It has been 15 years since the Jacksonville Jaguars took the field for the first time, but in many ways, they are still considered to be the new kids on the block. Often dismissed, and mostly ignored, the Jaguars have lived their entire existence in relative obscurity as a result of being located in the smallest media market in the National Football League.
The only time the Jaguars get consistent attention from outside of the local market is when blackouts start to become a fact of life, or players wind up on the wrong side of the law.
While most media "experts" focus on the negatives, predicting the demise of the franchise in the undeserving Jacksonville market, few if any take the time to look at the problem and offer solutions.
Being a fan of the team, I have a vested interest in keeping the Jaguars in Jacksonville. I understand the value this franchise has to the city. Rather than fixate on the gloom and doom surrounding the current situation, I want to look at what is needed to assure the long-term viability of the team in Jacksonville.
I cannot guarantee my suggestions will provide the ingredients which will assure the team remains in Jacksonville for generations to come, but I am fairly certain the current strategy deployed by the team is not working, especially in difficult economic times.
The team can only use the economy as a crutch for so long. There needs to be a concerted effort to begin focusing on the market itself, trying to find new and creative ways to expand their fan base in a town that is not growing quickly enough to sustain the necessary season ticket base.
So, I offer this five-step plan to help the team navigate through these difficult times with the hope someone will read it and possibly act upon the suggestions.
First, the Jaguars need to stop thinking locally and start marketing the team regionally.
There are only so many bodies in the immediate market footprint for the Jaguars to draw from, and if they only brought their fans from this area, the requirements to assure consistent sellouts would mean one in every twenty residents must own a season ticket. That ratio is one of the highest in the league to assure seats are sold.
The Jaguars first step should be to take a more expanded marketing approach to turn the team into a regional presence.
By growing the Jaguars marketing footprint to take into account fans in areas where they are already drawing from, they could expand their pool of potential fans from the current 1.3 million residents in the immediate market to more than 3 million fans regionally.
Fans attending Jaguars games currently come from as far north as Myrtle Beach, west from Tallahassee, and south from the Orlando area. Few of the fans traveling to Jaguars games were not lured to purchase tickets because of slick marketing. Still, they come to support their team, planting the seeds that should be a sign the Jaguars could become a regional draw with minimal effort or investment.
Imagine what an aggressive marketing campaign might do to bring in new fans.
The second step the Jaguars should do to grow the fan base is to get businesses in the region to buy into the idea that partnering up with the Jaguars will benefit their bottom line.
Get out in the business community, not only here in Jacksonville, but also in secondary media markets like Savannah, Tallahassee, and Orlando. Take players, coaches, cheerleaders, and administrators and reach out to established businesses in these markets and offer them a partnership of sorts. The exposure from being associated with an NFL franchise has global implications regardless of the size of the local market.
A more visible presence in the business communities in Jacksonville and the surrounding media markets will lead to more sponsorship dollars. The fiscal security of the team is what will determine the city identified with the team over the long haul. By partnering up with businesses in the region, it will give the Jaguars the revenue flow required to rebound quickly and squash relocation talks.
The third step in the process of building up the Jaguars fan base is to reach out to the kids.
The team does a fairly good job of getting out locally and sponsoring events with schools here in Jacksonville, but they do not do enough to really lock these kids in as lifelong Jaguar fans.
One of the most effective ways to bring a family into the fold is to get the kids first. The parents will follow.
Expand the current outreach, and get the more visible players out in the regional schools so the kids can meet the stars and form a connection. The Jags cannot just send out the long snapper or special team guy to schools. The front-line players need to be part of the process as well.
Send players on a bus tour to schools in Orlando, Daytona, Gainesville, Tallahassee, Savannah, and Myrtle Beach. Get them out visiting schools, signing autographs, giving away memorabilia, and offering free tickets to the kids to attend Jaguar games.
The fourth step in the recovery effort needs to be focused on drawing in fans from the fringes of the new expanded market. Offer enticements like travel packages and discounted hotel rates for fans coming from these areas to attend Jaguars games.
If people feel they are getting a bargain travel package offering a weekend getaway including tickets to an NFL game, they will jump at the opportunity.
By partnering up with local hotels and restaurants, the Jaguars can block off rooms and offer discounts to purchase ticket packages including hotel and meal vouchers. It would help the team and it would give a boost to the local hotel and restaurant business as well.
Finally, the Jaguars need to think big.
The goal for any strategy to turn around the fortunes of the team should be focused on expanding the fan base to the point where the stadium can be filled on a regular basis. The games need to be sold as an event people will not want to miss, win or lose.
Growing the fan base will cost money, and the team cannot do this cheaply. But the reward for investing more effort into thinking regionally will have a significant impact on the bottom line if the team approaches this with the right mindset.
By marketing the team regionally, partnering up with businesses in the region, getting the kids to buy into the team, and finding ways to bring people to Jacksonville for a major league event, the Jaguars can very quickly shift away from worrying about blackouts and fan apathy to removing the tarps and proving once and for all that Jacksonville is deserving of an NFL franchise.
The time to act is now. The old approach clearly is not working. It is time to think outside of the box, and outside of the market to find ways to fix what ails the team.