Florida football: Billy Napier says economics a factor in Florida-Georgia game decisions
To Florida football coach Billy Napier, whether to keep Florida-Georgia as an annual rivalry game in Jacksonville comes down to dollars and sense.
Questions about the future of the game surfaced again earlier this month when Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry told 1010 XL that the Florida-Georgia game could move to campus sites for two years - either 2024-2025 or 2025-2026 - while TIAA Bank Field is undergoing renovations.
Florida and Georgia are under contract to play the game in Jacksonville in 2023 with a two-year option to extend the deal through 2025.
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Napier said there's a financial benefit to both schools playing in Jacksonville. Florida and Georgia each made more than $4.5 million playing the game in Jacksonville in 2022, which included a $1.25 million appearance fee and $3.3 million in gate fees.
Playing the series home-and-home would net Florida and Georgia just $1.5 million annually, a $3 million shortfall compared to playing in Jacksonville. Each school would make about $3 million playing games at their respective stadiums, but that revenue would have to extend over a two-year period.
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"The underlying issue here is the economics, right," Napier said before a Fightin' Gator Touchdown Club speaking event on Monday. "It’s very beneficial for both teams to play the game there. So, you know, we’ve got some things to work through there, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”
Florida and Georgia have played in Jacksonville every year since 1933 - with the exception of 1994 and 1995, when the Gator Bowl was renovated for the arrival of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars and the game was played on campus sites. Georgia leads the overall 101-game series 55-44, with two ties.
The game nets an estimated economic impact of $35 million for the city of Jacksonville.
"There’s some history here when the venue’s not available, we play home-and-home," Napier said. "But that’s to be determined. One thing I can tell you is it’s a phenomenal rivalry, you know, certainly got a ton of respect for the game, the history that’s behind where it’s located, where we play at."
Georgia coach Kirby Smart has advocated moving the Florida-Georgia game permanently to campus sites in order to provide a big stage to host recruits at Sanford Stadium every other year. Smart also has suggested alternating Jacksonville with a neutral site within the state of Georgia - Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta - every other year to make it closer to UGA's campus and more convenient for fans and recruits to attend.
Last season, the SEC and NCAA relented on a rule to allow both Georgia and Florida to host recruits in a neutral site game. In the past, neither school could host recruits in Jacksonville.
Napier was asked Monday whether it would benefit recruiting to hold the Florida-Georgia game at The Swamp every other year.
"In-season official visits, you know, how effective are those during the season, given Early Signing Day, the magnitude of the game, the time that’s required that weekend, so, I mean there’s advantages both ways here," Napier said. "I think, again, we go back to I think there’s some economics behind the bigger picture here from a decision-making standpoint."