Money is too good for Florida-Georgia game to leave Jacksonville

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Florida defensive back Trey Dean III (21) breaks up a pass attempt to Georgia wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman in their game last month in Jacksonville. [Lauren Bacho/Staff Photographer]

By Gene Frenette, GateHouse Florida

JACKSONVILLE — Many college football traditions have gone by the wayside, some of it due to conference realignment and others lost to plain, old-fashioned greed or negligence.

Just don’t expect the Florida-Georgia game to fall into that category and move away from Jacksonville any time soon.

Is it impossible? No, because few things in sports last forever. But it’s going to take a lot more than occasional grumbling about Florida owning a geographical home-field advantage, or a lament from Georgia football coach Kirby Smart about losing a recruiting weekend, to compel the schools to abandon a good thing.

Prying the Florida-Georgia game away from the same venue it has played continuously since 1933 (except 1994-95 for Gator Bowl renovations) would take a bizarre turn of events. It’s anchored down pretty tight at TIAA Bank Field. Jacksonville would have to fumble the ball in a bad way because nobody of considerable influence wants the game going anywhere.

Not Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin, not Georgia AD Greg McGarity, not the Jaguars, and certainly not Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry. He’s never been shy about ripping the previous administration of Alvin Brown for not being more pro-active in negotiating a contract renewal with the schools, so Curry would view it as a personal affront to see the Florida-Georgia game and its $35 million economic impact go elsewhere on his watch.

But Jacksonville’s foothold on this game goes beyond staging 86 years of nearly uninterrupted tradition. It’s the fans feeling connected to the 50-50 atmosphere of coming to Jacksonville, the RV city experience, the relationships forged over decades of this city trying to accommodate the wishes of the most heated SEC rivals besides Alabama and Auburn.

All those factors, however, are secondary to the most important reason why Jacksonville should have this game on lockdown for the foreseeable future: money.

Florida and Georgia are now pocketing $3.3 million in profit annually to play in Jacksonville. That’s what makes any discussion of going to a home-and-home series so foolhardy because every year, the away team would receive no money and spend several hundred thousand dollars on travel costs that are now covered.

Smart can lament all he wants about Georgia losing one recruiting weekend every two years. Aside from the fact he’s already brought home a top-3 recruiting class nationally every year since his arrival, there’s no way McGarity or school president Jere Morehead would leave $3.3 million on the table. And nobody in the UF administration is going to consider that option either.

 

None of this means Jacksonville can take for granted the game will always be here. If anything could put the game’s future in jeopardy, it’s complacency. The city flirted with that a little bit during the Brown administration, letting communication with the schools slip through the cracks so badly, Curry, Jaguars’ president Mark Lamping and other officials had to mend some fences after the mayor took office in the summer of 2015.

The last contract didn’t get signed until March, 2016, seven months before it was due to expire. Normally, a deal is consummated well over a year before the last game is played, though the Jaguars’ unfinished renovations to 3,000 club seats factored into the delay.

Curry was adamant when the last contract got signed to include a provision that negotiations would start sooner in the process, so he’s been more diligent about not letting communication issues become a problem.

As McGarity told the Times-Union when the 2016 deal was consummated: “The city was very responsive once [Curry] came on board. Little things in deals are big things. This isn’t a slam dunk or formality. We don’t want the game to move, but don’t give us a reason to move it.”

If there’s any legitimate threat to the game leaving Jacksonville, it’d be a combination of two things: not acquiescing to the schools’ contractual demand of the Florida-Georgia game capacity remaining 82,917, along with any future push from Georgia to maybe bring Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium into the equation on a biennial basis.

It’s no secret the replacement venue for the demolished Georgia Dome has become a huge neutral-site player on the college football landscape. With an expanded capacity of 75,000, though it’s almost 8,000 less seats than TIAA Bank Field, the only way Atlanta can significantly outspend Jacksonville for the Florida-Georgia game in terms of payout would be to charge at least double for club seats.

 

Between tradition and the economics that plays out in Jacksonville’s favor, nothing short of an unforeseen disaster is going to force the Florida-Georgia game out of TIAA Bank Field. Next year, look for a new five-year Florida-Georgia contract to be signed through 2026. Jacksonville is not going to be another Birmingham, which lost the SEC Championship Game to Atlanta in 2005 and will never get it back.

