Horry County’s nine athletics directors did their best to mentally and financially brace for what they knew was going to be an abysmal year in terms of football revenue.
Now that the picture is becoming a little more clear, it’s leading to even more realistic preparation. Only one school in the area is currently projected to reach its pre-COVID-19 gate receipt projections while two more could get close.
As for the other six, they’re all starting to look for ways to trim athletics costs for the rest of the 2020-2021 academic year.
“We will have a hard time meeting our budget. That’s just the way it is,” North Myrtle Beach Athletics Director Joe Quigley said Tuesday. “I want to make sure we have enough to play the sport. The extras — the wants, the wishes — we didn’t do that this year. It was only to allow our kids to participate this year.”
Quigley isn’t alone in re-shaping his priority list.
Overall, the district collected $74,198.14 in gate receipts through the first three weeks of 2020, according to figures provided by Horry County Schools. That is roughly 26% of what the nine schools would draw in a typical year, based on the five-year averages of the nine programs.
Expectedly, it’s a massive drop-off from 2019, when every in-county team but Socastee brought in more gate money than the district had projected. Last fall, gate receipts were boosted by arguably the best season the county has had as a whole. The supply could meet the demand.
This season, however, is significantly different. Crowd sizes were all vastly reduced to roughly one-quarter to one-third of each stadium’s typical seating capacity. Additionally, a reduction to a seven-game regular season by the South Carolina High School League decreased opportunities for home games.
St. James is the only team in the county to have five home games this season. Meanwhile, Aynor, Loris, Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach and Socastee all have just three.
“There were some big concerns about gate receipts,” HCS Chief Financial Officer John Gardner said during Monday’s board meeting. “As you may or may not be aware, football is king. That’s where they generate most of their money. Football helps subsidize a lot of the other sports.”
For most, football won’t be subsidizing as much off the gridiron after this season.
The only two varsity programs capable of meeting their budget projections for ticket revenue during the regular season are Carolina Forest and St. James.
The Panthers made $10,787 in their first two home games and have two more remaining. The school was initially projected to make $20,000 over the course of this season. St. James, with those five home games, should be able to get within a few hundred dollars of its $30,000 receipt projection as long as its final two home games (vs. North Myrtle Beach and Loris) take place as scheduled October 30 and November 6, respectively. The Sharks brought in $11,851 with their first two contests.
The only other school even in the break-even discussion is Myrtle Beach. The Seahawks made $13,944 over their first two games and have just one more remaining. That would leave them approximately $5,000 shy of their budgeted ticket total. However, if Myrtle Beach won the Region VI-4A title and then took advantage of its guaranteed two playoff games (with a chance at a third in the lower state finals), it could also meet its goal despite split playoff gates after SCHSL costs are deducted.
For the rest, a significant shortfall will happen.
The largest projected loss in terms of percentage will be Aynor. The Blue Jackets are allowed a 610-person capacity for its stands. After a small number of passes and other non-ticketed entrants come through the gates, the team can earn an approximate maximum of 42% of its budgeted intake this season. That would leave athletics director Josh Spivey with a shortfall of nearly $11,500.
The biggest actual dollar-figure hit will almost assuredly happen in Little River.
North Myrtle Beach — traditionally one of the best drawing teams in the area over the last five years — was slated to bring in at least $38,000 this year. In three regular-season games, the Chiefs will barely top the midway point of that at roughly $19,300. That’s considering three sell-out crowds under the new COVID-19 restrictions. Even with the chance at a home playoff game or three thrown in, Quigley will be seeing an accounting loss when it’s all said and done.
“The district is helping out with security, transportation and officials,” Quigley said. “Thank God they give us that. But we may depend on them more as the year goes on. As my mom used to say ‘We’re going to have to rob Peter to pay Paul.’”
2020 gate receipts (through Week 3)
No. of home games counted
Five-year average (2015-2019)
Remaining home games (Week 4-7)
2020 football budget
Percent collected (through Week 3)
Green Sea Floyds
North Myrtle Beach