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Inside Project Osceola: Florida State sports’ 9-figure private equity plan

An ACC exit by 2026? Naming rights to Doak? They’re all mentioned in the 2,500 pages of records we received.
 
Florida State has spent months looking into potential private equity partners for FSU sports. This slide (obtained through a public record request) started a 26-page presentation. The final 24 pages were redacted.
Florida State has spent months looking into potential private equity partners for FSU sports. This slide (obtained through a public record request) started a 26-page presentation. The final 24 pages were redacted. [ Florida State University documents ]
Published Feb. 6

The first known mention of the two-word phrase that could revolutionize Florida State sports sits on the top of the third page of a cash projections spreadsheet from September 2022.

Project Osceola.

The name is a nod to the Seminoles’ spear-planting symbol. The project is a potential nine-figure private equity investment into FSU sports that could accelerate conference realignment and touch everything from the Tampa Bay Lightning to Minor League Baseball.

Osceola and Renegade are among the Florida State Seminoles' most famous sports symbols.
Osceola and Renegade are among the Florida State Seminoles' most famous sports symbols. [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]

After the sports business website Sportico first reported FSU’s private equity talks in August, the Tampa Bay Times requested public records from the Seminoles. The Times received more than 2,500 pages last week.

The resulting picture is riddled with redactions and tantalizingly incomplete. Some of the most interesting tidbits are only semi-related — like a potential date for FSU to leave the ACC and a naming sponsor for Doak Campbell Stadium. It’s possible nothing ever materializes beyond due-diligence checklists and presentations labeled “strictly private and confidential.”

But the emails, PDFs and spreadsheets still provide the deepest, albeit preliminary, glimpse of the complex legal theories, detailed financial discussions and groundbreaking possibilities of Project Osceola.

How a private equity investment at FSU might work

A document from J.P. Morgan lists some of the goals as Florida State University considered private-equity investment into Seminoles athletics in October 2022.
A document from J.P. Morgan lists some of the goals as Florida State University considered private-equity investment into Seminoles athletics in October 2022. [ Florida State University documents ]

The best explanation comes in a September 2022 email from Ken Artin, a public finance attorney at the firm Bryant Miller Olive. State agencies, he wrote, generally can’t become a “joint venture partner, equity partner and anything that looks like that” with a for-profit company. But there’s a workaround, which he called a “super license agreement.”

FSU can move its intellectual property (like logos and names) to a new university entity. That new entity could license the intellectual property to someone else (a private-equity firm). The firm would then try to profit off that licensed material by using it better, more efficiently or in new ways.

Within six months, that proposed non-profit entity had a name: FSU NewCo. The specific intellectual property available from FSU NewCo is redacted.

The companies involved

In August 2022, FSU and J.P. Morgan signed a non-disclosure agreement to work on a deal with outside investors. At least two private-equity firms were interested.

One was Arctos, whose sports portfolio includes a share of the Lightning and Red Sox. The other was Sixth Street, which has a stake in the San Antonio Spurs and the sports entertainment company Legends Hospitality.

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FSU signed an exclusivity deal with Sixth Street over the summer.

Financial terms

A September 2022 presentation from J.P. Morgan lists some goals for Florida State University regarding a potential private-equity investment into Seminoles athletics.
A September 2022 presentation from J.P. Morgan lists some goals for Florida State University regarding a potential private-equity investment into Seminoles athletics. [ Florida State University documents ]

They’re almost all redacted, beyond a few peeks.

In November 2022, at least two scenarios had $250 million in private equity.

A second set of figures comes from an “ACC Upside” model in January 2023. It lists a $75 million initial investment plus a $50 million “follow-up equity investment” four years later. By 2032, it projects FSU’s 2032 cash flow to be $197 million — $46 million more than the “No Investment” scenario.

An email from an attorney at Davis Polk & Wardwell outlines FSU’s proposals in June: $25 million upfront, another $125 million under redacted circumstances plus up to $200 million in future debt “without consent and without additional limitations.”

