Jaguars and Relocation: Fact or Fiction?

Tim McClellanCorrespondent IMay 18, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MAY 1:  Coach Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars talks to the media May 1, 2009 at a team minicamp near Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

Fifteen years into the existence of the franchise, the fan passion for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the NFL continues to be a question.  With season ticket sales struggling, the annual chatter about the team eventually relocating to greener pastures has begun.  In Jacksonville, this time of year has almost become the fifth season nestled neatly between Spring and Summer. 

Ignoring the current recession, which has hit the local economy hard, leaving 10 percent of the workforce unemployed and the other 90 percent worried about their long-term financial future, somehow the national perception is the city cannot support the franchise through season ticket sales, and thus is an obvious candidate for relocation.

The national media floats this rumor annually.  What they continue to fixate upon is the Los Angeles television market, and how important it is to put an NFL franchise in the city that has seen three teams come and three teams leave because of a lousy stadium situation, and less-than-passionate fan base. 

Jaguar fans are rubbed raw by the high-and-mighty critics in the national media that regularly list them as being among potential candidates to land in Los Angeles.  For a team like the Jaguars that traditionally struggle with ticket sales, this type of talk makes it even more difficult for the front office to go about the business of renewing season tickets and selling new packages.  The more the rumor is tossed out, the more likely it is fans will become reluctant to support the franchise financially for fear that their team will eventually pull the plug and leave them in a lurch.  So, the rumor only serves to muddy the waters even more for the team.

Granted, the Jaguars are having a difficult time, and these struggles are well documented:

  • Corporate ticket sales are lagging, as larger employers in Jacksonville are scaling back.
  • The stadium has been without a named sponsor since Alltel's contract ended after the 2005 season.
  • Advertising revenue has dried up locally as companies evaluate their budgets and cut where they can.

These problems are only exacerbated by fan apathy when they are constantly hammered with blackout talk and relocation rumors.  It gets worse when the team is struggling as they did in 2008 with their 5-11 mark.

So, is the team in trouble? 

The simple answer is maybe. 

Breaking the lease is not easy to do, and the deal that the Jaguars signed has them locked into a marriage with the city of Jacksonville until 2030.

That does not mean they are completely stuck, but it does make it difficult for them to cut and run. 

Under the terms of the current lease, the Jaguars have two ways to get out of the lease the city of Jacksonville. 

First, if the Jaguars were able to show a financial loss in three consecutive seasons, this would allow them to activate the escape clause to get out of the lease.  This is a tall order because NFL franchises are historically reluctant to open up their books.  And even if they did, it would still be difficult to prove. 

Wayne Weaver and the ownership group paid $208 million to get a foot in the door with the National Football League in 1993.  Conservatively, the team has nearly quadrupled in value over the last 15 years.

The other clause would require the Jaguars to convince a local judge that the city of Jacksonville had failed to provide proper upkeep for Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.  Considering the amount of money budgeted by the city for this specific purpose, this option does not seem likely.

If the Jaguars were able to activate the exit clause, there would still be significant ramifications for doing so.  Any unpaid rent would be owed to the city, and that amount could be in the $50 to $60 million range.  While that does not sound like a lot in the bigger picture, it would be significant enough to make it prohibitive.  Especially when there would also be money owed to the city reimbursing them for lost ticket surcharges, parking revenue, income from stadium naming rights, and advertising revenue that is shared between the city and the team. 

In total, the team would potentially be on the hook for nearly $100 million if they did exit their lease and leave the city.  That is hardly chump change regardless of the depth of the pockets of any new owner. 

On top of everything else, the NFL amended their policy on relocation back in 2002, making it more difficult for teams to move if they have to break an existing stadium lease to do so.

So, there is always a chance that the Jaguars could break their lease and move to what would be perceived to be greener pastures.  However, the cost of doing so would be exorbitant. 

It is impossible to say definitively that the team will never leave Jacksonville, but it just does not seem to be a realistic expectation regardless of the number of blackouts this year.