In the past few years, there's been a big push by major college football teams to increase revenue through massive stadium expansions, lucrative premium seating and rich sponsorship and broadcast deals--the same blueprint the National Football League used for decades to create billion-dollar franchises.
The game plan is working in college, albeit on a much smaller scale: Last year, 10 college football teams raked in at least $45 million in revenues--among them, the University of Notre Dame, University of Georgia, Ohio State and Auburn University--compared to none five years ago.
Of course, college teams aren't sold in the open market like NFL teams. But the revenue they generate is extremely valuable. Our second annual ranking of the most valuable teams in college football is based on what the football programs contribute to four important beneficiaries: their university (the value of contributions from football to the institution for academic purposes, including scholarship payments for football players); athletic department (the net profit generated by the football program ultimately retained by the department); conference (the distribution of bowl game revenue); and local communities with a vested interest in the team (incremental spending in the county during home-game weekends). Our system weighs those four elements in declining order. This year's rankings were expanded from 15 to 20 teams.
The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, worth $101 million, is the most valuable team in college football. Unlike the other programs on our list, Notre Dame's athletic department operates under the umbrella of the university and is not run as its own distinct entity. As a result, a much higher share of profits are retained by university for academic use. The football team's contribution to academics totaled $21.1 million for the 2006-2007 season--that's as much as the next five most valuable teams contributed to their respective schools combined. Operating independent of the conference system allows Notre Dame to keep the entire $9 million in annual television revenue it gets from NBC, owned by General Electric.
The University of Texas Longhorns, worth $92 million, was football's most profitable team last season, earning $46.2 million, of which $4.7 million went to academics. When the Longhorns play at home, Travis County sees an estimated $9.4 million of incremental spending associated with the game, a virtual tie with St. Joseph County during Notre Dame home games.
University of Texas merchandise royalties doubled to $8 million after the Longhorns won the national championship in 2006. Premium and club seating at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium generates $12 million a year. The athletic department even added an exclusive space, dubbed the Centennial Room, which is reserved for boosters who contribute the most money to the program.