Ok, maybe not right now, but as soon as possible. As in, this offseason.
The city of Jacksonville — the most populous city in the state of Florida — is not only lucky enough to be one of 31 American cities with an NFL team, but it’s lucky enough to have an NFL team that is in prime playoff positioning with four weeks left in the season.
Yet they’ve yet to sell out a game at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium this season.
Next Thursday, the Jags host the Indianapolis Colts, an unbeaten division rival, in a nationally-televised prime-time affair.
Yet the game still isn’t sold out.
And that is simply unacceptable. It’s time for us to stop sugar-coating the city’s lack of support while chalking it up to a bad economy. The team is competitive, the economy’s on the upswing, and the other 30 NFL cities in the United States are supporting their teams just fine.
Jacksonville isn’t a big-league market in the first place. It never was. And placing a team there was one of former commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s biggest mistakes. The city supported the team well enough during its infancy, but it’s now plainly apparent that was an example of a group buying into a fad.
The fad is dead.
Now, the NFL can’t come down with Gary Bettman Syndrome and let a dying market possess a much sought-after and immensely valuable NFL franchise simply on principle. This isn’t a time to be stubborn. The National Football League is the richest, most-watched sports league in North America, and it’s sickening to see one of its stadiums rot away on Sundays.
Los Angeles is the second-largest market in the United States and has a billionaire owner breaking ground on a new stadium. And despite on-the-surface letdowns with the Bills Toronto Series, the city of Toronto — North America’s fifth-largest market — clearly has the corporate presence to sell out game after game at above-average prices.
I can understand why the NFL is tentative about forcing Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver’s hand. Things were just as dire in Phoenix and New Orleans five years ago, but both cities have bounced back (Phoenix because of a new stadium and New Orleans because of, well, Hurricane Katrina). That doesn’t mean Jacksonville will be so lucky. It appears that support on an individual and corporate level simply isn’t strong enough.
The NFL continually proves that it’s able to fess up to mistakes and learn from them, evidenced by the way in which it tweaks rules and formats every offseason. This is a big mistake to admit, but it has to be done to maintain the league’s sparkling reputation: If the Jaguars fail to sell out their final two home games, the team has to be moved.