Skeptics can snicker, but the Jaguars are staying in Jacksonville

Actions speak louder than words.

That was the message from the Jacksonville Jaguars when owner Shad Khan confirmed reports last week that he has made an offer to buy historic Wembley Stadium in London.

The announcement brought up old fears that the purchase may be the first step in moving the Jaguars to London.

The London Evening Standard, which broke the story, even wrote, “Khan’s long term ambition is to move the Jaguars into Wembley Stadium on a permanent basis, but that remains some way off.’’

A USA Today columnist also speculated the Jaguars could wind up in London.

The Jaguars were quick to refute the idea that Khan had any long-range plans to move the team.

Team president Mark Lamping said in a conference call, “I would ask our fans to judge us on our actions, not what possibly their fears might be.’’

Khan said in a statement that the purchase will actually make the Jaguars stronger in Jacksonville.

He then echoed Lamping’s comment, saying “I think actions speak louder than words.’’

Khan even seemed visibly upset that there was speculation about moving the team when he met with the media on the field before the draft started.

Noting he has business interests all over the world, he said, “So I don’t understand. Every time there is a transition, it has visibility and you folks start connecting dots that shouldn’t be connected.’’

Khan and Lamping have a lot of credibility, because their actions would indicate they have made a long-term commitment to Jacksonville.

And it came just a week after Lamping gave his “State of the Franchise” presentation that outlined the challenges the Jaguars face.

Lamping doesn’t sugarcoat things. He is candid about the challenges they face owning a small-market team in a city with one of the lowest per capita incomes in the league.

Back in 2013, Lamping said of the team’s low revenue streams, “We need to fix this. If we do not, we threaten the financial stability of the franchise in Jacksonville.’’

The team has spent the last five years addressing those challenges.

There is no team in the league that is more transparent about their financial blueprint except for the Green Bay Packers, who release their exact profit-and-loss statement each year because they are a community-owned team.

Let’s start with the problems. The Jaguars were second in local revenue in their first year in the league, but fell to 24th in 2003 and 30th in 2012, when Khan bought the team, although they were 26th in 2016, an improvement even though they are still in the bottom quarter.

Lamping noted that Jacksonville is 29th in the league in population and 30th in per capita income.

They don’t have enough of the high-paying corporate jobs than many of the bigger markets have.

And that the city relies heavily on the military presence. There are 150,000 retired military personnel in the city, and they make 50 percent more than the non-military residents. And there are also 50,000 active-duty personnel in the area, although they are not good targets as longtime season-ticket holders because they tend to get transferred. The military personnel pump an estimated $12.3 billion into the city’s economy.

The fact that retired military personnel make more on average than non-military types shows Jacksonville is not an affluent market.

Lamping also noted that the teams in the top half of the league in local revenue tend to be 50 percent more likely to make the playoffs, although the Jaguars showed last year that a salary cap and shared TV revenue enable small-market teams to be competitive.

Local revenue is important because the teams don’t share it.

It doesn’t help that since the Jaguars came into the league, 22 teams have built new stadiums, five more have made $300 million or more in upgrades to their stadiums, two have moved and a third (Oakland) has announced it is moving.

Only the Jaguars and Buffalo Bills aren’t in one of those three categories that have helped the other 30 teams increase revenue.

Teams with new stadiums tend to raise prices. That helps explain why their ticket prices, first in the league in their first year, dropped to 29th in the league in 2012, climbed to 28th in 2017 and figure to be 26th this year.

But then Lamping talked about how the Jaguars have used a lot of out-of-the-box thinking to increase revenue and put the team on a sounder financial footing.

The games in London are not designed to test the waters for a move, but to increase local revenue. The games count as local because the Jaguars play a “home’’ game there each year. The London games have counted as much as 15 percent of their local revenue in the past and were 11 percent last year. The drop is because they have increased other revenues.

Buying Wembley guarantees the Jaguars can keep playing in London.

They also increased revenue by increasing the number of premium seats at Everbank Field, because they didn’t want to raise prices in the general bowl when the team was losing.

They also have a lot of perks for season-ticket holders, and even a specialist dedicated to the first-year experience. About half of first-year season ticket buyers don’t renew, so improving that percentage is critical. If a fan renews for a second year, the odds increase he will keep renewing.

Then there are their unique sponsorship deals such as the new dog park with a pool. That idea led to some raised eyebrows and negative comments.

But it’s really a sponsorship deal with Pet Paradise, and the place isn’t going to be overrun with dogs. You just can’t bring your dog and drop him off. You have to set it up in advance and make sure your dog has all the required shots. And there will be a “Dog of the Week” contest.

Khan also has poured millions of dollars into stadium improvements, including the world’s largest scoreboard and two pools. And he built a combination amphitheater and practice field with the help of public funding.

And Khan also is spearheading a $2.5 billion project to give a new look to the area around the stadium downtown that may take a generation to build as a public-private partnership.

All these moves are signs that Khan has no intention of yanking the Jaguars out of Jacksonville.

It would make no sense to spend all those money and effort in the Jacksonville market while secretly planning to leave.

Still, the skeptics will remain.

There is only one way to prove they are moving — by not moving. Assuming they are in Jacksonville five, 10 and 15 years from now, even the skeptics will have to admit they were wrong about Khan’s intentions.

Leave a Reply