As long as Jacksonville makes keeping the Florida-Georgia game a top priority, nobody is going to hijack its greatest single-day sporting event.

gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540

28 COMMENTS

  1. Jax is about as close to the state line as it can be, short of somebody building a 85-90K capacity on the actual state line, close to I-75, where-in half the seats are in Georgia and half are in Florida — now that would be above fault and entirely fair. But pray, who is going to fund such a lunatic notion as that, to be used once a year? What, move it to Tallahassee or Atlanta as neutral sites? Brother. If that, hell — let’s move it to Dallas and make it really difficult to get to. Or better yet, if we want both sides to feel the pain equally, let’s haul off and move the damn thing to the Peoples Republic of Kalifornia!

    I can only talk from personal experience on one thing, but I know that when the US Army began to de-emphasize its traditions several years ago, it denigrated itself beyond words for a while and it sure took a long time to get that mojo back.

    I can think of tons of reasons to keep it right in Jacksonville, but the best one is to leave well enough alone. Gator-6 Out.

  2. If you say the teams travel is an issue. UGA does travel further, but when you look at the states individual fan base which is much broader for each team than their respective location Jacksonville is a fairly central locale. I know Gator fans that drive from the Carolinas for this game. I have seen UGA fans driving up I75 from south of me for the game. Look at the people that sail in, fly in etc.

    • A bit of a tardy post, but good points 65. I was never able to attend this game as a UF student. My ex-wife and I were going to go one year, but our dog sitter backed out at the last minute. My current wife (a Texan and now a big time Gator fan!) and I fly from Texas every year (believe it or not, I actually think my ex and her husband are going to drive up from West Palm Beach and meet us in Jax this year). For us, it is as much about the experience than just the football game. We love going to the Swamp, but the Jax venue for this game is something special in every way. The year before last, my wife’s former (retired) boss (a UGA grad) from Denver joined us. We tailgated with a bunch of Dawgs and the game sucked, but we still had an amazing time. IMO, some traditions should never change!

  3. The problem with holding it in Atlanta is Gators fans probably won’t travel that far to fill half the stadium. I’m pretty sure Atlanta could match whatever Jacksonville pays if the seats are filled with a 50-50 split between the schools.

    The question I have is why can’t the universities make roughly $7M profit per game in a home and home scenario to equal what they are getting from Jacksonville each year X 2. Obviously, Jacksonville makes at least that much or else they wouldn’t host it. Since the schools already own the stadiums, that’s one less party to share a big piece of the profit. If the answer is the City of Jacksonville figured out how to generate tax revenue to pay the teams, maybe the cities of Gainesville and Athens should team up to do the same and put in a competing bid to make it a home and home series. Sounds like the real losers are Gainesville and Athens and their businesses while Jacksonville is profiting at their expense. I’m not advocating either option or have any inside knowledge. Just thinking out loud.

      • It is a great point, Jaws, and Sly is applying logic to the situation. I of course salute him for that and have come to really appreciate that about the way his mind works.

        This is, however, one of the very few topics that I’ll admit to thinking predominantly emotionally about — because the game in Jacksonville IS centered in emotions, traditions, history and the like. Making it another home & away game, to me, would mean that it’s no longer special. I can be Mr Spock about just about anything else from bowel gas to world peace and would like to think of that as more or less my default setting — but not about this one.

      • From estimates there are over 100k people that don’t even go in the stadium but tail gate. If that many people showed up in Athens or Gainesville I think it would read the system beyond capacity. They can handle the limits of the stadiums plus a % but no where near what is in Jacksonville. Atlanta can handle it but if you think Jacksonville has traffic Atlanta is another game.

        • Great point 65. If true, the larger tailgating only crowd in Jacksonville would generate greater economic impact. My logical mind, as Doc put it, failed to factor in those people. I mean, isn’t it illogical to tailgate and not have a ticket to the game? Wouldn’t it be more convenient, comfortable, no traffic to fight, and less expensive to have a party at their house? Fans are so illogical.

