On November 25, it was announced that University of New Mexico Head Football Coach, Bob Davie, 65, who was in his 8th season at UNM, resigned effective after the team’s season finale on November 30. The team had a record of 8 wins and 28 losses the past three seasons. Coach Davie’s all around record at UNM is 35 wins and 64 losses.
Davies had the distinction of being New Mexico’s highest paid public employee earning a salary and compensation package of $822,690 a year. On December 10, it was announced UNM will pay Davie $825,000 over the next 30 months to leave the university two years before his contract expires. The money will be paid out over 30 months and revenues from “guaranteed games” where the UNM Football program is advanced funding to play a high ranked team. UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nunez announce that UNM is paying a search firm $50,000 to find a new head football coach.
UNM has an extensive history of buying out the contracts of UNM athletic program coaches and for 6 figures. Those buyouts have included football coaches Rocky Long and Mike Locksley and basketball coach Richie McKay.
UNM FOOTBALL FAILING SPORTS PROGRAM
The University of New Mexico’s (UNM) athletics department has had chronic financial problems, having missed its budget 8 of the past 10 years. 2018 was one of the worse of the years having a $3.3 shortfall. UNM’s Board of Regents attempted to mitigate that by allocating the use of $1.3 million in reserves in November of last year. One of the biggest failures over the years has been the UNM football program.
On July 20, 2019, the University of New Mexico Board of Regents voted in favor of recommendations to eliminate four sports as the school’s troubled athletics department worked to control its spending and 10 years of deficits. The four-sports eliminated were beach volleyball, men’s and women’s skiing and the highly successful men’s soccer program.
The UNM Regent’s unanimous vote came after dozens of people, from coaches and players to alumni and community members, testified on behalf of preserving the men’s soccer team and the skiing and beach volleyball programs. The programs were cut anyway, eliciting boos and heckles from the crowd. Many expressed anger at the Board of Regents for not cutting one of the sports who has the most money problem at the university, such as the failing football program.
UNM football has hit its lowest per-game total in nearly 30 years with an average attendance below 20,000 fans for the first time since 1992. On October 29, 2018, it was reported that the Lobos were the 27th worst team in the nation in terms of average attendance, ahead of just San Jose State, UNLV and Nevada among Mountain West institutions. In terms of the percentage of stadium filled, the Lobos were the ninth worst in the entire country.
For related media coverage and sources see:
UNM RESPONDS TO PROPOSAL GOING FROM DIVISION I PROGRAM TO DIVISION II PROGRAM
The University of New Mexico (UNM) is a Division I athletic program with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). According to the NCAA, it costs Division II schools, including football, about half as much to sponsor a competitive athletics program as it does in Division I. The net operating costs in Division II even tend to be lower than for programs of similar size in Division III primarily because of higher net operating revenues in Division II. With the UNM football season ended, now is the time to end the UNM football program and have UNM become a Division II sports program and restore successful programs such as the winning UNM Soccer Program.
Chief of Staff for UNM President Garnett S. Stokes, in response to a November 27 blog article entitled “Make UNM Athletics A Division II Program; Stop Pouring Money Down UNM Football “Black Hole”; Concentrate On Declining Enrollment And Academic Excellence”, link to full article provided below, and the proposal of moving UNM from a Division I athletic program to a Division II program, had this to say in an email:
“We do feel that football can regain much of the strongest performances in terms of attendance and fiscal sustainability from its past with appropriate, not extravagant, investments. Most importantly, we need to field a team that is competitive. The revenues from football due to the MWC affiliation and Division I status are substantial but do not present a breakeven opportunity without significant increases in revenue that really must come from our fan attendance at the end of the day. Division II athletics participation does not carry with it substantial reductions in expenses but does have much less opportunity for revenue. We understand the plea for responsible investment in co-curricular activities in higher education but do believe we are acting in the best interest of UNM and the state of New Mexico when trying to strengthen athletics. Many people feel it is important for the flagship university in the state of New Mexico to have an athletics program that competes at the highest level but we realize that not everyone feels compelled by this or believes the benefit outweighs the investment. …”
SOCCER IS VIABLE ALTERNATIVE TO UNM FOOTBALL
During the last 30 + years, soccer in Albuquerque has flourished and excelled in Albuquerque, especially in preschools, grade schools and high school programs. Today, it is very common to find grown men in their 30s who played soccer in grade school, mid- school and high school and who play in city adult leagues.
