It has been seven months since the Jacksonville Jaguars introduced their image for a future stadium - a project that had taken the franchise nearly three years to conceive. The renovation of EverBank Stadium is still very much in it’s infancy, with works planned to spread across the 2026 and 2027 football seasons.
The Jaguars continue to negotiate the finer details with the city; President Mark Lamping working to find common ground with Mayor Donna Deegan. And whilst the larger impact this huge project will have on the city’s infrastructure and residents remains a big priority - for many, the pressing concern is determining where the team will play football during the two seasons of renovation.
Lots of potential options were offered back last Summer when the decision to upgrade the stadium was announced - some more speculative than others. With discussions gathering pace, has there been a change in thinking?
Jacksonville mayor Donna Deegan tells gathering that the word that comes to mind when she thinks of #Jaguars and the city is “partnership.” Another reason to believe Stadium deal will get done. pic.twitter.com/CRbTK7AX21— Eugene Frenette (@GeneFrenette) July 18, 2023
To some degree, yes. When the plans were first announced, it was suggested that the Jaguars would have to relocate for two full years. But as more and more meetings with the city and stakeholders were held, it became apparent that - in a perfect world - the Jaguars would minimize time away from EverBank as much as possible.
Lamping has worked hard to this end with contractors to understand what is possible and what isn’t - it would seem that, with some modest modifications to the schedule of works, there is the possibility that the Jags could possibly remain for most, if not all of the 2026 season in their spiritual home. Now, bear in mind this is a $1.4bn project that has taken more than four years to get to this stage, and any changes in the plan will have to be analyzed against a number of factors, including cost and convenience. City spokesman Phillip Perry, who has worked closely with Lamping, Deegan and even liaised with Roger Goodell, spoke to the Florida Times-Union last week regarding the team staying on home soil:
“There is a desire among virtually all our fans that to the degree we can minimize the number of games away from Jacksonville without too many sacrifices, they certainly would prefer that.We all want the Jaguars to play at home during construction if it’s possible to do so. We are still very early in the process and need to further explore how it will impact the overall construction budget and timeline.”
Future stadium renovations could force the Jaguars to play home games away from TIAA Bank Field for at least two seasons. Could Ben Hill Griffin Stadium be a temporary home for the Jags?— Jacob Rudner (@JacobRudner) May 11, 2023
"It would be worth exploring hosting games in The Swamp."
Story: https://t.co/YgDV5k8fka pic.twitter.com/A9U7xY0NJI
If the team and the city can find ways to mitigate the impact on cost and timeframe, then the Jaguars are looking at the potential of halving the number of games lost to alternative venues. Staying put does come at a cost though; with the top tier closed in order for it to be demolished, the capacity at Everbank would reduce from 68,000 to 44,000 - a drop of 35%. Not only would that affect a crucial revenue stream during an expensive time for the team, but it would also mean a significant proportion of spectators missing out on attending games - not to mention the fan experience understandably falling short of current standards.
Would these fans be better served with relocating to a team nearby? Per Perry, if the team were to look at alternatives - and it would seem that, at least for the 2027 season, they have no choice - then two stadiums in particular make the most sense; Camping World Stadium in Orlando, and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.
These options come with pros and cons of their own. The Swamp would represent an increase in capacity, and is only 90 minutes away. But Florida playing on Saturdays and the Jags playing on Sundays brings its own scheduling complications - and the endurance of the natural turf field would be tested. Conversely, Orlando would not have any such scheduling worries, it being pretty much an empty stadium ready to home a team. And yet, it’s a two hour drive and holds 8,000 less fans than EverBank.
Whichever way the team leans, there’s going to be upheaval.
Does playing at home in 2026 open up a London option?
One option that pretty much every Jaguars fan was reluctant to discuss in the early stages of this expansion process was the potential for the team to play more games in London. For many, the thought of Jacksonville crossing the pond for any more than one home game a season is too much to contemplate - and with two seasons of relocation initially on the cards, it has barely been mentioned as a possibility. But could that change if the Jaguars got to stay at home for one season? It’s a notion that has definitely gathered pace in the UK - particularly after the team’s successful double header in 2023…
In terms of logistics, it’s an appealing suggestion; the team has a base across the pond, with a stadium that would be available pretty much any Sunday they require it. The NFL would salivate at the opportunity to test a longer stay for a team in an international market, and roll out the red carpet to make sure the Jags had everything they required. And if it was just one season - could the fans bear it? Traditionally, the yearly trip to Wembley was looked at with scorn, and dare I say concern. But there’s now 1.4 billion reasons to feel confident that the Jaguars’ long-term future lies in Jacksonville. If they could keep the team in the city in 2026, perhaps - just perhaps - they could live with the ‘home away from home’ for eight or nine games.
Inevitably, the answer probably lies somewhere between these two finite options. Perhaps the Jaguars split their season in half, finding a home in Florida AND having increased games at Wembley Stadium. The decision on where the team plays may be more important to fans, but it’s only a consideration for the city once all the details of construction have been agreed to. With two whole years to finalize plans, don’t expect a firm answer on relocation any time soon.