Busted budgets: Smaller school districts worried about sports ticket revenue loss


SURRY COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — It’s been more than a year since we’ve seen a high school football game, after the fall season both here in Virginia and North Carolina had to be cancelled because of COVID-19.

There’s still hope a shortened season will begin in a few weeks, but for smaller schools, no football has meant no funding.

Bigger schools maintain bigger athletics budgets, but smaller schools — like those regarded as class 1, where there’s usually one high school in a county — rely heavily on revenue from football and basketball to fill their athletic budget.

With those seasons wiped out, programs like Surry County and Gates County are taking the biggest hit.

A majority of our budget comes from our gate receipts from our football and our basketball games.

“Paying for the essentials for the athletes, paying for officials, all that stuff comes from our gate receipts,” said James Pope, Surry County Athletics Director.

Last week, the Surry County school board voted not to play the football season this spring due to rising COVID cases.

“We do make a significant amount of money from our basketball season. So, I wasn’t as concerned because I thought we would have a basketball season,” Pope said.

But that concern grew after the board voted not to proceed with the remainder of the winter season, which included basketball.

“We probably can make it through with some support, being that we didn’t have that season, there is some money we do have saved,” Pope said.

Meanwhile things are shaky in Gates County, North Carolina.

“Really our football and basketball program fund the athletic program for the most part,” said Jacob Harrell, Gates County Athletics Director. “The community’s done a good job supporting us, our central office, our administration here, coaches, athletes, everyone’s jumped in to help make ends meet.”

Even though Gates County plans on a football season in a few weeks, fans are not expected, which means no ticket or concession revenue.

“My real concern, obviously is are we going to have enough at the end of the year, and then what are we going to look like to start the next year,” Harrell said. “I’m confident we’ll get through this year and this semester, I’m really concerned about where we’re going to be at when we start next school year. We made a lot of cuts to put ourselves in a situation where we should be able to make it through this year, but like I said, I’m real concerned about where we’re going next year.”

In North Carolina, the basketball season does start this week, but won’t have any fans. Here in Virginia, schools like Surry County will plan on a spring season, that is if they return to in-person learning.

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