Soccer is now part of the city’s fabric with programs for children, adolescence and young adults. Soccer programs throughout the city have proven far more inclusive for Albuquerque athletes than football programs could ever had hoped to imagine.
NM UNITED SOCCER TEAM SEEKS PERMANENT STADIUM
New Mexico was awarded a United Soccer League (USL) expansion team in June 2018. The USL is the nation’s second-highest professional soccer organization second to the Major League Soccer organization (ML). During its first year, NM United was able to execute a highly effective marketing plan that resulted in an reenergized fanbase never before seen in the City and it payed off in a big way.
The United team currently plays at Isotopes Park that is owned by the city and leased to the Isotopes under a two-year contract. United’s current lease with Isotopes Park can only be extended through the 2021 season. The United Soccer League has mandated that all expansion teams be in soccer-specific stadiums within three years.
According to the online Soccer Stadium Digest, during the team’s first year of existence it led the 36-team USL with an average home attendance of 12,693 and won a playoff spot in the United States Soccer League, which is the equivalent of Triple A baseball.
New Mexico United announced a few months ago it is seeking a permanent home in Albuquerque. On November 14, it was reported that United Soccer Team owner Peter Trevisani made a presentation to an interim legislative fiancé committee seeking $30 million in state capital outlay funds to be appropriated during the upcoming 2020 session that starts in January for a soccer stadium.
The total cost for such a stadium will probably approach $100 million. According to Trevisani, a new facility would help United jump up to the Major League Soccer Level (ML) which is the sport’s equivalent of the National Basket Ball Association (NBA) or Major League Baseball.
CITY GETS INTO ACT OF SPORTS TOURISM PROMOTION
On September 6, 2019, Mayor Tim Keller submitted a $29 million infrastructure bond tax package to the Albuquerque City Council to be financed by the City’s Lodger’s Tax. The Keller Administration labeled the lodger tax bond package as a “Sports – Tourism Lodger Tax ” because it will be used for a number of projects around the city labeled as “sports tourism opportunities.”
Mayor Keller’s “Sports Tourism Lodger Tax” proposal came just a few months after the city hosted the National Senior Games. According to the Keller Administration, the National Senior Games featured nearly 14,000 athletes competing at 21 venues and had an estimated $34 million economic impact. Further, the lodger tax proposal came after New Mexico United professional soccer team expressed the desire for a permanent soccer stadium.
On October 7, the City Council approved a $30.5 million “Sports -Tourism” lodger tax package on a unanimous vote to upgrade and build sports facilities throughout the city. Revenue generated by the lodger’s tax will be used to pay off the $30.5 million bond debt.
KELLER WANTS A SOCCER STADIUM
Mayor Tim Keller is getting into the act of identifying a soccer stadium location. During the October monthly meeting of Albuquerque Bar Association Luncheon, Keller revealed that the city is looking at a minimum of 3 locations for a sports and event arena that can be used by the United New Mexico soccer team. Two inquiries have been made by the city with the United States Post Office to purchase the Post Office Main Office on Broadway. There is land available near the PIT basketball arena, the UNM Football Stadium and Isotopes Park. . Property on the West side is also under consideration.
On November 5, Albuquerque voters approved $3.5 million for a multi-field practice facility the United soccer team could share with other users. The soccer complex site has yet to be identified by the city but it will have locker rooms that could host tournaments. According to the Keller Administration, the multi-use soccer facility would be available for use by Albuquerque Public Schools, the New Mexico Activities Association championships and other tournaments, and would serve as a practice field for New Mexico United and the New Mexico Activities Association.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
In 2017, the city of Albuquerque commissioned a feasibility study to examine the feasibility of building a 10,000-seat stadium. The study identified three potential sites: Albuquerque’s Rail Yards, the Sawmill neighborhood near Interstate 40 and the Northwest intersection of Lomas and Broadway. The feasibility study estimated the cost of the stadium construction would between $24.2 million and $45.8 million. The estimated cost did not include land acquisition and other expenses, such as architectural design and infrastructure.
The United Soccer League team said its top pick for a location for its stadium is Downtown. United Soccer League owner Peter Trevisani said he hopes the stadium would be an “anchor tenant” with shops and restaurants around it in a walkable area. Trevisani said he envisions the new stadium as a “cultural arts center” that could feature on-site hotel rooms and restaurants, and could be designed in collaboration with Santa Fe arts collective Meow Wolf, which already is a sponsor for the tram.
