The old adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" has no business popping up when discussing ticket sales strategies in Jacksonville, but that is precisely what appears to be the mantra for the folks creating the marketing plan for the Jaguars.
It seems the team will stick with the same plan that they have implemented for several years, tweaking it only slightly by opening up sales for multi-game packages earlier than in previous years.
There is significant speculation swirling among Jaguar fans and in the local media trying to determine the best approach in dealing with the lagging ticket sales in Jacksonville. With one of the smallest thresholds to sell season tickets avoiding league mandated blackouts, it would seem simple enough for the team to avoid the annual crunch to sell season tickets.
However, following up on a 5-11 season in 2008, with the economy in shambles, the team is facing the reality that this will be an uphill battle.
It was announced this week that the team was well behind their season ticket renewal rate from previous years.
Of the 51,000 non-premium seats that the team needs to sell to avoid blackouts, only 36,000 had been renewed for the upcoming season, and the pace for new sales was slow enough that the team is already rolling out a variety of multi-game packages to spark sales.
Are three game packages really the only strategy the team has in the hopper?
There was a time early in the life of the franchise when selling season tickets was barely an issue. It was the fan passion in selling 10,000 club seats in a very short period of time that ultimately enticed the league to award the franchise to the city.
For the first few years, the stadium was the center of all entertainment in Jacksonville for ten weeks out of the year.
As the newness wore off, and the team went through various cycles of success and struggle, the Jaguars saw a portion of the season ticket base peel off. These numbers grew each year until rock bottom was hit in 2002.
The team was eventually forced to reconfigure the stadium to remove nearly 10,000 seats from their non-premium seat inventory in an effort to stem the tide of potential blackouts.
The move to tarp over those seats paid off for the Jaguars by allowing them to get the stadium more in line with what the market could support, avoiding blackouts as a result.
From 2005 through the 2008 season, ticket renewal rates increased by double-digits annually, giving the team an indication that the strategy was paying off.
There were still struggles. As the team stumbled in 2008, many of the home games required extensions with the league in order to get the remaining tickets sold, and in many instances Wayne Weaver himself bought up any remaining inventory to assure that the local fans would be able to watch the Jaguars on television.
But there was always hope that things were improving.
The economy headed south right around the same time that the Jaguars started to slip to the bottom of their division.
With unemployment over 10 percent in the city of Jacksonville, and many companies poised to execute layoffs or shut down all together, the fear over where the next pay check came from became the top priority for most fans, and the renewal rates reflect this pretty clearly.
People are prioritizing their budgets, and season tickets do not crack the top of the list for many who have been loyal season ticket holders for year.
What can the team do to combat this situation?
The simple answer is that they need to do more than they are currently to try to weather this downturn.
The sad fact is the team has had to cut back just like everyone else.
They suspended ticket price increases that were scheduled for this year to avoid the stigma associated with raising prices on fans when they were struggling. That was a good move for the team, but obviously not adequate to spark a bump in ticket sales. The Jaguars already had the second lowest ticket prices in the league, and capping that for an additional season puts additional stress on their already thin revenue stream.
The marketing effort has been hampered by a tight budget for the team. This poses a Catch 22 situation for the Jaguars.
They need to expand their marketing capacity to try to grow their footprint, appealing to markets that have not been targeted traditionally. The Jaguars should be working to expand their image to be more of a regional player, reaching out to markets as far north as South Carolina, west to Tallahassee, and south into Daytona and Orlando.
The problem lies in the fact that the budget for marketing will not allow the Jaguars to adequately saturate these markets to entice people to buy tickets, and there is no metric in place that would give an indication that spending money in these areas would net the type of results that the team needs in order to succeed.
The reality is that without gambling on a bigger marketing strategy, the team will continue to struggle.
The city of Jacksonville simply cannot support the team adequately despite the growth. So, the population pool from which the team needs to draw in order to have any sort of ticket sales success has to be expanded. The only way to do this is to reach out to make this a regional team for NFL fans within a 200-mile radius.
The population figures double by growing the footprint, giving the Jaguars ample opportunity to make inroads with potential fans.
Partnerships need to be forged with local transportation companies, regional airlines, hotels, and restaurants. These business arrangements could be formed to create travel bundles that would lure regional fans to Jacksonville for a weekend.
Heavily discounted accommodations and food options attached to ticket purchases would give people the ability to make Jaguar games a mini vacation with the NFL at the center of their itinerary.
The Jaguars have been struggling to sell out the stadium for a decade while continuing to think inside their normal box. It is time for some fresh ideas.
They can achieve their goal of selling out the stadium on a weekly basis, but it will require them to stop what they are currently doing, climb out of that box, and come up with a new way of drawing in the fans.
Unfortunately, it does not sound like any fresh plans are being hatched by the Jaguars, so it is a very distinct reality that the entire 2009 home season could wind up not being televised locally, and that would be a tragedy for a team struggling to grow the fan base.
If I was involved with the organization and had some say in how they attack this ticket sales problem, I would focus my energy on expanding the reach of the franchise. I am not a marketing expert, but common sense tells me that if you reach out to a larger group, you are likely to snag new fans that were not brought into the fold previously.
If you had an opportunity to offer some advice to the team to fix this problem, what would you say?
Share your suggestions below. You never know who might be reading this stuff.