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Mythbusters: Will the Jaguars leave Jacksonville?

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Welcome to the Jacksonville Jaguars edition of "Mythbusters". Today's episode focuses on an issue that will simply never die, relocation. 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.

The Myth:

The Jacksonville Jaguars are the most likely team in the NFL to be moved to Las Angeles because they can't sell out their stadium and their market is too small. This myth started soon after the team was awarded as spurned cities like Baltimore could not understand why Jacksonville received a team before they did. The myth died down through the late nineties, but as the team struggled through the late Tom Coughlin and early Jack Del Rio eras, it's come back in full force. Most recently, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com and Sporting News has churned up another rehashing of the same story with the Jaguars.

This myth is directly connected to the constant drumbeat by the NFL and some LA interests to have a team in the 2nd largest market in the United States. While there is no stadium, no fan interest, and no public talks of movement, whenever LA and the NFL are mentioned, you can be sure that Jacksonville is the first team mentioned.

Dissecting the Myth:

This myth comes revolves around two basic premises: 1. That LA will receive a team after resolving the stadium issues, or more correctly the lack of stadium issues, and 2. The idea that Jacksonville cannot support the team/ Wayne Weaver can't afford to keep the team in North Florida.

The first element is the most problematic. There is a push by Ed Roski, a LA Developer, to build a new stadium for the market. It even has a website and everything. I will admit that the "building into a hill" idea to cut down on construction costs is very clever, though the funding aspect of this project is still unclear. They claim to not plan on using any public funds, as there's no way the California budget could ever justify the expenditure.

Just as we did with our Staples Center Project we will privately finance the stadium, office and retail project. The strength of the LA economy enables us to garner a higher price for naming opportunities, suites, club seats and sponsorships, which will enable us to privately finance the stadium and make the team financially secure.

They also claim to be talking to teams about a possible move, but of course, they won't disclose with whom they are meeting. Their website raises an interesting point:

It is our understanding that the National Football League has no intention of expanding, but they do want to be in Los Angeles. State-of-the-art stadiums are required for teams to stay competitive in today’s NFL. We do not control what team will play in the new Los Angeles Stadium, but we do know it will be an existing team that needs to move because they cannot build a new stadium or financially they are not successful in their current market. We can not disclose which teams we are talking with.

Notice that the first part of their statement is all about the stadium situation of the teams, not the financial market. This is key because teams don't typically move unless there are issues with their home field, not the market itself. Look at the recent team moves, and you'll see that they're all stadium related. Owners want state-of-the-art facilities because they bring in huge revenues. Club seats, fancy boxes, etc, all bring in extra money that is not subject to sharing or anything else. It's basically pure profit for the owners.

Jacksonville, as indicated by it's recent hosting of a Super Bowl, is a state-of-the-art facility that has at least a decade of use ahead of it before approaching obsolesce. Sure, Dallas and New York are going to push the issue on how profitable a facility can be, but Jacksonville Municipal Stadium is in the top ten of NFL facilities and is not an issue.

For Jacksonville to move to LA, they would be the first team to up and leave a perfectly acceptable facility.

The Market Question:

I addressed this earlier this week in the first "Mythbusters" article. The accusations that Jacksonville cannot support the Jaguars is based on the idea that the team cannot sell out the stadium. I'd like to think that we've debunked the stadium argument, as the Jaguars now have a "right sized" with the covered seats. If having the Jaguars be "off the list" of possible relocated teams means selling out 74,000 seats (1 out of every 10 people in the city, a standard no team could meet), then there could be a problem.

The Jaguars, despite popular belief, have been a profitble and sucessful enterprise for Wayne Weaver. He purchased the team for 200 million, and it's worth somewhere between 800 and a billion dollars. His return is guaranteed. While some issues such as stadium rights and other sponsorships are still awaiting resolution, were Wayne Weaver to sell the team, they would be a profit generating enterprise in Jacksonville. Would it be AS profitable as a team in LA, certainly not. But then again, look at LA's track record of keeping a team.

