As an update to our previous report that the Jaguars could potentially host home games at the Daytona International Speedway, multiple outlets have confirmed that those conversations are still ongoing.
However, we now know those conversations have become just a little more real than simple interest from both sides. We now have details on which seasons are being discussed and we can read between the lines on which locations are truly preferable options versus locations potentially being used in a future bidding war.
Last week, Daytona Speedway president Frank Kelleher spoke with media and covered a multitude of subjects, the biggest one (for Jaguar fans) being the Speedway's exploration into potentially hosting the Jaguars during the coming stadium renovations.
Myself personally and our team we’ve spent some time in Jacksonville meeting with their leadership and a variety of follow-up phone calls with architects and engineers and design firms, you know, really looking at our property, our footprint and understanding what is available.
So, I think when you look at what NASCAR has been doing in the world of sports, I think other sports entities like the Jags and like the NFL are noticing. And I think that’s what makes this Jags conversation probably a little bit more real than maybe some are considering.
Neither organization has any time to waste and it’s a big situation for the Jags to solve for. So again, we’re grateful to be in the consideration set. And yes, I mean, the Jags having a conversation with a football stadium, you know, is less wonky, less work than talking with a 2.5-highbank mile race track. However though, with that comes a lot of unique opportunities and unique storylines, that, again, from an acreage standpoint and visibility standpoint, we can satisfy and solve and if not bring more than the others can bring.
Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher (via WFTV Orlando):— 1010 XL / 92.5 FM (@1010XL) July 11, 2023
"We are in conversations with the Jacksonville #Jaguars on potentially being their home for the '26 and '27 season... I think that we have a venue that the others don't hold a candle to." pic.twitter.com/NJ4y5y6LPd
For many who initially missed it, Jaguars President Mark Lamping was previously interviewed on 1010xl's The Frangie Show on June 14th and initially had this to say on the team's playing stadium options:
One thing Daytona has going for it is that they’re used to big crowds. It’s pretty close. You just have to worry about going back and forth up I-95. So if you’re going to invest a bunch of money in a facility… they’ve hosted football there before.
There will be some issues with that as it relates to infrastructure, so we’ll see how it goes. But again, that’s going to add cost to the project, so we’re going to have to figure out who pays that cost. The preference, if we are going to take games away from Jacksonville, we’ll look at all alternatives because you never know what you may discover, but as you sit here today, you’d have to say Gainesville and Orlando are more prepared to host NFL games right now than doing games at the speedway.
As Lamping notes, the route from Jacksonville to Gainesville is pretty similar time-wise to the route from Daytona. The major difference between the two is that Daytona uses no local roads and is pretty much a straight shot down I-95, with easier gameday stadium entry and exit. Meanwhile, approximately half of the Jacksonville to Gainesville drive is local traffic.
Last week, Lamping spoke with Michael DiRocco of ESPN on the stadium renovation plans and negotiations to provide an update:
The most efficient and the cheapest route is to do it over two years and go to a stadium that you don’t have to add a lot to, which would either be Florida Field [in Gainesville] or Camping World. We’ve had conversations with both. We’ve given them the specs and I think it’s fair to say that both would be interested, assuming that the schedules would work.
The "assuming that the schedules would work" comment would seem to be the key section of this statement that sticks out to me. Since the initial interview took place one month ago more information has come out from involved parties on the pros and cons of each location. Some updates have produced even more potential questions for the Jaguars' executive team.
For instance, we now know that Camping World Stadium in Orlando is in need of its own continued renovations in the coming years. While the stadium was initially built in 1936 it has undergone multiple massive renovations to keep it reasonably updated. Nevertheless, one would guess this would likely not be the team's primary option for the Jaguars. Even if this may be a cheaper option, many Orlando residents will willingly admit that the current Camping World Stadium is likely a last resort situation to host an NFL team, playing two full seasons of home games there, three years into the future. There would likely have to be an agreement in place for additional stadium upgrades to be finished prior to 2026 - including the over-30-year-old upper terrace seating along with other stadium sore spots.
In addition, the University of Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is also entering the initial planning stages for its future renovations, which could be problematic in negotiations depending on the exact timelines.
None of this is to say that Daytona is absolutely the primary out-of-town option for the Jaguars, just that a few of the "cheaper" or "more efficient" options might also come with warts or could potentially not truly be viable options at all. It's truly hard to tell which public comments are just normal business interview comments versus public posturing in preparation for future negotiations between multiple stadiums via the media.
There are also, of course, the local options for the Jaguars: University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium, 121 Financial Ballpark, potentially JAX USL’s future soccer facility (pending construction), and more - each of which also comes with its own pros and cons list, such as attendance limitations, additional costs, etc.
The Jaguars finally have a team worth watching, with a quarterback and a coach I believe in. I'm personally a fan of any venue that will allow the majority of Jaguar fans to not miss home games. Unfortunately, many of the local options would result in an attendance "sell-outs" in the 20,000- 30,000 range, severely limiting attendance for two full seasons.
What say you, Big Cat Country? Which location(s) would you prefer to watch the team play in for the reported 2026 & 2027 seasons during renovations?