Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in the Osceola and was written by Jerry Kutz, owner and publisher of the Osceola, and a retired Sr. Vice President of Seminole Boosters. For information on the Osceola and how to subscribe, visit https://theosceola.com/

A series of letters are being sent to all Seminole Booster members from President John Thrasher asking for support of FSU football.

Thrasher provides insight into the firing of the head coach and the university’s desire to provide fans the championship football program they demand. The “Renaissance” package also looks back at the history of FSU football and the strength FSU has drawn in the number of fans willing to help rather than a reliance on a couple of major donors.  

“As the current football season progressed, our program reached a crossroads,” Thrasher wrote. “Athletic Director David Coburn and I chose to take decisive action to help restore our status as a national contender. We are currently conducting a comprehensive national search for a new Head Coach, interviewing numerous respected candidates. Director Coburn and I are asking each candidate to share his vision for Florida State football. Our goal is to find the right fit for our student-athletes, the university and all Seminoles.”

Below is the full letter, signed by Thrasher:

Also included was a letter that was titled, “The Renaissance of Seminole Football.” You can view that PDF here.

The first in what will be a series of letters was sent to a select group of major donors last week, who have previously expressed an interest in making a leadership gift to the Unconquered Campaign for football. There was a positive response to this group of donors ahead of the second batch of letters, which are going out now.

“We have received several generous commitments of support to begin the overall effort,” Thrasher notes in the second letter, “But we also need every member of Seminole Boosters to contribute what they can to achieve an even greater result.”

The second batch of letters, which is now being stuffed, goes to each Seminole Booster member at the Tomahawk level ($1300) and above asking them to consider how they can help. The ask follows:

“Today, if you are able, I ask that you increase your annual Booster commitment to the next giving level for 2020. If you can’t make that financial commitment, please consider a one-time 20 percent increase and encourage your family and friends to join Seminole Boosters today. I truly believe every Seminole can make a difference in this effort.”

All Seminole Booster members and fans will be asked in subsequent asks over the course of the year.

The money raised will fund the:

  • Transition to a new head coach and staff 
  • Costs associated with a new staff 
  • Increased operating budget for the football program 

The gifts received will help fund the one-time expenses of the transition and negate the impact on the athletic budget or on the ability of FSU’s other 19 programs to compete for championships.  

FSU will not know the total cost of the transition until the entire staff is hired. However, no matter which head coach is hired, the university does realize the transition will have a major impact on the athletics budget. That reality, combined with an existing budget deficit for the next two years, certainly had to inspire the need to ask now.

More than 40 percent of budget is fan dependent

To fully appreciate the urgency of Thrasher’s letter, one needs to understand that more than 40 percent of the athletics budget comes largely from season football ticket sales and from Seminole Booster member contributions, 70 percent of which are tied to football ticket sales. As a result, FSU’s athletic budget is extremely dependent on FSU fans buying in to the direction of the program. 

Many fans don’t realize the university may not use taxpayer money to fund athletics. Nor may the university build athletics facilities – they must be built with athletics revenues or private contributions. The 30-year bond issue on existing FSU athletic facilities is more than $10 million each year. The university must also charge athletics the full cost of athletic scholarships, which is another $10 million plus per year. An athletics budget must balance each year and the fans play a huge role in that with season ticket sales and with contributions to athletics through Seminole Boosters, Inc.

While Nebraska holds an NCAA record with 374 straight home-game sell outs, even now with four losing seasons in the past five, Florida State’s reality is the team must win big or fans will stay home. You know the demographics, so we don’t need to get into all that, but suffice it to say FSU must win in football in order to generate the funds for the other programs.

Last week we noted FSU’s season ticket sales have gradually fallen from 2014, following the national championship, from 45,000 to nearly 25,000. That accounts for a loss of about $8 million in ticket sales revenue and a loss of about $7 million in Booster contributions associated with those tickets.

FSU experienced a similar drop in ticket sales at the end of the Bobby Bowden era, which also stimulated a coaching transition.

The athletics budget is that dependent on fans. Hate to put it this way but Thrasher and Coburn are in a position in this coaching transition where they need to feel confident the FSU fan base will provide support, otherwise they will be writing a check their ass can’t cash. 

Timing of the ask

Some people wonder: Why ask now? Why not wait until after the head coach is hired?

While I am retired from my role as Sr. Vice President of Seminole Boosters, with responsibility for raising $17 million in the annual fund each year, I would predict you’ll see another ask right after the new coach is hired, no matter who it is, and a continuing series of asks. 

There’s no perfect time to make an ask.

Rather than view this as just another ask, I see this letter as a frank communication with donors, an update in a trying time for athletics and an uncertain time for the  fan base. The tribulations and uncertainty makes this a good time to communicate in my opinion.

Fans want transparency and this letter is what transparency looks like. What I read is the letter is good to know. The President is admitting he had to make a change in the head coach he hired; acknowledged our university’s desire to be a national contender rather than a mid-level ACC program; noted there will be a considerable cost of transition; and of course made the ask for everyone’s help.

The ask is voluntary, not mandatory, which is noteworthy.

In my 19 years at Seminole Boosters, I was in charge of administering three ticket priority policy changes, where we increased donor levels in an effort to balance the athletics budget. If a season ticket holder wanted to maintain seats, they were required to increase their donor level. We also increased the amount people were required to give to maintain their benefits. As you can imagine, there was no good time to deliver bad news.

I would imagine there were long meetings discussing the pros and cons of another ticket priority policy change – it has been three years since the last – so this voluntary ask tells me FSU is not tone deaf to their fan base. It has been an emotional six years since FSU last hoisted the National Championship Trophy in the Rose Bowl and it was wise to make this a voluntary campaign.

My gut tells me the net result of this voluntary ask will be better than a forced increase. There will be people who will give. And there will be fewer who will bail as there would have been if FSU made it a forced increase. Give the admin some props for having restraint in an extremely urgent time.

The first voluntary ask, this one before the head coach is hired, gives those philanthropic people an opportunity to make an unconditional gift to the university in a time of need. There are people who are inclined to make these kinds of leadership gifts.

And there are people responding.

Once the head coach is hired, there will be another ask. The people who are waiting to see who the next coach will be will then have the opportunity to help. 

And there will be another ask, and another ask, after that. 

The expectation of Florida State fans will not change. The demand is for excellence and nothing less.