          • Its called tradition, its that something different that you get to do each year and look forward to. I guess if it gets moved we can blame you for destroying the oldest tradition in college football! Want that moniker?
            Jax is NOT Gator territory. It is split mainly between UF, FSU and Ga fans. No one has a majority. At least the Gators can psychologically claim it as home turf, but it truly is neutral territory. The same cant be said about Atlanta, in the heart of Dawg territory.

          • Well Daz, I remember Georgia people griping about the game being played in the “Gator” Bowl. Now it’s the “Ace Widget Tree Service Corporation – Slim Jim Sausage On A Stick gator Bowl”. Or some such nonsense. What more could those scum suckin’ wads of spit want?

          • Sly, I’ve been to this game dozens of times. A few early on with no ticket. Just tailgated around stadium. Was poor back then. Great fun with great Gator fans. But fans are fans. There are thousands out there with no tickets. Now that satellite tv and digital is there it is crazy out there. Many in the motorhomes stay out there.

        • Geeze guys, this is not and should not be all about money…that which threatens to ruin college football. Yes, thousands of tailGators (ok, dawgtails too) in RVs…and boats! I know Gville can’t accommodate that and while I have never been to Athens (Georgia, Athens Greece is awesome!), I am pretty sure that every local knows every wife’s maiden name (I learned that in Savanah). Three or four years ago, we were there with my younger sister and her husband. We were staying at the Omni on the south side of the St. Johns, and we heard live music playing near the stadium Friday night. We took the water taxi over and arrived in time to hear a Florida Georgia Line concert (how appropriate!). Daz, I totally agree with your comments about tradition and something different (IMO end of story), but I do believe the local taxi service is called Gator City Taxi. Go Gators!

    • The top revenue for a home game in 2009, was Tennessee at $2.6 million. The total revenue for all 7 home games was $16.8 MM ($2.4MM/game). The total expenses were $6.5 MM. The total profit from home games is approximately $10.3 MM ($1.5MM)

      The stats are from 2009, so they are a bit off due to inflation and renegotiated contracts but at the same time, ticket sales and attendance in The Swamp is not where it was in 2009. Also, the guaranteed contract amounts have increased and the expenses have increased at the same rate.

      In 2009, the profit for the UGA game was $1.8MM. Travel, accommodations and all expenses were covered.

      While the revenue generated by home games has increased, it has not increased at the same rate as UF/UGA, and there is no possible way for UF to generate $7MM per home game.

      Economic impact is an inflated number and it is higher for Jacksonville based on the shear number of hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. Jacksonville’s max impact will always be higher than Gainesville and Athens because they have more high-end hotels, restaurants and activities. Because of Jacksonville’s shear size and number of citizens, they will always have a greater tax base from which to pull funds. Athens has a population of 247,000. Gainesville is 132,000. Jacksonville is 892,000.

      The final issue is that even if the universities could make $7M for a home game, every 2 years, the accounting makes it so it would not matter. Revenue must be recognized in the year it is received. Also by being a 501(c)3, the money must be reinvested into the program, capital improvements and/or given to the University for academic purposes. It cannot be forwarded to the revenue line for the following year. Therefore the revenue would not be consistent. Expenses would be low, when the revenue is high but the opposite would be true when the game is played in Athens. It would be a budgeting and cash-flow nightmare.

      Overall, this game will stay in Jacksonville as long as they make it worth it for the schools. It is the same reason we play the neutral games to kick off the season. We can make more money than a home game. The biggest reason that coaches bring this up every few years is so the schools can use it as leverage to negotiate the best contract.

  4. Rick Cattlett on jacking up seat prices: ” I know Georgia won’t want to do that to its fan base.” Interesting that he only specified that of the two schools, UGA alone has a problem with soaking their fans for every last dollar. Hmmmnnnn.

  5. As a Jax resident Gator fan who knows a lot of Bulldogs here, this is only an issue bc the Bulldogs make it an issue by “thinking out loud” every spring and summer. Many of them just don’t like the fact the game is played in Florida. They think they will win the NC every year, and usually do every spring in their minds, so playing Gators in their own state causes them anxiety. No logic. No money issues really. Just fear and the feeling UF got one over on them by having the game played here , and only 70 miles from G’ville. Notice that , given this is a year where the Gators have a legit shot to beat the Dawgs, all of a sudden playing the game in Jax has become an even bigger issue again.