If there are questions about Jacksonville's ability to support a team, how about answering these issues about LA. Who is going to drive the hours of LA traffic to go to a game 8 times a season? The stadium is 22 miles from downtown LA, no short haul on their freeway system.

What guarantee is there that a team in LA will catch on for the long haul, unlike the Rams and Raiders? What public indication is there that fans will buy season tickets and that it will become a part of the LA landscape? While there is plenty of developers interest in the scheme, where is the "Touchdown LA" community serving to build interest and fervor into the team?

Wayne Weaver and Selling the Team:

Someday, not far away, Wayne Weaver will sell the team. The Weavers are very invested in the Jacksonville community and are civic leaders. When they leave the NFL, there's strong indication that they'd like to leave the team in the hands of locals that will keep the team with the city. Understand that once the team leaves Jacksonville, it won't be like Baltimore or Cleveland, it's one and done. The City cannot afford the stigma of not being "good enough" for the NFL. While the economic benefit of teams is hard to measure, losing one will be nothing but bad for the city. There is a strong incentive to do whatever it take to keep the team in the city.

That said, were someone to make the right offer, any team could be bought. If you put 25 billion in front of Jerry Jones, he'd at least consider the offer. If an ownership group approached Wayne Weaver, I'm sure he'd entertain the offer, but on his own terms. There's only 32 of these out there, each owner has a great amount of leverage in negotiating the sale. I've no doubt that when the time comes, part of the deal will be a commitment to the City of Jacksonville.

Our good friend Tim/FBT from Jaguars Journal does a great job explaining the lucrativeness of the Jacksonville Market to a potential suitor:

On Eddie DeBartolo:

Immediately, when people hear the name, they believe that his ties to the state of California would make it an absolute that he would move the team to Los Angeles. However, DeBartolo lives in Tampa, and has extensive real estate interests in Jacksonville. Would it really be a stretch for the marketing genius to think that he could be the guy that would be able to ride in on a white horse, bail Wayne Weaver out by buying the team, and then turn it into a franchise that is as profitable and popular as any of the premiere market teams in the league?

The cost of doing business in Florida is relatively cheap. The stadium deal that the Jaguars have currently would be appealing to any potential owner. The tax structure in the state of Florida when compared to what it would cost to do business in Los Angeles cannot be compared. Jacksonville, for all of the small market stigma, has a lot of appeal for any person considering the purchase of an NFL franchise.

Results:

The continued existence of the Jaguars to LA myth is the result of poor research and an ill-considered insult to the sensibilities of Wayne Weaver. When Mike Florio says this:

But if Weaver's ultimate decision not to sell is driven by a desire to win a Super Bowl, moving the team into a stadium that likely would generate a lot more revenue would give him even more ammo to turn the Jaguars into a championship team before he cashes out on his investment.

He shows clear ignorance as to what the Jaguars are doing in Jacksonville. How much more money could the Jaguars have spent this offseason to build a champion? They could have cut a check to Randy Moss, but decided to spend wisely, like they always do. You can't confuse being careful with money with being a "lesser owner". Just because the Jaguars don't operate like Dan Snyder in Washington and Jerry Jones in Dallas doesn't mean that they're lacking in operating funds.

Jacksonville pops up on these relocation lists because the writers fail to take any appreciable attempt at understanding what is really going on with the stadium. The covered seats make perfect sense if you take the time to figure it out. Why should the Jaguars be expected to have one in ten residents in their market come to games when others have vastly lower ratios? If anything, as I argued in the previous piece, this indicates that Jacksonville supports their team in a far larger amount than other teams. These pesky facts get in the way of easy arguments that fit into sound bytes better than the truth.

Next Time someone claims that Jacksonville can't support the team, ask them why Indianapolis, a larger market, is building a new stadium that's SMALLER than JMS? We can pack more fans in against the Raiders than the Colts are building their stadium to handle. Again, facts beat the perception, if writers would just take the time to look at it.

Inconclusive:

I'd like to come right out and call this busted, but there are still some questions to be answered. We'll have much more certainty about the future of the Jaguars in a few months. A Stadium Naming Rights agreement is a good sign, as will be ticket sales as we get into August.

My gut says this is busted though.

-Chris