Ohio State and Florida may be playing for the national championship of college football on Jan. 8 in the Tostitos BCS championship game, but the real winner by our calculations is Notre Dame.
The Fighting Irish football program is worth $91 million based on what the team contributes to the university’s athletic department for non-football sports ($23.5 million), the University’s academic use ($23.2 million), and the incremental sales to South Bend, Ind., and the surrounding county when the team plays games at Notre Dame Stadium.
Big advantage for the Fighting Irish: A $9 million annual broadcasting fee from NBC, owned by General Electric, by far the most for any team. It also helps Notre Dame that it plays as an independent team, not belonging to an NCAA conference — so it doesn't have to share its broadcasting and bowl revenue the way other schools do.
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Sure, college football pales in comparison to professional football, where the average team is worth $898 million. But there is still huge money pouring into college football. This season, sponsors like PepsiCo, FedEx, Allstate and Citigroup will help finance a $209 million payout through 32 Division 1-A bowl games this year. Fox, owned by News Corp., is paying $83 million to broadcast four of this year’s five BCS games.
We’ve ranked the 15 most valuable football programs based on their contributions to four important beneficiaries: the universities, athletic departments, conferences and communities with a vested interest in their financial success.
To do so, we calculated each football program's total revenues from tickets, sponsorships, premium seating and broadcasting. Then we subtracted expenses to derive the football program's profits. Next, we measured how much of each team's profits went for non-football scholarships and toward other sports, and was shared by other teams in its conference. We also looked at how much additional money the county generated when the team played a home game. In our scoring system the first two factors were given the most weight, while county revenue was given the least.
Success on the gridiron usually translates into more revenue for a team and a higher value. A total of $34 million is up for grabs at the Tostitos BCS national championship game alone this year. Those proceeds will be divided up equally between the Big Ten (Ohio State) and SEC (Florida) conference schools, net of a small travel allowance for the two bowl combatants.
Note that only teams from the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten Conference and Big 12 Conference made our list because of their lucrative television deals with CBS, and ESPN and ABC, which are owned by the Walt Disney Co.
Perennial powerhouse the University of Southern California, which is playing in the Rose Bowl this year, did not make our top 15 because the team’s profits were too low to contribute as much to their schools as did our 15 finalists.
© 2012 Forbes.com