FSU revives annual booster tour, but in series of private events

Since these events are not advertised or open to the media and general public, we have spoken with a handful of donors in attendance to understand the vision FSU’s leaders are selling — which items they are singling out as their top priorities — and to get a feel for how Norvell and the others have been received in a social settting.

Note: The boosters we spoke with were ony willing to talk on the condition of anonymity because the events were designed to be private affairs.

Changing face of ‘The Tour’

In its heyday, stops on Bobby Bowden’s spring booster tour were one part fundraiser, one part golf tournament and one part family reunion.

With the help of Seminole Boosters executives, Bowden would travel up and down the state of Florida and even push up into Georgia. He’d play golf in the morning, tell stories and give updates on his team during banquets in the evening, and checks would soon be signed and handed over by smitten donors.

In the early days, the tour created a unique opportunity for well-heeled boosters and even run-of-the-mill fans to rub elbows and get an up-close-and-personal perspective of the Seminoles’ head coach. Bowden, of course, was perfectly suited for these events. The legendary coach never met a stranger, and he had an uncanny ability to make everyone he encountered feel important. Once he started winning in a big way, the spring tour became a smashing success.

In 2005, while marking the 30th anniversary of the events, which would draw hundreds at most stops, longtime Seminole Boosters executive director Charlie Barnes explained how the barnstorming tour had evolved and grown through the years.

“At one time, the Tour was a sleepy ride in my Buick, just Coach and me and occasionally Ann Bowden tucked in the back seat between boxes of golf hats,” Barnes wrote in an an article for Florida State Times magazine. “In 2005, [it] is a cross between the Ringling Brothers Circus and the Rolling Stones road show.”

After Bowden retired in 2009, the tour took on a new personality during Jimbo Fisher’s eight-year tenure. Fisher wasn’t as interested in playing golf or schmoozing, so the boosters came up with some new ideas — casino nights and other events to entertain donors who still wanted to hear the new head coach give his thoughts on the team.

Fisher could be captivating in those group settings, as his passion and knowledge of football was readily apparent every time he spoke. But Fisher was hit-or-miss when it came to personal engagement with the fans. Some came away feeling as if he was aloof, while others were impressed with their interactions. Many of the donors who stepped up financially did so because they believed in the product he could put on the field, not necessarily because they loved his personality.

The number of spring tour stops decreased during Fisher’s time at FSU, but they were still seen as an important tool for connecting with donors, sharing the program’s message and, of course, raising funds.

Once Fisher bolted for Texas A&M, Willie Taggart’s first FSU spring tour in 2018 was a huge success, with fans once again packed into venues across the state. Taggart came early to events and charmed fans in VIP settings; he also drew loud cheers and applause when he would make bold statements about how well the Seminoles were going to play that fall.