Jamie Pollard shares athletics department financial, project updates

By Matt Belinson [email protected], @BelinsonMatt
Jamie Pollard said Iowa State athletics paid off its $17 million debt after receiving over $30 million from the Big 12’s television revenue from the 2021 football season.

Matt Belinson

Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard is confident the Iowa State athletics department is in good financial shape going forward.

Pollard spoke with the Iowa State Daily on Friday, sharing an optimistic outlook on the state of the athletics department’s finances and upcoming projects for 2022 and beyond.

‘I think we’re in a good spot’

On Jan. 25, 2021, Pollard detailed the athletic department’s projected budget and future revenue-generating projects for 2021 in a video to fans. In the message, Pollard estimated the department would be facing a $25 million deficit coming out of the 2021 calendar year — with COVID-19’s impact from the previous year still looming large.

The department projected $51 million in operating revenues and $63 million in operating expenses for 2021, expecting to end the year at a $25 million shortfall to service.

“It isn’t a $25 million shortfall, it’s really a $2 million shortfall for the next 20 years because we need to finance that deficit,” Pollard said in the video.

But now that 2021 has come and gone, Pollard was able to share with the Daily on Friday that the department had a much better year than expected.

Instead of the previously estimated $25 million debt shortfall, Pollard said Iowa State Athletics came out of 2021 with a $17 million deficit.

The department earned $67 million in revenue in 2021, while using $84 million in operating expenses — thus, a $17 million shortfall.

However, Pollard said that debt is no longer an issue. The department paid the deficit off using only its reserves and didn’t need to take out a loan from the university.

Forget $2 million over 20 years.

Iowa State was budgeted to receive $36.5 million from the Big 12 from this season’s football TV contract, but each school earned $33.5 million.

“We played, so the Big 12 got a majority of its television revenue, so that was the biggest piece,” Pollard said. “The fans being here helped, but that was a small part of it. The other part that helped from the fans was they continued to donate even though they didn’t buy their tickets. Our annual didn’t really go down so that’s another piece that helped.”

“We’re going to be fine. We’re going to be more than fine. I think we’re in a good spot.”

On a go-forward basis, Pollard said things could be a little tighter from an operations standpoint, but not as tight as they could have once been, with original projections of the deficit being close to $50 million at one point.

In the near future, Pollard and other leaders in the Big 12 will have to wait and see what future television deals look like with the Big 12 after the current contract expires in June 2025.

But even with the deficit taken care of, the uncertainty with the conference’s future revenue has caused some delay in one future project for the department.

What’s next with Hilton Coliseum renovations?

Hilton Coliseum, one of the most iconic — and oldest — buildings on Iowa State’s campus, is in need of an upgrade.

The home of Cyclones was built in 1971, but has gone under construction in 1980, 1994 and 2002. But Hilton’s infrastructure is aging and Pollard said it’s time to bring the venue into the future — or at the very least up to modern standards.

Before COVID-19 was ever a thought, the athletics department released renderings of potential Hilton renovations on Feb. 27, 2019. The plan was to expand the North and South concourses, glassing the exterior of Hilton, improving concession areas and parking.

Progress had stopped on the project for some time, but Pollard told the Daily the process will start again in 2022.

Pollard said right when COVID-19 hit, the department was starting to modify some of the plans and started to incorporate Scheman into the vision, building out space in Scheman for hospitality and trying to create an indoor connection to Hilton.

“We’ll probably within the next six months restart that process so that, you know, we’re ready for shovel in the ground as soon as we know what the future television is going to be,” Pollard said.

Pollard expects the Hilton project to be $2-2.5 million annual debt service and cost a total of $35 million.

“When I say start the process, that’s re-engaging the architects getting everything, the plan, cost estimates, get everything ready, except shovel in the ground,” Pollard said. “And then ultimately shovel in the ground would happen at the point in time that you know, the ability to fund it. It would be hard to convince somebody you’ve got the money to fund it. But the answer to that question is closer now than further away.”

But when the future of Big 12 television revenues is factored in, Pollard said it’s still a waiting game for what happens next with Hilton. The project will require some bonding, but after using some of the reserve fund, things are in a relative standstill for now.

“I mean, it wouldn’t even have been hard, it would have been next to impossible to go to the bonding agency and actually, legitimately say you can support bonds, because there’d be too much uncertainty,” Pollard said.

But why renovate Hilton now? Pollard offered up three big reasons.

No. 1: Mechanical fixes

“A big chunk of that $35 million is updating mechanicals, so air handlers and such that there’s a life cycle to those,” Pollard said. “We’re past the life cycle. So you got to deal with it eventually. You can’t just not do it.”

No. 2: Fundraising

“Number two is strategically, you know, what we need to do from a fundraising standpoint, with a Cyclone Club, we’ve got to continue to add benefits. That’s why we’re moving forward with the parking. And that’s why we ultimately will need to move forward with the hospitality space, you know, in Scheman.”

No. 3: Image

“We just feel from a strategy standpoint, modernizing that building and creating the glass and making it more light is important for our image.”

Gateway Pedestrian Bridge

The closest project to completion is the Gateway Pedestrian Bridge, connecting to a 300-person capacity RV lot North and West of C.Y. Stephens. 

The intent of the project is to provide improved pedestrian safety with walkways from South 16th and South Fourth streets.

“Yeah, the bridge, actually, because the weather was so great this fall, they’re ahead,” Pollard said Friday. “I haven’t heard that the project’s going to get done sooner though.”

While the bridge may be ahead of schedule, some aspects of the construction are set in stone timeline-wise.

Eventually, the road under the pedestrian bridge, University Boulevard, will have to close once construction begins on closing the bridge. Pollard said the date of the closure will be towards the summer months when students are off campus, and less traffic will need that road.

An Iowa State Athletics spokesperson told the Daily it’s too early to tell when the road closure will begin, as it largely depends on the weather throughout the spring.

But is the expectation to be done with the bridge by the 2022 football season?

“Oh, yeah, it’s gonna be ready by August of [20]22,” Pollard said.

Is the entertainment district still in the works?

Short answer? Yes.

But Pollard didn’t comment on any specifics Friday on his ‘grand idea’ for the athletics department, a vision birthed in September 2019 — like many other projects, before COVID.

“We’ve been going hot and heavy since, gosh, last August,” Pollard said. “There’s a lot happening behind the scenes.”

When asked what news he could share of the progress since last August, Pollard said, “There’s just a lot happening. We’re not ready yet to talk publicly.”

Pollard announced in Sept. 2019 the athletics department would take over management of the Iowa State Center from the University, and begin the process of a “multi-use development district” of the Center and the area around it.

In his Jan. 2021 video to Cyclone fans, Pollard said, “We will most likely need to be a little more certain with what happens this fall (Fall ’21) with access from fans and how COVID has played out with vaccines,” Pollard said in his video message. “But we’re very optimistic that we’ll be able to move forward in the near future with our Hilton and Scheman projects, and ultimately address the many issues at C.Y. Stephens and also restart the great, grand idea of the arts and entertainment district.”