In the Jacksonville Jaguars' Battle with the Economy, It's the Fans Who Lose

Tim McClellanCorrespondent IJuly 1, 2009

29 Jul 1995:  A ticket for the Hall of Fame game between the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars in Canton, Ohio. Mandatory Credit: Julian Gonzales  /Allsport

It matters very little where you look.
You can surf the Internet, thumb your remote to scan the news and sports channels, spin through the radio dial, flip through newspapers or magazines, or simply talk to friends and neighbors.

Things are tough all over. 

Economic fragility can create a sobering reality in every facet of your life. As people assume a bunker mentality to contend with the current collapse of the global economy, sports franchises are dealt a double-whammy.

First, they rely upon fans to support their product. This reliance takes many forms. Ticket sales sit near the top of the pyramid. But television revenues, licensing, endorsement deals, and sponsorships are all tied to the economy.

Even iconic figures have felt the pinch.

Tiger Woods enjoyed major sponsorship support from General Motors, with Buick as a major product endorsement. They parted ways earlier this year as General Motors prepared to file for bankruptcy.

The Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants have struggled to find ways to generate additional revenue for the new cathedrals they have spent billions erecting. Long time season ticket holders were squeezed out by massive price increases as the teams focused their sights on the almighty corporate dollar.

Meanwhile, corporate dollars were disappearing at an alarming rate as companies who had always been relied upon for sponsorship were simply unable to continue due to hardships of their own.

The New York Mets will be searching for a named sponsor for their brand new stadium next year as Citibank has opted to end the arrangement as they deal with significant pains from the banking collapse.

The New York Yankees, the big dog of all professional sports franchises, had to rework their ticket pricing to deal with the empty seats at home games in the new Yankee Stadium.

It stands to reason that when the elite are struggling to maintain in the current economy, trickle down to the smaller markets is inevitable.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been feeling the pinch for a few years now. With things continuing to wallow near recession levels, it does not appear things are going to get better in the near future.

The most visible way to get a sense for how a team is doing is to look at their ticket sales. When the Jaguars announced last month that they had sold a little more than 35,000 season ticket packages, the red alerts went up like a fireworks display on the Fourth of July.

Avoiding blackouts for the home season with such a large block of tickets remaining unsold is a monumental challenge for big market teams. For a small-market franchise like the Jaguars, it is practically impossible. 

Jaguar fans and local media have openly discussed strategies that might help them weather the storm.

The stark facts are simple to understand.

When people fear for their personal future, they are less inclined to spend what disposable income they do have on things like tickets or merchandise.

They tighten their belts to ride things out, and as this trimming becomes more commonplace, franchises struggle to keep up.

There is no marketing strategy that can adequately contend with the perfect storm the Jaguars are in the midst of in 2009.

A relatively weak home schedule lacks the pop to draw attention.

The team is rebuilding after a dismal 5-11 season.

The lack of consistency on the field has created a sputtering effect in drawing fans to games.

Unemployment in Jacksonville hovers around 10 percent.

Taxes and fees are going up for homeowners while their real estate values continue to plummet.

How do you sell tickets when this is your starting point?

If there was ever a time when blackout rules should be revisited for the NFL, 2009 is the perfect opportunity.

The Jaguars are not alone in their struggles. The entire league is dealing with similar circumstances. In fact, the entire professional sports world is caught up in this, and there is little anyone can do to counter the impact.

Sports are a necessary distraction in difficult times. In many instances, sports have been the one thing that people lean upon when things are at their darkest. They can help to inspire recovery and motivate the masses.

The "Miracle on Ice" at Lake Placid in the 1980 Winter Olympics sparked a wave of national pride that guided the country out of a period of malaise that was similar to our situation today.  That gold medal hockey team contributed to a swell in national pride that continued on for more than two decades.

When struggles are significant, finding an outlet to provide some joy is a great way to maintain sanity.

As football continues to grow in popularity, it has surpassed baseball as America's pastime.

For more than five months out of each year, people take solace in the fact that they have a team to root for regardless of their personal situation. For a few hours on Sundays in the Fall, they can escape from their woes and find hope on the gridiron.

Unfortunately, for teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, escaping the reality of an economic recession is going to require people to tune in on their radios or buy tickets for home games because that is the only way they will be able to support their team and vacate reality for a short while.

At a time when people are being victimized in so many ways because of the current economic crisis, something has to change. The Jacksonville Jaguars hands are tied because of blackout rules leaving them with no alternative.

It is up to the league and our legislators to find some way to provide people with some escape from the current realities, even if it is only for a few hours on Sundays.