FSU Athletics Eyes $327M Bond Offering Amid Legal Fight With ACC

The Florida State University athletic department is looking to raise $326.6 million from an upcoming bond offering as administrators speak openly about the Seminoles falling behind financially.

A preliminary offering statement, posted this week via Florida’s Division of Bond Finance, says the purpose of the revenue bonds is to finance renovations to the school’s football stadium and the construction of a new football operations facility. The combined cost of those two projects, the statement says, is $372.3 million, with $233.7 million attributed to the Doak Campbell Stadium renovations and $138.6 million to the new football building. The work is expected to be completed in August 2025.

The bonds, to be issued as early as next week by the State of Florida Board of Governors, are backed by revenue generated by the Seminoles, including conference payouts, ticket sales, annual booster donations and sponsorships. The $326.6 million is broken into two series—a $291.6 million Series 2024A and a $35 million taxable Series 2024B—and would join roughly $111 million in other athletics bonds, also tied to Seminoles revenue, with payments that are still outstanding.

The offering comes as Florida State examines its future as one of college sports’ most valuable brands. The school is currently suing the ACC to try to leave the league without cost, and is in talks to bring on outside capital from private equity, two moves that could help address what FSU administrators say is a widening financial gap between the schools in the two richest conferences (the SEC and Big Ten) and everyone else.

The schedule of estimated debt service on the new issuing says the annual payments of principal and interest will start at $18.5 million in 2025, before jumping up to $26 million in 2027. It will be roughly $21.1 million per year from 2030-2044, and roughly $13.1 million per year from 2045 to 2054, when the entire sum ($562 million) is scheduled to be paid off. Fitch has assigned an ‘AA-‘ rating to the debt.

The document devotes nearly 1,200 words to the “changing nature of college athletics,” under which it discusses the movement toward revenue-sharing with athletes, NIL, the looser transfer portal, conference realignment, and the school’s legal battle with the ACC.

“The above-referenced factors, collectively or individually, could result in a material change to FSU’s on-field performance and/or the Pledged Revenues over the life of the Series 2024A&B Bonds,” the offering statement says. “Buyers of the Series 2024A&B Bonds should take into consideration these developments, and other potential risk factors related to collegiate athletics, when deciding whether to purchase the Series 2024A&B Bonds.”

Driven largely by some of those same concerns, FSU and Clemson, perhaps the ACC’s two most valuable members, are both asking courts to allow them to exit the conference without cost. FSU’s lawsuit alleges that the league’s exit fee and grant of rights are unenforceable. If that route is unsuccessful, FSU could explore the possibility of paying its way out, an onerous sum that a school lawyer estimated in December could cost as much as $572 million.

Bonds are a common way for athletic departments to fund major projects, particularly ones for which it can make a direct case for increased revenue (which it uses to pay off the money). It’s an alternative to other common funding sources, such as booster donations, grants and cash reserves.

FSU athletics has also spent the last two years exploring a far less common funding source: Private equity. Ash Sportico was first to report, the school has been working with JPMorgan Chase to explore the possibility of bringing on outside capital to fund its athletic department, perhaps for the first time in the history of big-time college sports. Last year those talks, which the school has dubbed “Project Osceola,” narrowed to PE giant Sixth Street, though no deal has been reached and it’s unclear if one will. There are obvious concerns and sensitivities about how to structure a deal with a public university, and how to grant contractually-obligated returns for the fund.

A representative for FSU athletics didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment on the status of those talks, or how (if at all) the bond issue might affect them.

The Doak Campbell Stadium renovations, according to the offering statement, will include rebuilding the west side of the venue to replace about 27,000 bleacher seats with a combination of new bleacher seats and premium hospitality areas—suites, loge boxes, club seats and chairback seats— which will be sold using what sounds like a Personal Seat License (PSL) model. The document says that the majority of the capital contributions for that premium seating has already been secured—$60.3 million as of March 31, 2024, of a total contribution target of $85.6 million.

The renovations also include replacing seats in the Seminoles’ Champions Club, which will also require one-time capital contributions, the document says. In total the renovations will reduce the capacity of the venue from 79,560 to something “between 65,000 and 70,000, but the renovations will significantly increase the number and diversity of premium seating options available to ticketholders,” the document says.

These would not be the only bonds tied to the financial success of the FSU athletic department. The offering statement references five prior series issued by FSU Financial Assistance Inc., a unit of the Seminole Boosters, a not-for-profit designed to support the athletic department (with the benefit of being shielded by open records laws). Those bonds total $111.8 million in outstanding prior lien obligations, and are backed by certain athletics-related revenues.

FSU spent $172 million on athletics in fiscal 2023, the 17th-highest total among all public schools, according to data in Sportico‘s college finance database. Clemson ranks No. 16, and every school in the top 15 will be in either the SEC or Big Ten next season.