WASHINGTON'S LEADING BUSINESS MAGAZINE

Finance & Football at the UW

The long-awaited makeover of Husky Stadium ushers in what promises to be an extremely lucrative period for University of Washington athletics.
Art Thiel |   April 2013   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
Rick Dahms
In His Element. Scott Woodward inside the new Husky Stadium, scheduled for completion in August.

No longer born in America is the child so naïve as to believe that big-time college sports is anything less than an entertainment business empire astride the fruited plain, swollen with endless hours of TV time, million-dollar salaries, billion-dollar deals, and a steady flow of scandal and litigation. Ever more perfunctory is its relationship with the universities that spawned the colossus.

At the University of Washington, the athletics department has a $70 million annual budget to support more than 650 scholarship athletes sustained by 219 full-time employees. And the Huskies’ operation is less than half the size of its counterpart at the University of Texas in Austin, where football has a gross domestic product large enough to be eligible for membership in the United Nations.

Once the Longhorns acquire nuclear weapons, Security Council seating will be mandatory.

But the arms race in college sports—Washington’s budget ranks 30th among big-time programs, and Oregon, at $85 million, is 17th, according to USA Today—leaves little choice but to keep going because quitting is just not in the sports business DNA. The Huskies finally have amassed first-strike capability by making over the venerable but decrepit Husky Stadium into a modern monster money maker for a mere $250 million in construction costs.

“Mere” is an accurate adjective in this era of professional sports. And don’t let the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s nonprofit tax status fool you: These are the same sort of “pro” sports where $175 million is the going rate for a premier baseball pitcher and $500 million will build a basketball/hockey arena (not counting $500 million for an actual franchise, along with the additional costs of land, litigation and traffic mitigation).

So getting a 93-year-old relic up to digital-age hipness with neither a tax dollar nor a crippling mortgage is a feat worthy of acute eyebrow arch. The central figure in the project, UW Director of Athletics Scott Woodward, is not shy about anything, but he is especially unbashful about the stadium renovation, which will be visible to all come August 31, when the Huskies return from a year downtown at CenturyLink Field to the shores of Lake Washington for the home football opener against Boise State University.

“Given the circumstances of who and where we are,” Woodward says, “this is a phenomenal project. I’m very, very comfortable as a steward of this department telling our fans, upper campus and all constituencies that we have done this as cost effectively