As he approached his one-year anniversary as CEO of Seminole Boosters, Michael Alford sat down with Warchant’s Gene Williams and Ira Schoffel to discuss a variety of topics.
Alford gave an update on plans for the standalone football facility, proposed renovations at Doak Campbell Stadium, expanding the donor base and more.
(Note: Due to a slight issue with the audio, we have included a transcript below along with captioning during the video.)
IRA: You guys set lofty goals when you came in — really since you got settled in here — you guys set lofty goals in terms of getting new boosters and raising that level, but also actually getting cash in hand. How has that gone?
ALFORD: It’s gone very well, Ira. We’ve gone out and, you know how much I believe in face-to-face meetings, and so we’ve gone out and shared our message, shared our vision with our constituents, our donors, and I’m very proud to say right now — through the hard efforts of our staff, and I want to pat them on the back because, you know, change is difficult. And coming in with a different vision and taking that torch that Andy Miller set for 45 years and did such a remarkable job of doing that, but taking it with a new set of eyes and saying, “OK, what can we do to even take it to another level?” And they believed in what we were trying to get accomplished. And our supporters have stepped up. They’ve listened to our message and our vision, and we’ve raised the most cash in the history of Seminole Boosters, in the history of the organization — this past year, in a COVID year.
So that tells you how much support, how much they’re believing in what we’re doing — not only as an organization, a booster organization, but what the athletic department and the coaching staffs are doing, and how they support those student-athletes. Because it really allows us to make a difference in those student-athletes’ lives day to day by those contributions, and we’re able to make strides right now.
IRA: When you set the goals for getting new members … if you could talk a little bit more about the, I guess, change in vision in terms of how you approach, how you expand the base. How do you go about that? And how’s it going?
ALFORD: Well, it’s looking at our donors and our season ticket [buyers] and everything, and it’s about engagement. It’s about reaching out to people, reaching out to people who are not even donors. Reaching out to alumni, and just fans, and really doing a very analytical dive into what interests certain supporters. And then reaching out to them personally and hitting their hot buttons and saying, “We know you’re interested in this. We see that you bought 48 soccer T-shirts the last four years. Let me tell you about our soccer program and how you can support it.” And it’s really resonated with our fan base, that personal communication and the personal touches. And we’re going to continue even improving on that and getting better at reaching them and telling our student-athletes’ stories.
GENE: Michael, just being around right now and seeing the fans — there’s obviously some excitement, you can kind of feel the buzz with the football program going into Mike Norvell’s first full season to really work with the guys during the offseason, what has that relationship been like for you guys? How is he helpful to you in terms of fundraising? What’s he doing to help that?
ALFORD: He and I and A.D. Coburn and all of the above, (Board of Trustees Chairman Ed Burr), we have just an unbelievable relationship. And that was one thing coming here that I really thought was very important — that we had that communication. And I sit down all the time, in depth, with all of the above, and discuss that — that communication needing to be there. But then we also sit down and say, “Here’s where we want to be in the next three years, and what’s our plan to get there.” And the relationship with Coach Norvell, you know, he is 100 percent on board. I believe in everything he’s doing, he believes in everything we’re doing, to make the program better. And how can we assist him to achieve his goals? You know, it’s our job to provide the resources.
He is going to go out and he’s going to have success on the field. He’s going to go and recruit the very best student-athletes in the country to come to Florida State. By doing that, our job is to support him, to provide him the resources and the opportunities and provide those student-athletes the opportunities to be successful in the classroom and on the field. And right now, we’re having a lot of success. People are believing in that vision of providing the very best resources that Florida State can provide.
GENE: Along those lines … I know people are going to want to know what’s going on with the football complex?
ALFORD: Really? I never get that question (laughing).
GENE: I know, I’m gonna throw it out for the first time. But I’m sure Mike Norvell, obviously that’s a big thing for him. We’ve seen the drawings. It looks absolutely beautiful, stunning. What’s going on with that right now?
ALFORD: Yeah, right now, we’ve gone through the Tetris phase, is what I call it, having done this many times. We’ve connected the blocks, the colored blocks, in the facility. So now we’re really setting up now to go through construction and design phase. So that’s getting with the different parties involved, whether it’s the trainer and Coach Norvell, everything that goes into that building. The training table, meeting with our new concessionaire — what are they looking for? What do they need in that building? And really putting in all the glue to hold it all together, because then that allows us to go out and put bids out for a construction company to put a shovel in the ground. But that construction and design, C&D phase, takes 10 to 12 months.
So right now we’re going through that, meeting with the different groups and really putting the nuts and bolts into that building of what we want that Hall of Fame to look like, what’s going to go in that space. That way we can put it out to bid with a true number of what the building’s gonna cost.
