The Jacksonville Jaguars made NFL headlines by firing longtime head coach Jack Del Rio, but there was another announcement that may be much more newsworthy: owner Wayne Weaver has agreed to sell the team.
The Jaguars have had attendance problems for a while, and Jacksonville has the smallest potential fan base to pull from of any NFL team other than the Green Bay Packers, who are in an entirely different situation due to their longevity in the league. Many have speculated for a few years now that the Jaguars could or should move.
One issue that some bring up is the fact that there are three teams within the state of Florida, but proximity is not really an issue. Jacksonville is about four or five hours from Tampa and six or seven hours from Miami; there are many other NFL franchises that are closer together than that.
At the time when the NFL decided to expand the US was undergoing a significant population shift from the northeast to the southeast. The league wanted more teams in that part of the country, and the Panthers and Jaguars were added. It seemed like a smart, forward way of thinking at the time.
Remember that at the time the franchise was awarded to Jacksonville there were still two teams in Los Angeles. About the only surprise was that the NFL did not add a team to then-vacant St. Louis, but the Rams ended up moving there the same year the Jaguars began play. Baltimore was considered but the NFL really wanted a team in the southeast; the Browns moved to Baltimore a year later. Nashville and Memphis were considered too, and the Oilers moved there two years later. I’m guessing that even if the NFL hadn’t awarded the franchise to Jacksonville then one of those other teams would have moved there anyways.
There are however issues that in retrospect the NFL should have noticed. By far the largest employer in the area is the Navy; military personnel come and go, which doesn’t help build a solid fan base. Military contracts also come and go, depending on what happens in congress. On top of that the density of the population is not attractive; the population is far more spread out than in other NFL cities. The population of the city is very deceiving because it covers a much larger area than any other city; it can take 45 minutes to drive from one side of Jacksonville to the other. Although the population of Jacksonville is about one million, it has less people within a one hour drive than any other team does.
The final straw in this perfect storm was the downturn of the economy, specifically with the housing market and mortgage industry. Florida’s economy was a house of cards; it was built up by population growth and not by any significant industry.
That was fine as long as people kept migrating to the state, buying a new home, and everything that goes with it. But home values rose and many could not afford the bigger tax bill. Then the mortgage crisis came along, and people sell their homes. The peripheral careers that so many were employed in – real estate, mortgage brokers, title companies, tile, rug, furniture, roofing, swimming pools, you name it – all suddenly found themselves with no customers. With few employers not affected by the housing market the state’s economy has been, and still is hit much harder than almost any other state has been.
The net result is an area with relatively fewer fans, many of whom are loyal to a team outside the state, and fewer with the available disposable income to purchase NFL tickets.
So where should the Jaguars go? Obviously the networks want a team in Los Angeles, but I don’t think the city, county or state is going to give the concessions that an NFL owner is looking for. San Antonio is the seventh largest city in the country, but would the area give up their Cowboys gear for a new team? I doubt it; plus Jerry Jones would surely fight tooth and nail against what he would perceive as encroachment on his fan base.
Other cities like Omaha, Oklahoma City, Mobile and Birmingham are more into their college sports. Why move from one college-based area to another? In those places pro football will always take a back seat to college football. Salt Lake City for a beer-drinking crowd on Sunday? I don’t think so. Vancouver and Portland are possibilities, but that’s really Seahawks territory; I don’t know that there would be enough support there. Toronto might make sense – but not as long as Buffalo still has the Bills. There has been speculation about London, but the logistics of travel on a weekly basis to and from there make this unrealistic – and I am not convinced their is enough interest there to support a team for ten home games.
So how about Mexico City?
The city has a population of 8.8 million, which is far greater than any other area being considered. A few years ago the 49ers and Arizona played a regular season game there and it drew over 100,000 fans. The primary reason against Mexico City is that it probably makes a lot more sense to move the San Diego Chargers there, another team that has trouble filling seats in an area where the locals have plenty of other options thanks to the beautiful weather there.
Of course this may all be a moot point due to a strong lease that the team has with the city. The only way out is to convince a local judge that the team has lost money for three straight years, and as we saw in the last round of CBA negotiations, NFL teams are very reluctant to make that type of disclosure. Besides that, I’m not convinced that any NFL team is actually losing money; open those books up and we may find some very creative accounting that won’t fly with the city’s legal representatives. Besides being on the hook for the lease, the ownership would also have to reimburse the city for other lost revenues such as taxes and parking.
So if the Jaguars can’t move, what should they do? Simple; do what they should have done in April of 2010: acquire Tim Tebow.
It is painfully obvious that John Elway and the Denver Broncos management does not believe in Tebow. Tebow is a local hometown hero in northern Florida, and create a buzz and fan interest that the team is currently sorely lacking. After the season is over Denver should trade Tebow to Jacksonville. It would not only be a win-win for both franchises, it would be good for Tebow – and good for the NFL.
Just do it.