyoming supporters to step-forward and buy tickets and support Cowboy Joe Club. I am confident it will happen.”