COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin was sitting with Michael Porter Jr., as he watched 13 players get picked ahead of him in Thursday’s NBA Draft.
Porter, who was once in the discussion for the top pick, was selected No. 14 by the Denver Nuggets. Porter’s back injury, which limited him to 53 minutes of playing time at Missouri, scared off NBA general managers.
“I don’t think it was a question of talent, because everybody knew he had extreme talent,” Martin said, in a local teleconference Friday morning.
Despite playing in just two full games, and losing both of those in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and NCAA Tournament, the impact Porter had on the Missouri program was obvious.
Not even Martin, who himself sent a jolt of energy back into the program when he was hired as the head coach in March, could take credit for the recognition Porter brought to the program.
“The minute he said ‘I’m going to Missouri’ it changed the trajectory of our program and the perception of our program all around the country,” Martin said. “I think we were probably one of the most talked about programs in America and he had a lot to do with that.”
According to numbers the Tribune obtained from the athletic department, Missouri’s ticket sales this season increased to $5,146,164.15 from last year’s sales of $3,035,663.12.
That’s the most ticket sale revenue the program has had since the 2013-14 season, when the program brought in $5,204,219.30, in Frank Haith’s last season.
As the ticket revenue nearly doubled, the concession stand revenue more than doubled to $141,621.00 from the $58,785.50 it was last season. Again, the most concession stand revenue the team has seen since the 2013-14 season.
Tim Hickman, Missouri’s Deputy Athletic Director and CFO, expected an increase in sales, but nothing near the numbers they saw.
“That one probably surprised all of us. We virtually sold out,” Hickman said. “I don’t think anyone could have predicted that. I think it shows the hunger of our fans to have an exciting program.”
Along with the revenue Missouri became a national brand, again. Though marketing and brand numbers are nearly impossible to quantify, Missouri played on CBS twice last season, a first since the 2013-14 season.
Getting a commitment from Porter, the No. 1 player in the 2017 recruiting class, and bringing in a top-5 recruiting class to help bolster a team that won 27 games in three seasons surely helped.
But, Hickman said it was a combination of Porter and Martin.
“A lot of it was Michael and Cuonzo both,” Hickman said. “A lot of excitement around the program. I think we’ll have similar numbers this year. It’s way early right now. There is a lot of confidence and excitement in Missouri basketball and getting that excitement back is fun.”
The start of returning that excitement from a program that had been dormant for three years began with the coaching hire.
When Kim Anderson was fired, Missouri hired Martin on a seven-year contract worth $21 million, making him the highest paid men’s basketball coach in Missouri basketball history.
“We knew that was what it was going to take, an established coach that had substantial success at different institutions,” Hickman said. “That’s the market.”
Martin’s contract includes a guaranteed pay that started at $2.7 million last year and will increase to $2.8 million next season. It will increase by $100,000 each year.
He also has the opportunity to make an addition $605,000 in incentives each year. He did not earn all of that from this past season, but after making the NCAA Tournament and earning more than $4.5 million in ticket revenue, Martin made an additional $75,000.
Another $50,000 could still be coming his way due to what’s referred to as “Academic/Social” in his memorandum of understanding. That will not be determined until the end of the summer, because summer school is in session.
Along with Martin, Missouri invested heavily in his coaching staff. Martin was given $1.1 million to spend on his coaching staff, per year. Michael Porter Sr., the father of Jontay Porter and Porter Jr., earns $375,000 per year as part of his three-year $1,125,000 salary.
Though Missouri didn’t expect the increase in revenue it got, so rapidly, it did plan for a partial increase Hickman said.
“We bank on part of it because of the additional investment in the staff. That was good,” Hickman said.
Though Porter Jr., is gone, his impact will stay around for at least a few more years. He broke a four-year Missouri NBA drought, and his brother, Jontay, is projected to be a lottery pick next season. Both are players Missouri can always market.
“The branding, marketing, he had a lot to do with that,” Martin said. “That helped us out a lot. I thought he did a great job. He will always be part of our program.”
But while Porter Jr., begins his career in Denver, Martin carries on leading the program. Jontay will be the go-to player for the Tigers next year, much like his brother was expected to be before the injury.
Hickman isn’t sure if the revenue will stay where it was last year, but if anything it assures Missouri of two things: its investment in Martin has paid off so far and the program is alive once again.
“I think it’s probably unrealistic to assume the hype will be at that level all the time. But it’s established a new level at the minimum,” Hickman said. “We’d been on a downward trend for a little bit, then we spiked up. It’s just a new bar set for us.”