Anthony Hennen writes for the Martin Center about the latest example of universities engaging in questionable spending.

Collegiate esports—competitive video gaming—has grown dramatically in recent years. Small private colleges and large state universities alike have built programs to attract students, grow name recognition, and pull in sponsorships.

However, the expensive esports arenas in which students compete, and the annual budget commitments that come with new programs, have only attracted sponsors in a few places. Aside from a handful of standout programs, most esports programs have had little success in bringing revenue to their colleges. While esports is cheaper to get into than football or basketball, it may still be another financial weight.

A Martin Center review of public records shows that esports programs are high-cost amenities with questionable rewards.

When colleges announce these programs, they sell them as low-cost and high-reward. Many colleges brag about how esports will attract sponsors and students. Esports are seen as a recruiting tool, especially for small colleges that aren’t widely known. Though hundreds of colleges now have esports teams, new programs still claim to be innovative. Esports may attract a few students who would otherwise not enroll, but it requires a big investment. Building an esports arena isn’t cheap. …

… Small budgets can grow quickly. Illinois State has gone from spending $52,500 in 2020 to $121,300 in 2021.

Some industry boosters argue that the average cost of starting an esports program is $46,000 with a budget of $23,000, but that is nowhere near the case for a public university with an official (not student-led) program.

In some cases, it’s hard to get a full view of the program.

Public universities are cagey about sharing sponsorship contracts and details. Ohio State and the University of Utah both declined to share all sponsorship details with the Martin Center, calling the information a business secret.