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The USF Stadium Feasibility Study Shows Where, But Not How — And That’s The Hard Part

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So who’s paying for this thing?

USF

If USF broke ground on a stadium along Fowler Avenue tomorrow, the projected costs for what they’d like to build range between $194,240,634 and $202,382,256.

If they wait until 2022 to put a shovel in the ground, a very optimistic timeline considering USF Vice President for Administrative Services and civil engineer Calvin Williams said during the press conference “I’ll tell you, if we had the dollars today, we’re still five to seven years out,” those same costs are projected to range between $236,973,574 and $246,906,474.

Where are the infamously unable-to-raise-big-money USF Bulls going to come up with that kind of cash? It’s not like you have to write a check for everything before you start digging. Almost all stadium projects are funded overwhelmingly by debt service. But you’ve still got to have a significant down payment.

Williams added that “no educational and general state funds will be used to fund the construction of this project." Shortly thereafter, USF athletic director Mark Harlan backpedaled from that proclamation like Mike Jenkins in his prime. “I think on tuition, I think when it comes to student fees, I think it goes back to the conversation that we would have with the students,” said Harlan, who then opened his hips on the route break and tried to high point the ball. “I think right now, we're so early in process it's hard quite candidly to take that off the table.”

And with good reason. Though USF students are already paying 36.1% of USF Athletics $47 million annual budget, they’re going to have to chip in even harder to make this happen.

And so will major donors to the university, above and beyond what they’ll be asked to give to an indoor practice facility that, while needed, won’t generate a cent of revenue on its own.

And so will a major company willing to purchase naming rights well into seven figures annually.

And so will the local corporate community that will be asked to sign contracts on a projected 24-32 luxury suites.

The history there isn’t good: the pro forma to pay for an upgraded Sun Dome assumed the sale of eight luxury suites at $30,000 per year each. They didn’t sell one. And don’t even look at the difference in the number of events they were supposed to be drawing before Jeff Vinik took over the disaster that was the Dome’s non-sporting event calendar. They were off by millions.

And now you’re going even bigger with a stadium that will draw fewer events on the same types of projections? Anyone else a bit worried here?

It’s very pretty to look at an official university-created document with the collective Bulls Country dream of a world-class football stadium on it, but they’ve got to find a way to pay for this thing. I just don’t see where they’re going to get the money to make it work without taking on some scary accounting or violating GAAP principles.

But here’s the other problem: I don’t know how USF doesn’t build this stadium either.

Leaving several million dollars in revenue streams per year on the table to play 20 minutes away from campus is really dumb as well. We’re renters, and eventually everyone needs to own a home for financial stability. And it doesn’t help that the Community Investment Tax Stadium (RIP Chris Thomas), which was 100% paid for by the taxpayers of Hillsborough County, brutally screws over the football team of the home public school.

Last season USF paid the Tampa Sports Authority $165,000 for every game where less than 24,000 fans walked through the turnstiles. If more than 24,000 did... the price went up to $177,000. And that’s before a service charge of 8% of every ticket sold, up to $2.50 per ticket, that goes right in the TSA/Glazers’ pockets.

USF sells lots and lots of food and drink and beer at games, and gets exactly zero dollars in revenue. But hey, they get a 25% discount on the exorbitant rates for catering! It’s only 15% in their designated suites, but... on average, that’s like, 20%! Hooray!

USF gets a flat-rate of $250,000 a season for every single suite ticket sold at Ray Jay. There could be 10 purchased, or 10,000 purchased. It doesn’t matter a lick to the bottom line, because the same check gets cashed either way.

If you can’t generate over $1,000,000 a year in revenue on 32 suites, don’t even think about building a stadium.

One solution might be a public-private partnership (P3) like USF did with the Publix and dorms on campus. It’s how C.Florida built their football facility, but it comes with significant downsides. The Knights gave up all the revenue from freshmen-required on-campus food contracts for decades. USF is giving the HSRE-Capstone firm $410 million of dorm rental income over the next 51 years.

UCF’s stadium cost under $70 million to build. What revenue streams would USF have to sacrifice to get a ~$200 million municipal bond?

Oh, and what if another Holtz New Era debacle hits and the stands are empty again? Are we being financially irresponsible, and possibly taking away more and more dollars that could be used for the academic mission of the university... you know, theoretically why we’re here in the first place?

I just don’t know because we don’t have access to those numbers (yet). What I do know is the Sun Dome upgrade massively underperformed projections, and that mistake can’t be made again. And I also know USF football can’t get where they want to go while getting held up by those practicing usury on Dale Mabry Boulevard.

So USF has to build their own stadium. If they can afford it. Which they very well might not be able to do.

Making this project a reality will be really tough. Despite the pretty pictures and dreams of a fan base sparked today, it’s likely a long way from happening.

If ever.