IRA: This process has gone on for several years. There’s been different iterations …
ALFORD: It’s been faster the last year, hopefully (laughing) …
IRA: But people that jumped on board early, and then you’ve had other people that have made commitments at different times, do you have to go back and kind of re-sell that again or sell the vision again? Or are people just fine with, “Whatever you guys want to do, we’ll support it.”
ALFORD: That’s a great point. I have personally gone out and sat down with constituents who have given to the facility. And a lot of them wanted to know what was going on and where we stand in the process. So I went out and personally sat down with every single one of them. Showed them the renovation, here is what we’re thinking. Showed them and told them why we’re doing it. Gave them comparisons to our peers — here’s what’s going on at other universities across the country. And this is why we need to step up and provide this first-class experience right now for our student athletes in this program. And they’ve been very receptive. They understand where we’re heading now, the vision that we’ve laid out, they know it’s the No. 1 priority of ours, and they’ve … some of them have even said, “Michael, I gave an initial contribution. I want to step up and do more because I believe where you’re heading.”
IRA: At the same time, you’ve got a big project coming up with at least a proposal for renovating Doak Campbell (Stadium). And that’s something that you’ve talked about — there’s a lot of needs there that have been in place, but you also want to improve it and bring it to another level. Soon you guys are going to be starting, taking people through the Preview Center and getting feedback. How excited are you about that? And how do you feel about the Preview Center and what people are going to see there?
ALFORD: It is one of the top-notch preview centers in the country. I was able to bring one of my friends by, who actually used to work for me, when he ran the L.A. Raiders’ renovations on a new stadium, and did their preview center. And he just loved it. He said this is one of the finest preview centers that we’ve seen. Because it tells our story. And that’s what it’s about — it gives us an opportunity or a platform to sit down, as I said, to sit down wth every single season-ticket holder, donor in a priority process orderly fashion, and tell them what we’re doing, how we’re renovating it, why we’re renovating t, and more importantly how it affects them. And how can they partner with us to get this project under way.
We should be taking the first donors through that in the next couple of weeks. There will be a letter coming out from me, kind of describing, “Here’s the process. And we will be in contact with you, but it is an orderly process.” But our goal is to sit down face-to-face with every single person, and that’s a commitment we have. To not get something in the mail. Sit down. Let us tell you our story, and more importantly, we want your feedback to what we’re proposing to move forward with. And that’s just an important part of the personal touches, as this organization moves forward — that we want to make sure that we have with our constituents and our fan base.
GENE: Michael, when you have obviously a very ambitious — when you look at some of the drawings for Doak, when you look at some of the other stuff you guys are doing … you need a lot of donations to get to where it is. How do you balance that with the financial strain Florida State Athletics is having — and all schools really, all athletic departments right now are under a lot of financial crisis — especially in light of what happened with COVID the past couple of years.
ALFORD: One hundred percent. And really that comes with, I call it the master plan. What can we accomplish? And I talked earlier about our successful year that we were able to have this year and increasing our annual fund, and where we’ve been able to take that. And we’re not done. And we’ve got to continue to build on that annual fund and get our numbers back. But just that increase, what it will allow us to do even this year was build a new weight room for all 550 student athletes. We could not have done that without the contributions of all. It wasn’t one donor that stepped up and helped us. We were able to do that because of the increased funding for that weight room. So all Seminoles should be proud that they contributed to that project that’s going to have a lasting impact, not only on the football program, but all of our programs. As they recruit to Florida State University and they are able to show people that first-class weight room.
We’re running a campaign right now that we’re almost finished for adding video boards to softball and soccer, and that’s almost fully funded. And we’re moving forward with that project. So there’s a lot of projects we’re doing on top of the football facility, on top of the potential renovations of Doak Campbell Stadium, that we’re having a lot of success with. A lot of donors are stepping up and seeing the needs and seeing that we need to compete at the highest level possible. And when does that take place? So we’ve had a lot of success and we’re going to continue to tell our student-athletes’ stories and ask people to continue to partner with us. And as we grow our funds and as we grow our annual fund, it just allows us to be able to make a difference in these student-athletes’ lives. And also allows us to get our facilities caught up a little bit to our peers.
GENE: I’m glad you mentioned softball and soccer, because that was one thing i wondered — we’re always ultra-focused on football for obvious reasons — at the same point, those two sports have had so much success the last few years. Are you seeing with those sports, is that why you’re able to upgrade those sports, because people are dedicating money to softball and soccer and sports like that that are doing so well?
