Thinking Outside the Box: Revenue Sources for Athletic Departments

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Booster clubs often operate concession stands to raise money for school athletic programs.

Raising money to supplement a high school’s athletic department revenue plays a vital role in the success of interscholastic sports programs. Travel, uniforms, and equipment are just a few of the outlays facing athletic directors (ADs), their staff, and student-athletes.

According to Coach & A.D., one in five high schools saw an increase in the overall sports budget for the 2017-2018 academic year (the most recent year for which figures are available), but more than 58% of athletic directors saw no changes to their athletic budget. Because of the need for more funding, some school athletic programs rely on outside donations to foot the bill, making fundraising a top priority.

“Athletics departments are increasingly relying on fundraising dollars in order to meet athletics budget needs. High school athletics would not be possible without the revenue generated by fundraising and donations,” wrote Mike Winker, a former high school activities director, in a 2019 column for Iowa newspaper The Gazette.

However, athletic directors are having to find supplemental ― and sometimes new― funding sources to bolster their budgets.

“We would never make it if we did raffles and dine-to-donates and anything of that nature,” Christine Krempamm, a high school field hockey coach in New York, told the Fulton County Express. “… We can’t sell a T-shirt for $10 and make 4 bucks off that. We need to make a big dent right away.”

The athletic director courses that are part of Ohio University’s Master of Athletic Administration online can offer aspiring ADs the understanding necessary to apply the principles and concepts of finance when overseeing an interscholastic athletic program.

Ways to Increase Revenue for Interscholastic Athletic Programs

Facing slim budgets, sports administrators can no longer rely on traditional methods of funding their programs.

“Despite the overwhelming benefits of educational-based activities, high schools are struggling to support and maintain quality athletics programs due to shrinking budgets and rising costs,” Winker wrote.

When considering how to increase revenue, sports administrators have several fundraising options, including:

1. Applying for state and federal grants

Grants are available for most high school sports programs and can be identified through internet searches. When applying for a grant, ADs should designate a small team of grant writers, student-athletes, coaches, and community members to help with the application process. The grant writers should be sure to adhere to the deadline. Typically, grants do not cover general operating expenses but can be used for facility improvements, special projects, and other initiatives, former athletic and activity director Vinay Mullick wrote in an article on Medium.

2. Working with booster clubs

These organizations are funded by volunteers, usually parents. During sports events, volunteers may operate concession stands and facilitate ticket sales to raise money. Sports administrators work directly with booster clubs to generate new revenue ideas and help with fundraising paperwork. “They raise funds and operate at the discretion of the coach,” Remigio Gordillo, athletic director at Millennium High School in Goodyear, AZ, told AZPreps365 about booster clubs. “For example, if we need uniforms, the club could then fundraise to make that happen. They can also do things like getting meals donated for the teams or help set up community service events.”

3. Engage with local organizations

Community athletic associations may also be willing to fund smaller needs such as scoreboards in the gym. Working with local organizations can be a more accessible way to pay for needs that are not a high priority.

4. Selling advertisements

Advertising banners are another way to boost athletic department revenue and raise anywhere from $250 to $1,500, Mike Jiancristoforo, activities director at Glen Allen High School in Glen Allen, VA, told the Richmond-Times Dispatch. The amount collected is based on the length of time the banner is displayed.

5. Focus on larger fundraising events

Administrators at North Hardin High School in Radcliff, KY, are focused on having several major fundraisers such as benefit concerts, dinners, and auctions. In Mansfield in neighboring Ohio, Cardinal High School hosted a pig roast in honor of an alumnus, AD Jimmy Soltis told National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). At the event, the school raffled off a car donated by a local dealer. However, Soltis said that smaller fundraisers shouldn’t be overlooked. “Another quick and easy fundraiser in which our student-athletes are involved in the sale of pepperoni rolls,” he said.

6. Programs that offer discounts for donors

Paul Szymanski, activities director at Watertown-Mayer Public Schools in Watertown, MN, told NFHS that his school’s “Gold Card” program is one of his favorite fundraisers. The card offers donors discounts at local businesses.
“Parents and community members like to support our efforts if we run them well, include some type of value, and provide visible improvements to the activities they enjoy attending,” he said.

The Challenge of Staying on Budget

The bottom line for an athletic department, as for any organization, is to stay within the budget. In addition to raising funds, ADs can consider a number of other strategies, including:

  1. Holding off on buying new equipment or uniforms. Waiting can also give teams the chance ― and the encouragement ― to raise funds for those items.“You have to be fiscally responsible,” Henrico AD Rob Welch told the Richmond-Times Dispatch. “You have to take into account every purchase you’re going to make. Is it really necessary and is it going to help the program?”
  2. Being mindful of the frequency and types of events at the school. To avoid duplicate sales, Syzmanski said his school creates a master schedule that shows which group is fundraising during what time of the year and what each one is selling.
  3. Finding corporate sponsors. In exchange for free advertising, local businesses such as restaurants may be willing to provide free food at a school banquet or dinner before a game.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Program

Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration (MAA) program builds on student passions for serving young student-athletes and running a highly successful athletic department.

Ohio University is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Business School” and The Princeton Review as a “Best College.” The online program is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA).

Related Reading

The Highlights & Pressures of Being A High School Athletic Director or Coach
Implementing and Maintaining Inclusive Sports Programs
Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle for Interscholastic Athletes


Coach & A.D., Fundraising ideas for struggling athletic programs
National Federation of State High School Associations, Athletic Directors Offer Fundraising Ideas to Supplement Budget
Coach A.D., Athletic budgets still slim, but there are signs of improvement
The Gazette, Support booster clubs, support high school athletics
Fulton County Express, Johnstown Goes Into Fundraising Mode To Save Sports
Medium, Fundraising for Athletic Departments, Part 3: Grant Writing
AZPreps365, Balancing an Athletic Budget at Millennium
Richmond-Times Dispatch, The money made at a high school football game can make or break an athletic department’s budget
U.S. News & World Report, High School Fundraisers Share Secrets to Success