Trevisani described the project as much more than a soccer stadium and home for New Mexico United. The stadium could also house other teams, perhaps aiding in the recruitment of a women’s professional team. Trevisani believes a new stadium could be a “morale booster” for the city and state which do not have any top-level professional sports teams. According to Trevisani:
“This stadium can represent the revitalization of Albuquerque and the vitality of New Mexico and how we view ourselves. … I think it could be a crown jewel for the state. ”
ANTI DONATION CLAUSE DOES NOT HAVE TO BE MAJOR IMPEDIMENT
The New Mexico Constitution strictly prohibits donations to “public or private corporations” by governmental entities. The provision provides in pertinent part:
“Neither the state nor any county, school district or municipality, except as otherwise provided in this constitution, shall directly or indirectly lend or pledge its credit or make any donation to or in aid of any person, association or public or private corporation … .” (N.M. Const. art. IX, § 14.)
The anti-donation clause of the state Constitution prohibits the city or the state public from paying for a private stadium. However, it does not prevent the city or the state from building and owning the facility and where United New Mexico would pay rent to the city or state. Bonds could also be issued to finance the construction of the stadium with a percentage of ticket sales and concessions dedicated to pay off the debt. This is the identical arrangement the City of Albuquerque has with the Isotopes professional baseball team.
ALBUQUERQUE SPORTS STADIUM BECOMES ISOTOPES BASEBALL STADIUM
It was on October 25, 2001 that ground was broken to build Isotopes Baseball Stadium and it opened on April 11, 2003. Isotopes Park has a seating capacity of about 13,000 which includes stadium seats and berm area seating. The construction cost was $25 million which in 2019 dollars is about $31.4 million. At the time, a debate raged on and centered on whether to renovate the old Albuquerque Sports Stadium as a baseball-only park or build a brand-new park downtown. It was Mayor Jim Baca who wanted to build a new stadium downtown to revitalize the downtown area.
Mayor Baca put the issue to a vote and the voters easily approved the $25 million needed to finance the project. The decision was made to renovate the old Albuquerque Sports Stadium. To the surprise of many, the old sports stadium was leveled to the ground. As it turned out, the renovation turned into a construction of a completely new facility. Almost nothing of the old Albuquerque Sports Stadium remained, apart from the playing field.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
The idea of locating a sports stadium or arena in the Downtown area for Downtown revitalization has been around for at least 25 + years. The Isotope’s park “remodeling” was originally proposed as a downtown baseball stadium. Notwithstanding, Albuquerque’s political establishment, Mayors and City Councils alike and the business community failed to muster the political will or commitment to get it done. It is doubtful that will change any time soon, especially within the two years United New Mexico has left to build a soccer-specific stadium mandated by the United Soccer League for all expansion teams.
New Mexico United clearly has momentum with its winning success and games getting over 12,000 attendance a game, the very kind of momentum needed to justify building a stadium. The team has succeeded in bringing together people from around the state. It would be a major mistake for the city or the state not to take advantage of the momentum, timing and success of the NM United Team and do their best to build a stadium.
GIVE A WINNING TEAM AN EMPTY STADIUM IN SEARCH OF A WINNING TEAM
As a solution to building a new stadium for New Mexico United is for UNM to sell the University Football stadium to the City, the city remodels it for soccer, and the City, like Isotopes Park, leases it to United New Mexico. The legislature should shut down the University of New Mexico football program, force UNM to concentrate on athletics programs that have been a success like UNM basketball and return the UNM Soccer program and make UNM a Division II athletic program.
The University of New Mexico needs to concentrate on its intended and most important function: to provide and offer a quality college education at an affordable price to students. UNM needs get out of the business of trying to be a University Division I athletics program powerhouse which is doubtful will ever achieved in the near future after 10 full years of failure . The UNM regents need to take steps to get back to the basics of higher education and stop pouring millions down the black hole known as UNM Football.
With UNM football coach Bob Davies now gone and the football season ended, now is the best time to end the UNM football program as it exists. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Legislature should force UNM to become a Division II sports program and restore successful programs such as the winning Soccer Program.
The University Regents and elected officials need to stop having unrealistic high hopes and dreams for UNM football. UNM needs to stop the insanity of wasting so much money on a failing athletic program in general known for paying outrageous salaries to coaches who do not cut it with loosing seasons and the university is force pay six figures to buy out contracts when they never work out or produce winning seasons.
Until then, a stadium for New Mexico United needs to be built or found.