BOZEMAN — Montana State University's athletic department is facing a budget crunch that has it raising ticket prices, asking for higher donations from boosters and asking the school for another $1.1 million to buy new equipment, hire trainers and stabilize the department's budget.
Athletic Director Peter Fields said even though athletics is bringing in more money than ever, in part because of an expansion of the football stadium, other costs such as travel, medical insurance and scholarships have risen rapidly.
In response, the department is raising 2013 season ticket prices by $30, or $5 per game, and the cost of memberships in the Bobcat Club, the booster club for athletics, is increasing by 20 percent. Current Bobcat Club memberships start at $125 and go as high as $11,000.
MSU's Budget Council was scheduled to meet Tuesday to consider 104 proposals from all over campus for a share of $2 million set aside for ideas to help MSU achieve long-term strategic goals.
The university contributed $6.84 million in direct support to athletics in the 2012 fiscal year, the largest part of the department's $22.5 million budget, and a $500,000 increase from 2009.
Ticket sales increased to $2.4 million in 2012 with the stadium expansion, but some of that $700,000 increase is being used to repay a $4 million loan that helped pay for the expansion. Payments started at $379,000 last year and are decreasing each year.
Fields argues the university's support for athletics has decreased as a share of MSU's general fund, from 4.5 percent in 2009 to 3.9 percent in 2012.
Fields said his department is seeking nearly $418,000 in one-time-only money to replace equipment that's wearing out, including $266,000 for new strength training and conditioning equipment, $68,000 for new exercise machines and $83,000 to replace outdated computers in the academic center. The department also is seeking $576,000 in ongoing funds to stabilize the base budget for athletics and another $174,000 in ongoing funds to double the staff of athletic trainers to eight.
Fields has said that budget issues are the reason the Bobcats are taking a $300,000 guarantee to play a football game at SMU, and using $100,000 to buy out MSU's game at two-time FCS national champion North Dakota State and using the other $200,000 to provide a guarantee for Monmouth to play the season-opener in Bozeman.
"We had to generate a home game," Fields said, calling it "critically important to us financially."