This article originally appeared on FootballOutsiders.com and was written by and posted with permission from Mike Tanier, the author.
Jaguars fans, unite! Both of you.
OK, that's the last one. You won't see any more "Jaguars have no fans" jokes around here. It was an easy gag, and it's gotten stale. What's more, Jaguars fans -- the tens of thousands who loyally, passionately support their team -- are tired of hearing that their team has no fan base and is one blackout away from a move to Los Angeles, London, or Pluto. They've enlisted some heavy hitters to spur ticket sales and improve Jacksonville's image as a legitimate NFL market.
And there aren't many hitters as heavy as five-time Pro Bowl tackle Tony Boselli.
"The city of Jacksonville likes being an NFL market," Boselli told me in an interview earlier this month. "Last year was not good enough -- we need to support this team." To get the fanbase motivated, Boselli joined forces with Jacksonville mayor John Peyton to create the "Touchdown Jacksonville: Revive the Pride" program and the Team Teal project.
Here's how Team Teal works: Individuals or companies become Team Captains by purchasing season tickets. The captains then encourage others to join their teams by buying season tickets. Money spent on tickets turn into points, which make members eligible for prizes ranging from autographed memorabilia to tailgate parties. Boselli and other Team Teal representatives host rallies around the Jacksonville area to promote interest in both the program and the Jaguars. "It's a way to connect to the team and remind people how excited this city was to get a franchise 15 years ago," Boselli said.
So far, it's working. The Jaguars have retained 90 percent of their season-ticket holders from last year and have attracted 12,500 more ticket holders through mid-July. That may not sound like a lot to fans in cities where the season-ticket waiting list is measured in decades, but it's a big deal in a state hard hit by the recession and for a team that didn't make any high-profile moves in the offseason. "LeBron James didn't sign here," joked Boselli the day after the basketball star's me-festival.
Those of us who wrote the Jaguars off as an "orphan" franchise (and I am as guilty as anyone) have blown the team's ticket situation out of proportion in recent years. The Bills, Bengals, and other small-market teams have had a hard time filling the seats since the recession started, but the Jaguars are the butt of most of the "empty seat" gags.
"You would think that the blackout was invented in Jacksonville," Boselli said. He's also not impressed by the Los Angeles talk. "I lived in L.A. when they had two teams, and nobody went to those games."
The Jaguars haven't helped themselves in recent years. The on-field product was bad-to-mediocre in 2008 and 2009, thanks largely to a string of poor drafts. Football Outsiders Almanac projects another seven-win season for the Jaguars -- 6.8 mean wins, to be precise -- but new general manager Gene Smith offers some hope, and Boselli likes what he's seen in the last two drafts. He likes tackles Eben Britton and Eugene Monroe, noting that Monroe came on strong in the second half of the season after holding out early in the year. And Boselli, like Mike Mayock, likes defensive end Tyson Alualu, the Jaguars top pick this season. As a former USC tackle, Boselli knows a thing or two about Pac-10 pass rushers.
Team Teal still has a long way to go. The Jaguars need to sell thousands more tickets before to prevent regular blackouts, though Boselli expects a rush in August, when most ticket packages are sold. The grass-roots, booster-club nature of Team Teal may seem like a high-school tactic to some, but it's a necessity in a city that hasn't yet built the kind of generational loyalty that insulates teams like the Redskins or Packers against a few bad seasons. Remember, the Jaguars are just 15 years old. "It's not fair to judge this franchise and these fans for one year out of 15," Boselli said.
Besides, what's wrong with a little extra team-to-fan interaction? Boselli wants Touchdown Jacksonville and Team Teal to live on, even when Jacksonville Municipal Stadium is full. "I would recommend that any team do it," he said. "The more you can touch the fans and connect with the fans, the better chance you have of winning those fans over."
Give Jacksonville and the Jaguars the benefit of the doubt. They're trying. And while we may have snuck a no-fans joke into FOA ("if you rebuild it, they won't come"), writer Tom Gower also gave Team Teal their due, and spent most of his chapter talking about the things we are supposed to talk about: Alualu, Monroe, David Garrard, Maurice Jones-Drew, and the actual team. In the rush to pick on the Jaguars, some people forget that the team still plays actual football, that they reached the playoffs in 2007, and that they were in the hunt for much of last season.
"When the season starts," Boselli said, "the story will be that the Jaguars fans answered the call."