As Money Flows Into College Sports, Schools Invest Big in New Facilities

A new 'sports facilities arms race' is driven by television and sponsorship revenue, as well as the brand value associated with success in men's and women's college basketball and other top sports.
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Aman Kidwai is a freelance reporter who writes about the workplace, sports, higher education, and their intersections. Formerly on staff at Morning Brew, Fortune, and Business Insider, Aman previously worked in consulting and b2b sales at a corporate...
Published on November 10, 2023
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  • Colleges are investing in new athletics facilities in all sports, not just football.
  • Improvements to sports facilities are driven by increased television and sponsorship revenue, as well as the brand value associated with success in sports.
  • Success in college football or basketball March Madness can pay huge dividends for institutions.

Fans of college sports have grown accustomed to seeing palatial football facilities on campuses, some complete with fountains, barber shops, and full-time nutritionists. Lately, basketball facilities have also been getting nicer, and other sports are getting new homes around the country as well.

Driven by the strength of television and sponsorship revenue, as well as the brand value associated with success in sports, the "facilities arms race" continues. Making waves in March Madness can pay huge dividends down the line, leading colleges and universities to invest in new arenas and practice centers.

Now they have more incentives to invest in a wider variety of programs, in part due to name, image, and likeness (NIL) deals and the opportunities they can afford athletes in any sport. In some ways, this is like many other such races to improve campuses — like dining or the quality of dorms — as a way of garnering the interest of college athletes.

The University of Virginia recently announced plans for a new Olympic sports center, where the field hockey, cross country, track and field, lacrosse, rowing, and soccer programs will get new locker rooms.

At the University of Connecticut, the athletics department has opened new baseball, soccer, hockey, and softball facilities in the last three years and repurposed its old hockey arena into a new home for the volleyball program.

The University of Alabama has a new basketball arena and facility on the way. However, the project's price has increased, and further approvals are uncertain. The plans call for the gymnastics team to occupy that building as well. Baylor University is building a new arena that is expected to open in early 2024.

Elsewhere around Division I, six other schools have opened new arenas since 2022, including the University of Texas at Austin's Moody Center, a $338 million project resulting from a public-private partnership, as well as Alabama A&M University, Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, Longwood University in Virginia, Fairfield University in Connecticut, and Georgia State University.

Some are making high-level upgrades to existing arenas, like the University of Kentucky, which unveiled renovations to the historic Rupp Arena in 2022.

Schools also have upgraded their basketball practice facilities.

Boston College just opened a new $40 million practice center. The University of Alabama at Birmingham's new basketball facility came with an $8.5 million price tag. Texas Tech University opened a $32 million practice facility in 2022. Within the last year, the University of Houston ($25 million), Northern Arizona University ($47 million), and the University of Arkansas ($25 million) have opened new facilities. North Arizona's was part of a recreation center and arena project.

The University of Illinois, Seton Hall University, and the University of Maryland are among the schools also raising money and breaking ground on new ones as well.

San Jose State University recently unveiled a new $70 million center that includes a football facility as well as new locker rooms for the soccer programs and amenities for all 22 of the school's athletic programs. The school's president noted that it has already convinced a women's soccer prospect to commit to the Spartans over Power 5 offers.

Vanderbilt University is in the midst of a $300 million project that includes upgrades to its football stadium along with a new basketball center for its men's and women's hoops programs.

With enrollment emerging as a challenge for schools coming out of the pandemic, having engaging sports programs can help improve the diversity of the student body, provide entertainment for students and the university community, and give schools three hours of brand exposure for every game that gets televised.

When their teams are successful, donations and applications go up.

It's part of how the Ivy League set itself apart from other schools in the early to mid-20th century.

It's how schools like the University of Notre Dame, Boston College, and Florida Gulf Coast University got their names into the national discourse. It's how the University of Alabama increased its enrollment by 55% and improved the academic competitiveness of incoming classes.