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USF athletic director pleads for more fan support after successful spring

“We’re doing everything we can internally to kind of keep this trajectory going,” Michael Kelly said. Externally, he’d like some help.
USF football attendance has been a financial drain for the Bulls. Athletic director Michael Kelly is pleading for more support from fans, alumni and community members.
USF football attendance has been a financial drain for the Bulls. Athletic director Michael Kelly is pleading for more support from fans, alumni and community members. [ (2019) ]
Published Jun. 25

TAMPA — USF athletic director Michael Kelly was flanked by two tables’ worth of trophies at a news conference Thursday. He talked up the Bulls’ 10 AAC championships (six team, four individual), then touted their 13 All-Americans and three top-25 programs.

“We’re doing everything we can internally to kind of keep this trajectory going,” Kelly said.

Key word: Internally.

Externally? Well…

At least five times during a wide-ranging 45-minute news conference, Kelly directly or indirectly asked for more support from fans, alumni and the community.

“If you like the taste of success we’re having,” Kelly said, “now is the time to join the stampede even more.”

USF athletic director Michael Kelly stood by some of the Bulls' many trophies from the 2020-21 school year.
USF athletic director Michael Kelly stood by some of the Bulls' many trophies from the 2020-21 school year. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]

Kelly made his pleas for several reasons, including the fact that “I think we deserve it” after experiencing energetic crowds in baseball and softball during the Bulls’ postseason trips to Florida and Texas.

“You can see what a special atmosphere can do and what a special opportunity that was for them,” Kelly said. “I have visions of the same thing that we’ve had in the past. We want to be everything we can at our complex here and have that kind of support there.”

Related: College Football Playoff expansion would be ‘great news’ for USF, Bulls AD says

The financial implications are obvious, especially after last year. Kelly estimated the athletic department lost $10 million in revenue — a big chunk of a $50 million budget — and is down more than 60 employees because of the coronavirus pandemic. Season tickets and donations are the easiest ways to recoup those losses.

Kelly’s requests also came amidst the Bulls’ facility upgrades. A $3 million renovation to the Lee Roy Selmon Athletics Center is underway, with a new football locker room still on track to be ready for the start of preseason camp. After three years of waiting, the Bulls plan to break ground on their new 88,000-square-foot, $22 million indoor practice facility later this summer. A stand-alone football operations building is still in the fundraising stage but remains part of the program’s long-term plans.

USF's indoor practice facility, seen here in a rendering released in 2021, is scheduled to open in 2022.
USF's indoor practice facility, seen here in a rendering released in 2021, is scheduled to open in 2022. [ Courtesy of USF ]

Kelly didn’t mention football attendance specifically, but empty seats at Raymond James Stadium have been a longstanding eyesore and financial drain, even during non-COVID years. USF averaged an announced crowd of 31,823 at its home games in 2019.

Related: With USF indoor facility coming, what about an on-campus football stadium?

Kelly made it clear that he and the rest of the Bulls are grateful for the support they have. They just need more. He was reminded of that recently when he stumbled upon a historical quote as USF prepares for its 25th football season: USF athletics will be as successful as its fans want it to be.

“That’s pretty striking, when you really want to think about it…” Kelly said. “It’s going to continue to take all of Bulls Nation to continue to be as great as we want to be.”

Jeff Scott will win a title, Kelly believes

If you were wondering whether Jeff Scott’s inaugural 1-8 season has Kelly second-guessing his decision to hire the former Clemson assistant, it hasn’t.

“I believe with every fiber of my being that Coach Scott is going to lead USF to a conference championship,” Kelly said. “It’s just a matter of when. I just believe it with every aspect of my heart.”

Related: How would College Football Playoff expansion affect the coaching carousel?

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