Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
Clayton Hamilton is a Little Rock native and graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1994. That’s the same year Nolan Richardson guided the Razorbacks to one of the school’s crowning athletic achievements — a No. 1 national ranking and the NCAA basketball championship.
“It was a tremendous time to be [in Fayetteville],” Hamilton said in a recent interview.
Though his professional career took him away from Arkansas, being back for the past 11 years has only reinforced Hamilton’s view that Fayetteville remains the place to be.
Hamilton, 48, returned to Northwest Arkansas in January 2010 as the UA athletic department’s chief financial officer. The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal recognized him in the Forty Under 40 class in 2011.
He’s now one of the department’s four deputy athletic directors, overseeing the day-to-day management of internal engagement, finance and capital projects. He’s a member of the department’s executive cabinet, reporting directly to athletic director Hunter Yurachek.
“Even though I didn’t necessarily see myself coming back to [work for] the Razorbacks as part of my career, I’m incredibly blessed with the opportunity,” Hamilton said. “I’ve had other [job] opportunities the past decade, but I’m blessed to be part of the Razorbacks.”
Hamilton earned an accounting degree from the UA in 1994, then pursued a master’s degree in an area of interest — sports. He earned a master’s degree in sports management in 1997 from the U.S. Sports Academy.
He began his career with the Cleveland Cavaliers and later worked as a controller for the Dallas Cowboys.
Working at the college level was a long-term goal, he said. Before the UA hired him, Hamilton spent the previous eight years working in similar business roles for the athletic departments at Florida State University and the University of Colorado.
“I had such a great experience on the University of Arkansas campus that I knew I wanted to be back [working] on a college campus,” said Hamilton, who is also an adjunct professor in the university’s sports management program.
Hamilton manages the financial affairs and business operations for the Razorback athletic department, including revenues that set a record in fiscal year 2019 of $139.5 million. That’s a 102% increase in the decade since Hamilton first arrived.
Managing the unprecedented growth in college sports revenue has presented challenges. However, nothing quite compares to the financial difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arkansas’ athletic department operated at a six-figure deficit during the 2020 fiscal year (ended June 30), reflecting how the first few months of the pandemic affected revenue.
Arkansas reported $124.2 million in athletic revenue, an 11% decrease from the previous fiscal year. But the pandemic also resulted in a reduction in expenses, which helped balance the budget. Arkansas reported $124.2 million in total operating expenses, marking a 6.6% decrease in costs from the previous year. The NCAA canceled the remainder of all sports in mid-March. Eliminating those travel expenses, game day operations and recruiting visits for all sports reduced a chunk of the costs.
The athletic department reported an operating deficit of $499,779 in fiscal year 2020, but reserves covered the budget balance.
“Coming in [only] at a slight deficit was a positive,” Hamilton said. “I give Hunter a lot of credit for really setting the tone this past year. We weren’t going to impact our student-athletes negatively. There were zero discussions of dropping sports or reducing any support for them.”
Yurachek, who arrived at Arkansas in December 2017 after Jeff Long was fired, promoted Hamilton to deputy AD in July 2018.
“It’s been a pleasant transition [from Long],” Hamilton said. “He [Yurachek] is a good leader and a good family person. And he came in with a vision to unite the Razorbacks. In our mind, Arkansas is a state institution, a state team. Let’s unite around the Razorbacks. It’s easy for those on staff to follow that lead.”
Married with two daughters, ages 12 and 15, Hamilton is a former Walton Arts Center board member. He’s currently a board member for the AquaHawgs youth swim organization.