  6. The monetary impact is NOT reserved for the City of Jax. A lot of money flows into the small towns of Coastal Georgia as well. Saint Simons, Saint Mary’s, Jekyll Island…They would also suffer the significant loss of impact from golf tournaments, bed taxes and food service dollars. This should not be overlooked by the decision makers in Georgia….

  7. Instead of “MONEY too Good for Game to Leave Jacksonville”, this article should have been named, “MEMORIES too Good for Game to Leave Jacksonville”.

    But alas, the free market enterprise capitalist in even me knows that at the end of the day it’s entirely all about the $$.

      • Orlando has always had a knack for filling in what is left out or only suggested by articles — I don’t know how he does it, but if you want the real story behind the story, he’s your guy. I don’t know if he is an accountant or not — now Rog is up there in Knoxville is one — but both certainly have inquiring minds.

        Well Sir, much to my chagrin it is my sad duty to inform you that I reluctantly begin my prep tomorrow. Should you hear a loud sound way down in Austin that you can’t quite account for, lo, it is only I, NealyBob, as they’re probably using a John Deere tractor to get that damn thing out of my butt. Oh, the inhumanity!

  8. Well, God Bless you my friend. If you get on this forum tomorrow. please type fast! I started to tell this story earlier, but now I think is the appropriate time. The last time I got…reamed?, I went through the prep that 65 loves so much and went in to accomplish the mission the next morning. My wife and our good friend, Mary, accompanied me. I went under and when I got back to the curtain-defined room where my wife/ friends awaited, I learned that the doctor called it off! Apparently I was moving around too much for the doc to safely ream me. I had been taking Chantix in an attempt to quit smoking, and I attribute that to the extra-colonospical activity. My first question was “doc, why didn’t you just strap me down”. My second was, “DeNay, Mary, why didn’t you just hold me down and demand that the doc do his thing”. So, to make too long of a story short, I had to go through the whole thing again two weeks later. So, two thoughts: First, G-6 or 65, maybe you would be willing to do the prep for me next time? Second, please don’t let this story discourage anyone out there from getting a colonoscopy. If you are 50 or older, discuss it with your doctor. Colon cancer is one of the most prevalent preventable causes of premature deaths among men. Oh, and by the way, Go Gators!

    • Austin I had a24 hour prep. So I started then nothing happened so I was bored and went out in my yard to get some stuff done is been putting off. Nothing. So I go out in the pasture and kept working on stuff I’d been putting off. Then when I was as far from the house as ℹ can get it hit me. Barely got there. Felt good after so went back out. Second mistake. Rounds came faster and faster after that. Appointment was for 0800. Get there early to find a diabetic was going before me. I was hungry and had a sore a. And want in a good mood. Can hardly wait til the next one. My best friend and employee died of this and never had colonoscopy. Necessary evil.

  9. Well, God Bless you my friend. If you get on this forum tomorrow. please type fast! I started to tell this story earlier, but now I think is the appropriate time. The last time I got…reamed?, I went through the prep that 65 loves so much and went in to accomplish the mission the next morning. My wife and our good friend, Mary, accompanied me. I went under and when I got back to the curtain-defined room where my wife/ friends awaited, I learned that the doctor called it off! Apparently I was moving around too much for the doc to safely ream me. I had been taking Chantix in an attempt to quit smoking, and I attribute that to the extra-colonoscopical activity. My first question was “doc, why didn’t you just strap me down”. My second was, “DeNay, Mary, why didn’t you just hold me down and demand that the doc do his thing”. To make too long of a story short, I had to go through the whole thing again two weeks later. So, two thoughts: First, G-6 or 65, maybe you would be willing to do the prep for me next time? Second, please don’t let this story discourage anyone out there from getting a colonoscopy. If you are 50 or older, discuss it with your doctor. Colon cancer is one of the most prevalent preventable causes of premature death among men. Oh, and by the way, Go Gators!