USF releases findings of on-campus stadium feasibility study

While encouraged by the study, new vice president of athletics Michael Kelly reiterates the USF Football Center remains top priority
The University of South Florida introduces their new athletic director Michael Kelly during a press conference at the Yuengling Center at the University of South Florida campus in Tampa on Friday, June 29, 2018.
BRONTE WITTPENN | Times The University of South Florida introduces their new athletic director Michael Kelly during a press conference at the Yuengling Center at the University of South Florida campus in Tampa on Friday, June 29, 2018.
Published July 30, 2018|Updated July 31, 2018

TAMPA — After poring over a 171-page market and financial feasibility study regarding an on-campus football stadium, new USF vice president of athletics Michael Kelly has drawn at least one concrete conclusion.

The proposed USF Football Center — which would include an indoor practice facility — remains the top priority.

"There are a good percent of people who aren't even aware of that being a goal of ours," Kelly, who formally starts at USF next week, said via conference call Monday.

"We've made great efforts this summer to really clarify that goal, under the leadership of Coach (Charlie) Strong, that this is clearly the way we think we need to build the football program."

Related: New USF AD Michael Kelly on football center, conference realignment and new stadium

As for an on-campus stadium? Kelly gleaned some interesting findings from the study done by Conventions, Sports & Leisure (CSL), which gathered survey data from 8,637 respondents ranging from students to top donors. The entire study can be seen here.

It also assessed local market conditions, crunched key data, and did comparative studies of other new stadiums built in recent years on Division I-A campuses.

Based on its research, it summarized the ideal USF on-campus stadium would seat 35,000, with 10,000 seats dedicated to Scholarship (donor) seating and 1,200 club seats, among other premium-seating options. With attendance generously projected at slightly more than 30,000 a game, the study projects USF could turn a profit.

In the past three years, USF as averaged roughly 20,000 paid attendees and 3,800 students per game, the study reveals.

"Overall, it is estimated that a new (on-campus stadium) could generate $15.8 million in net operating revenue and incur $4.2 million in operating expenses," the study says, "resulting in a net income of roughly $11.7 million before debt service in first year."

But USF still faces an uphill financial climb if it wants a venue similar to Colorado State's 41,000-seat Canvas Stadium, which cost upwards of $24o million and serves as the de facto template for USF's facility.

The study estimated USF could generate roughly $30 million (in capital gift revenue from donor seating, and other fundraising), then fund roughly $100 million in debt. But that still leaves a funding gap of around $110 million.

In terms of athletic donor revenue, USF ranks second to last ($2.4 million annually) in the American Athletic Conference, the study indicates.

If USF wanted to go more modest, it could fully fund a 35,000-seat stadium comparable to FAU's (estimated cost of $120 million), the study indicates. And it would face only a $20 million funding gap if it opted for something similar to Houston's TDECU Stadium (estimated cost of $150 million).

But the survey, which included one-on-one interviews with key USF donors and corporate sponsors, indicated the overwhelming response was no compromise in quality.

"Stakeholders were unanimous in their belief that the university should not build a new stadium if it cannot afford a modern, quality facility," the study said. "They indicated that a lesser-expensive, value-engineered stadium such as Spectrum Stadium at UCF should not be considered."

Kelly said he's not deterred in any way by the pricetag of a Colorado State-style facility, and believes USF can build momentum toward a stadium — financial and otherwise — by first adding the football center. Of those surveyed, only 58 percent were aware of USF's plans to build an indoor practice facility.

"Look at all the things the university (has done), building downtown with the medical center, and what we've done with facilities in the past," he said. "It's just a matter of where it falls into the priorities of the university initiatives and how much support we have."

Other significant findings:

* In terms of overall attitude toward development of a new stadium, those who identified themselves as "occasional ticket buyers" had the highest levels of positivity (85 percent), followed by season-ticket holders (82 percent) and non-ticket-buying alumni (80 percent).

* When asked how construction of a new on-campus stadium would impact attendance at home games, 78 percent of occasional ticket buyers said they'd attend more, with 70 percent of non-ticket-buying alumni responding similarly. Thirty-four percent of Bulls Club donors also said they would attend more games.

* Of students surveyed, 53 percent said the distance of Raymond James Stadium from campus is their biggest deterrent to attending games. Thirty-four percent expressed a limited interest in football.

* USF's student enrollment (42,803) is fourth-largest in the AAC.

* With 303,000 members, USF's living alumni base is nearly 1.7 times larger than the AAC average

* USF's athletic budget of $48.4 million is 7 percent lower than the AAC average, and about 16 percent less than the average of schools with new stadiums.

* With 2,578 athletic donors, USF ranks eighth in the AAC. In terms of athletic donor revenue, it ranks second to last ($2.4 million).

* The Tampa Bay area has the fifth-largest corporate base in AAC (22,087 corporations).

"All in all, I think it's a great baseline document," Kelly said. "It's a great snapshot of the realities of where we are. Off the snapshot, I'm still encouraged about what we have the ability to do in the future, and we just need to work toward it."