Beyond the cash injection, FSU’s goals (as laid out in an October 2022 presentation) included maximizing revenue opportunities to stay nationally competitive, modernizing management structure, ensuring flexibility in any deal and conducting the process in a way that protects FSU “from negative reaction from important constituents.”

How FSU would use the money

It’s unclear. Arctos and Sixth Street both wanted “a more concrete answer” in March.

As FSU considered $250 million scenarios, athletic director Michael Alford and a school financial administrator, Michael Williams, wanted the money upfront for capital projects. J.P. Morgan’s Todd L. Smith responded that FSU “will ‘owe’ investors a return on that,” so “collecting it all up front if we don’t have immediate need or use will ‘cost’ something.”

Paying off debt would make it easier to divvy up revenue between investors and FSU, according to discussion materials from September 2022. FSU has since approved $265 million in additional debt to renovate Doak Campbell Stadium.

Additional operating expenses were also mentioned, and a June discussion included an initial purchase and “General Basket” of money FSU could use on anything.

Could private equity fund FSU’s ACC exit?

Florida State and the ACC are litigating the Seminoles' potential exit from the conference.
Florida State and the ACC are litigating the Seminoles' potential exit from the conference. [ ERIK VERDUZCO | AP (2023) ]

FSU redacted or withheld records as the school and conference litigate the Seminoles’ potential half-billion-dollar exit from the league. But FSU’s ACC future pops out of bars of black; one review featured a “General Basket” and unexplained “Conference Basket.”

One of the “next steps” listed in October 2022: “Determine use of proceeds, especially in a ‘no realignment’ scenario.” By January 2023, there was a “Leave ACC” budget model. Its commentary is partially redacted, but conference payouts spike from $43 million in 2025 to $96.4 million the next year.

Football ticket revenue for home games jumps, too. Its 2026 projections are $18.6 million — $3.2 million more than the “Base Case” — in part because of “post-ACC-exit ticket prices in-line with peers.”

Sixth Street’s due diligence tracker had a March request for conference payout details in the “base case and conference change case.”

Naming rights to Doak

Florida State's football home is Doak Campbell Stadium.
Florida State's football home is Doak Campbell Stadium. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP (2023) ]

Projections for 2026 include naming rights to FSU’s football home, formally called Bobby Bowden Field at Doak S. Campbell Stadium. FSU’s Year 1 revenue ranges from $1.5 million to $5 million, depending on the document and its assumptions. Sponsorship for the basketball arena, the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, adds another $800,000-$2.6 million.

USF (Yuengling Center), Florida (Exactech Arena) and UCF (FBC Mortgage Stadium) are among the state teams with corporate names on their buildings. Last season, Georgia Tech tacked on Hyundai Field to the name of its century-old Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Multiple budgets add a concert series at Doak (four shows with 50,000 spectators each, according to an August model). FSU eventually expects these two revenue streams to top $10 million per year.

Minor League Baseball in Tallahassee?

That’s a possibility, according to a 10-year projection the sports consulting firm Navigate presented in 2022. The document lists a $75 million expense for FSU in the 2027 fiscal year for a new baseball stadium; the Seminoles’ Dick Howser Stadium is four decades old. FSU’s baseball revenue nearly doubles to $2.75 million.

A new revenue source also appears in ’27: “Minor League Baseball Team.” It initially adds a combined $4.1 million in tickets, sponsorship/licensing and facilities. The idea is cited in at least one other document but never detailed.

Name, image and likeness

The Battle's End is a Florida State name, image and likeness collective. It had a tailgating setup before the Seminoles' game against Syracuse.
The Battle's End is a Florida State name, image and likeness collective. It had a tailgating setup before the Seminoles' game against Syracuse. [ MATT BAKER | Times (2023) ]

Multiple documents cite $8 million in name, image and likeness (NIL) contributions for the ’24 fiscal year. One scenario ups that figure by 2-3% each year. In another, donations spike to $11.1 million in ‘25 and $13.6 million by ‘32.

These numbers are notable because they’re an official snapshot in a murky marketplace filled with unverifiable, third-party claims. They’re also relevant to Project Osceola; Sixth Street asked about FSU’s NIL partnerships and “plan moving forward” in July.

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