As they forecast the fast-approaching, unpredictable school year, Minnesota State High School League leaders face myriad costs of the coronavirus pandemic that could increase the league’s budget deficit to as much as $1 million, depending on how sports and fans return.
Continuing current restrictions that limit schools to distance learning likely would cost another wave of high school athletes’ their seasons at worst, or the support of large crowds at best even if sports return in some fashion. For the league, already mired in a financial deficit, either scenario could cost hundreds of thousands in revenue.
Parents and their athletes marked Monday as a return to youth sports practice, however modified. Their hopeful but cautious approach on the fields was similar to those attending the league’s video-conference board of directors meeting.
“If we were heading into a typical school year, due to the actions of the board, we could project a revenue of $600,000,” said Erich Martens, MSHSL executive director. “But we’re not going to be facing a typical year.”
Some sports might not be played, which means no state tournaments and no ticket revenue. Some sports might be played before limited crowds. If either scenario plays out in the fall and winter seasons, that means the league’s approximate $400,000 deficit could reach $1 million.
Action taken at Monday’s meeting, as well as board discussion items, were of the cost-savings variety.
No motion was made to discuss a wrestling advisory proposal to add a full consolation round for the individual portion of the state tournament, which would require a fourth day at Xcel Energy Center and cost about $75,000 — an amount that could only be offset if enough fans were allowed to attend.
A refund to schools for spring activity fees — about a $300,000 giveback — was voted down. So were registration fee refunds for spring sports officials. In both cases, board members believed that related services and instruction were provided in seasons that were put on hold for weeks before they were officially canceled. The board did increase registration fees from $15 to $30 for first-year officials to cover the cost of officiating materials.
A cost/benefit analysis of the boys’ and girls’ basketball state tournament consolation bracket was discussed. In three years of full consolation brackets, the boys’ games generated more revenue than costs once and broke even twice. The girls’ games run an $11,000 annual deficit.
About $136,000 was lost on winter tournaments this year when the league suspended the final two days of the girls’ state tournament and the entire boys’ event due to the pandemic.
Concerns about how to best administer tournament formats include a look ahead to the 2021-22 school year, when additional classes in cross-country, soccer and volleyball state championships begin. The board previously added a third class to cross-country and soccer, and bumped volleyball to four classes.
“These aren’t just dollars and cents conversations,” Martens said. “But dollars and cents provide opportunities for our student-athletes at tournaments.”
The pandemic-related challenges could offset previous board action to increase revenue by having its member schools pay more to participate.
Beginning with the 2020-21 academic year, each school’s annual league membership fee goes up $40, from $120 to $160. In addition, the fee that schools pay the league per activity rises $40, from $120 to $160. And schools will be charged $1 per student enrolled, adjusted for free- and reduced-lunch numbers.
These fees represent $700,000 to $750,000 in expected revenue.
Charging for live web streaming of state tournament events could provide additional financial relief. The possibilities of selling full season or tournament-focused subscriptions through School Space Media, the league’s streaming partner the past two seasons, are being explored. The livestreams have been free to this point.
The league’s board also plans to meet July 14, a date added to the meeting calendar to ensure more communication at a time when planning is fluid and concerns seem to outnumber answers.