Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported that the loss of 10,000 seats in the Jacksonville stadium could cost the team $200,000 a year. The loss instead potentially costs $200,000 a game. This version has been corrected.
A Solution, or Merely a Cover?
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- To understand the disparity, the helplessness the NFL's have-nots sometimes feel in a league of haves, you need to see the tarps at Alltel Stadium. They are impossible to miss, stretched up over more than 30 rows in eight sections, pulled like window shades over this city's lofty dreams.
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver decided to install them before last season, cutting the stadium's capacity by 9,713, an admission that the town just isn't big enough to consistently fill a stadium with 76,877 seats.
The Jaguars are the only team in the NFL to take such a measure. Given the fact that only 11 years ago they led the league in revenue, it is a shocking sign of just how far they have fallen.
"It's an important, drastic measure to cover seats," said Dean Bonham, a Denver-based sports marketing consultant who studied the Jaguars' finances at the request of the city. "It's analogous to not being able to stock the inventory necessary for survival."
Professional football can bring a lot to a city, and it has done so here over the last 13 years. It has given the city a major league team, a stadium and a Super Bowl that city leaders say generated hundreds of millions of dollars. "A lot of people didn't know where Jacksonville was," says John Peyton, the city's mayor.
But it also has delivered a rude message that Jacksonville, despite its rise, still is the nation's 42nd-largest metropolitan area in terms of population, and as such has limitations. And if anyone needed a reminder, it will come on Sunday when the Jaguars -- who claim to have lost money two of the last five years -- play the Washington Redskins, who not only don't need tarps over their seats, but have found they don't have enough tickets to sell at FedEx Field, with its 91,704 seats and 243 suites.
For now, the Jaguars hang in with their covered seats. The result of their experiment has been spectacular, if success is measured by sold-out games. The Jaguars sold out every game last season and are completely sold out again this year, which means their home games can be broadcast on local television, providing essential exposure. But there are nearly 10,000 fewer seats in the stadium than before, potentially costing the team some $200,000 a game in ticket revenue.
"What I did was create more demand than supply, which is going to allow me to raise prices over time," Weaver said in his Alltel Stadium office one recent morning. "But there's no way I'll catch up. The league's average [ticket increase] is 5 to 6 percent, so in order to catch up I have to raise mine twice that. I can't do it. Economics doesn't work this way."
Weaver, a wealthy man by virtue of his years running the Nine West shoe company, wants everyone to know he does not begrudge the Redskins or owner Daniel Snyder. In fact, he says he admires Snyder's business acumen and devotion to the Redskins. Nor does he want to be seen as leading some kind of crusade for the smaller-market teams against the behemoths.
He agreed to be interviewed for this story because he thinks it is important for people to understand that the NFL's business model has changed and that the riches enjoyed by some teams no longer apply to Jacksonville, where the goal is not to get rich beyond all imagination but simply to stay afloat.
Because right now, the gap between rich and poor is getting bigger.
Take, for instance, assistant coaches. In 2004, the Jaguars spent a total of $3.311 million on assistant coaches, according to the NFL Coaches Association, which shared its figures with the Florida Times-Union. The Redskins, by contrast, spent $5.22 million. This year, Washington agreed to give Al Saunders, its new associate head coach, $2 million a season.