ALFORD: You look at all of our sports. We had one of the best years in golf, both teams were ranked No. 1 at the same time. And we are constantly, we just got a nice gift again for our golf program the other day. So we’re looking at a potential master plan for what we can do and build for those programs, because they need a new facility. I just had a meeting today with Brooke Niles over at beach volleyball about looking on paper at what do you need to be successful? And what can be put in place. You’ll hear me talk about a master plan a lot, because we need to understand what these programs need. We can’t address them all at once, but if we can put a plan together and a funding model, we’ll be able to address them when we can. Some will be more important say than others. When I say more important, they may be in a higher need where another program can wait a couple of years to address it because their facilities maybe aren’t as run down or behind some other places …
So it’s really putting together a master plan of how we strategically go about and attack and ask for support. Attack those facility needs, but more importantly we want to share that vision with our fans who are interested and care truly about those sports on top of what they do for let’s say football or basketball and some others. But they really focus in on those sports where we’ve had success and just share that vision.
IRA: Obviously the expense side is more David Coburn’s territory as athletics director …
ALFORD: He’s the best at it!
IRA: How challenging is that? And the only reason I bring it up now is because I think a lot of fans, when they hear talk about expansion and growth and development, they’re also like, “Well, we also have heard times are tough because of COVID and the other pressures economically.” How well have you guys worked together, in terms of his side kind of controlling expenses while you guys can also keep growing?
ALFORD: Hand in hand. A.D. Coburn, I tease him Vice President/A.D. Coburn — that title’s really long (laughing). He and I are in constant communication, three or four times a day. We’re talking, we’re texting. He knows my vision, I know what’s important to him. I talk to him, “David, what do you see here?” And he’s asking my opinion, “What do you think we need to address here?” Then let’s come up with a pro forma of whether it’s in a week or whether it’s five years. Here’s a pro forma of how we’re going to get this done. And I can’t tell you how instrumental he has been in supporting us in what we are getting accomplished and also how important he is for me personally. I can sit down with the finances and say, “How can we help? And what are your biggest needs?” So that we can go on and address those right now. We have had great success because we are so linked in sharing the same vision and the same mindset. Different skill sets, but working together to get things accomplished.
IRA: Being somewhat new to the Florida State community, it feels like you’ve been here longer than you have … because you’ve been so vocal, you’ve been out front-facing with the media and also those face-to-face opportunities. But having been at other schools, what have been your impressions this first year of the response you’ve gotten and I guess also the welcome you’ve gotten at Florida State.
ALFORD: Someone asked me this, I spoke the other day to the Jacksonville Seminole Club and this question came up. I’ve had so many friends that played here in various sports, and I have so many coaching friends that came through here. And they always talked about Florida State and the people at Florida State. … You’re like, “OK, I get it, every school says that.” Then you get here, and I’ve lived here 11 months Ira, as you’ve mentioned, and getting to travel the state and meet the people and share my vision, but more importantly hear their vision for where they want the program to be. And just find out how authentic they are, and how much love they have for this university has really stood out to me. They truly care. They care more about the university, but they care so much about the success of the student-athletes and what we can do to make them successful in the classroom and on the field.
And just being able to put that vision, and hear their stories from when they were a student here sitting in the stands and watching the games, whether it was basketball, football or going to other events. And just how can we take that partnership and make our student-athletes have success even greater every year from where they’ve been. That’s what’s really stood out to me. Going down to Miami and hearing the people in South Florida just talk about, “Hey I can’t get to Tallahassee all the time, but I want to support you. And we have a big contingency down here and we want that Seminole flag flying down here in South Florida. Please come visit us.” And we’ve been down there so many times just sharing the story, probably more than we have been in many years because they’re such a great contingency down there and across the state. It’s just getting out and sharing our stories.
IRA: Last thing I have is looking at the Doak possible renovations. That, beyond paying for itself, I guess you’ve said it may be something that helps fund other improvements if it goes off the way you guys hope. How would that work?
ALFORD: It’s about a 38-page pro forma that I’m constantly tweaking and drafting and looking at, but it’s the same pro forma that we built Cowboys Stadium with. It’s the same pro forma that we did the $160 million renovation of Memorial Stadium in Oklahoma. The process has been successful elsewhere, the same pro forma that (they) took from what we did there and took it to the Raiders and had success there with that stadium. So it’s taking that pro forma and really going back to an earlier comment: “Everyone is going to help us achieve our goals.” It’s not going to be one donor, two donors, three donors. They’re going to have a significant impact, but really we’re going to reach out to the masses and share our vision and really tell our story on how they can help us achieve our overall athletic department goal.
And through that pro forma, it will help us fund other facilities and other projects moving forward as we look at that master plan. And when can we address these needs moving through the years. Because one thing you don’t want to do is sit here and have a facility or a need and not address it a little bit at a time. Because then it becomes a real big problem, and maybe sometimes too big to overcome. So it’s making sure that we have the timelines and the procedures in place that we are constantly updating our facilities to compete nationally for championships amongst our peers.