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Mythbusters: Is Jacksonville only a "College Town"?

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Welcome to a very special edition of "Mythbusters". Today's episode focuses on an NFL team that is surrounded by poorly researched talking points and rehashed arguments that hold little water. Rather than repeat the same nonsense, Big Cat Country will attempt to settle these "myths" once and for all. If you're looking for actual Mythbusters, feel free to look at these fun pictures.

Myth "Jacksonville is a "College Town".

College Town: the two words that are required to be mentioned in the first three sentences of any national coverage of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The city of Jacksonville, according to this myth, is unable to maintain a relationship with the Jaguars because their focus is on the college game of the University of Florida and Florida State University, with a little bit of University of Georgia and University of Miami tossed in for flavor. Further explanations of this myth clam that people who are college football fans first and foremost cannot appreciate the Jaguars style of play because they are used to high scoring one-sided games. Another twist on the myth implies that "college town" fans expect college type seasons of 10-1 or 11-0, rather than the realistic 10-6, 9-7 of a good NFL team.

Evidence to support this myth typically involves stadium attendance at the Florida/Georgia game, proximity to Gainesville and Tallahassee, and the occasional "local blackout" of Jaguars games.

Attacking the Evidence:

The Florida-Georgia game requires up to 80,000 seats in Jacksonville Municipal Stadium through the use of temporary seating. JMS's "capacity" is 76,787, with the Jaguars covering 10,000 seats for about 67,000 seats for Jaguars games. Because 80,000 people attend a once a year game from two entire states, the city of Jacksonville is seen as a college town that cannot support an NFL team. Vic Ketchman of Jaguars.com makes a very good case:

Florida-Georgia drives the perception that Jacksonville is a college football town because seats are added. Hey, if Penn State and Ohio State played at Heinz Field they’d have to add seats. Does that make Pittsburgh a college football town? The same would be true if Florida and Georgia played in the Georgia Dome, or Texas and Oklahoma played in Texas Stadium, or Alabama and Tennessee played in Nashville. Pro football doesn’t have 100,000-seat stadiums. Pro football goes for high demand, not high supply.

Interestingly, citing the Florida-Georgia game is used as evidence of the "college town", but the fact that the ACC Championship game is suffering a critical depleation of sales and is moving from Jacksonville to Tampa or Charlotte gets little mention. Going from 72,749 in 2005, then 62,850 in 2006 and 53,212 in a "college town" (remember, FSU and UM are in the ACC), should indicate that there's more to the situation.

The Stadium:

This of course assumes that filling a stadium with 80,000 fans once is the same thing as filling a stadium with 67,000 fans eight times a year. I say eight times, because I hardly expect full attendance at preseason games. Of the "blackouts" last season, all of them had full stadiums on Sunday. What happens is that the NFL decides to blackout a game based on a deadline a few days before the game. Ticket sales, on the other hand, go right up and through game day. The stadium is full, or damn close to it on Sundays. We're talking about a shortfall of maybe a thousand tickets or less.

Jacksonville has a huge stadium for a market of its size. With the seats uncovered, it is in the top five largest stadiums in the NFL. Based on market size, the number determined by the league to represent the Jaguars "turf", has a population of 1,100,491. The average MSA size is 4,485,695. New York City, with over 21 million, is the largest MSA. As a comparison, Indianapolis has a MSA of 1.6 million, and the RCA Dome seats 57,980/Lucas Oil Stadium 63,000. A market with a half million more potential buyers has a stadium with significantly less seats. The Jaguars at their absolute worst in ticket sales (2000) would have sold out the RCA dome in most games.

The number that matters most is the Population per Seat figure. There are 15.08 potential ticket buyers in the Jacksonville MSA per seat. That's the highest figure in the league. The league average is almost 70 per seat. That means that four times as many fans, by percentage, are going to Jaguars games than the NFL average.

That indicates the opposite of a "college town", when more people are buying tickets than the NFL average. JaxJagfl.com does a fantastic job breaking down these numbers, if you'd like more information. For the Jaguars to be "right sized" for a 1 to 70 ratio of seats to population, the stadium would require less than 17,000 seats, something that's absurd. The Jaguars sell more seats per population than any other team in the NFL, with the occasional exception of Buffalo.

Buffalo, by the way, has a million people in Rochester, and a million or two in Toronto. Jacksonville has an Ocean, Daytona, Gainesville, and I-10 as it's nearest neighbors and they're still selling seats.

Television:

The Florida-Georgia game was the second most watched sporting event in the Jacksonville MSA last year. Meanwhile, the highest was Colts at Jaguars, and 15 of the top 20 sporting events were NFL games. Again, I'll defer to Vic Ketchman , who has access to ratings numbers that I do not:

The Jaguars are so dominant in the ratings that their preseason game in Green Bay got substantially higher ratings than three of the five college games in the top 20. The Patriots at Cowboys game also got substantially higher ratings than three of the five college games in the top 20. The Bucs at Jaguars preseason game got a 14.4 to a 14.6 for Florida at Kentucky. When you look at those numbers, it’s impossible to call this a college town.

The Jacksonville Gators:

Yes, there is a very popular football team 90 minutes to the southwest of Jacksonville. The Florida Gators are the most popular college team in Florida, and Jacksonville is home to many of their fans, alumni, and supporters. Tim Tebow is from a High School just south of the city (Nease), Fred Taylor is from UF, and the Jaguars last two first round picks are from UF.

Some speculate that there is an ulterior motive in selecting Reggie Nelson and Derrick Harvey, that they'll attract Gator fans to Jaguars games. This is silly. I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that any benefit of ticket sales is completely secondary to the player being selected by the Jaguars. No team worth its salt would ever select a player based on ticket sales rather than team needs/best player available. It's irresponsible to assume the Jaguars would operate otherwise.

It is certainly an added benefit though. I see nothing wrong with people following the Gators and the Jaguars, other than my Florida State bias, of course. I follow college football very closely, and I'm perfectly capable of understanding both. The nonsense about fans expecting college type seasons out of the Jaguars is the most condescending argument I've ever heard. What they're really saying is that they think Jacksonville is too dumb/redneck/poor/etc to understand the difference between the college game and the "more sophisticated" NFL game.

Why does the myth stick?

It's simple really, there's just not enough time to explain all these factors. People react to what they see. When the Jaguars hosted the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, it was shortly after the Stadium needed the temporary seating for another event. So when the National Media comes to town, not only do they see 10,000 covered seats, but an extra 8,000 seats that are only used for the big college games and the Super Bowl. They use their eyes and write a story under deadline based on perception. Perception, in this case, does not equal reality.

Frankly, Jacksonville will fight with this perception until every game is sold out in advance and the words 'blackout" are never mentioned. If we have to debate and explain things like MSA and seat per population we've already accepted the media's premise that Jacksonville isn't an NFL town. The very act of defending the city adds to the perception that it's too small, and draws more bad attention. It will only be when the Jaguars can avoid this subject entirely, that this myth will die.

Results:

I think it's conclusive that Jacksonville is NOT a mere "college town", and that the continued existence of this myth is a combination of lazy journalism and poorly constructed arguments.

I'm sure Jamie and Adam would agree that this myth is...

BUSTED

Next time on Mythbusters, a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars and the dreaded "relocation".

-Chris