Decline in ticket sales hurts WPIAL budget, limits money shared back to schools

Thursday, April 18, 2019 | 12:40 PM

Penn Hills, Pine-Richland and Butler will receive more than $5,000 apiece from the WPIAL as part of its annual share-back program from playoff gate ticket revenues.

In all, more than 100 schools have a check in the mail.

But the WPIAL won’t be sharing as much as hoped because attendance was down. Both football and basketball tickets sales finished below what the WPIAL had budgeted for this school year — with football falling well short.

“Football is killing us,” WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said. “Gate ticket sales were down pretty far.”

The WPIAL had anticipated $415,000 in football ticket sales but took in only $347,206, according to budget figures discussed at Wednesday board of directors meeting. That total has declined steadily in recent years, O’Malley said, a trend that included a nearly $60,000 drop from 2017.

Basketball saw a $25,000 drop from last year.

“Attendance is down across the board in a lot of things,” O’Malley said, “but (football tickets) used to carry the league back in the day.”

Basketball ticket sales reached $381,538, which was $27,962 short of what the WPIAL had budgeted for 2018-19. Soccer ticket sales finished $632 over the $80,000 budgeted.

The WPIAL remains in good fiscal shape and should break even this school year after a $60,000 loss last year, O’Malley said, but the dwindling football revenue is reason for concern.

The cause for the decline is complicated. It has occurred for more than a decade, O’Malley said, but has fallen faster in recent years since the PIAA expanded the sport to six classifications.

“It’s been going backwards for awhile,” O’Malley said. “… When (former Jeannette star Terrelle) Pryor was here, I think we were budgeting $800,000 or $700,000 for football. … You have to try to bring in as much as you think you’re going to spend, so we conservatively said $415,000. And what did we do this year? $347,000. So what are we going to set for football next year? It would probably be irresponsible to go over $400,000.”

One unpredictable variable is which football teams reach Heinz Field each year for the championships. Schools with large fan followings are always a boost for the WPIAL’s bottom line.

The WPIAL annually shares back part of its postseason profits with member schools. Schools that sell more tickets and draw larger crowds receive a larger share.

The WPIAL shares back up to $200,000 in football, $60,000 in basketball and $20,000 in soccer. The WPIAL reached the maximum number in basketball and soccer, but shared back only $122,602 in football — the lower-than-expected profit left over after expenses.

Thirty-eight WPIAL schools will receive a check for more than $1,000.

The 10 highest are Penn Hills $5,488, Peters Township $5,425, Butler $5,424, Mars $4,657, Mt. Lebanon $3,707, North Allegheny $3,702, Seneca Valley $3,393, New Castle, $3,365, Blackhawk $2,685 and Quaker Valley $2,600.

“We didn’t share as much back,” O’Malley said, “because we didn’t bring as much in.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at or via Twitter .

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