Orlando Jaguars? Take a Deep Breath, O-Town

Tim McClellanCorrespondent IOctober 1, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 23:  Wayne Weaver owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars prior to the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on November 23, 2008 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Wayne Weaver has sparked speculation about the Jaguars possibly playing some regular season games in the shadow of Wally World by mentioning Orlando being a target market for the Jaguars to grow their fan base in an interview with a local newspaper. In turn, one columnist chided city leaders in Orlando to take this as an opportunity to lure the NFL to relocate a team to the town permanently.

Settle down! The Jaguars are not pulling up stakes to move down I-4 to central Florida.

The Jaguars are repeatedly mentioned as one of the most likely relocation candidates in the mainstream media.

When the owner of the franchise muses with a reporter about the possibility of trying to lure new fans in the Orlando market, he chose his words very carefully.

He spoke about the league expanding the regular season from the current format, adding two games to the regular season and shortening the preseason. He framed his comments within the parameters of this change happening.
From my perspective, it sounded like Wayne was trying to generate some buzz in Orlando, a market even he agrees has been practically ignored in the Jaguars efforts to bolster their ticket and merchandise sales.

It is indeed imperative for the Jaguars to find ways to make inroads into secondary markets like Orlando. They provide the team with an expanded pool of potential fans, nearly tripling the target audience from the 1.3 million residents of the Jacksonville metropolitan area to almost 4 million.

As I mentioned last week, by reaching into the Orlando market along with going north into Charleston, SC, and west to Tallahassee, the Jaguars should be able to generate the necessary buzz to draw in new fans interested in attending games in Jacksonville.

Expanding the marketing efforts to turn the team into more of a regional draw will reduce the burden currently carried by the Jacksonville faithful residing within earshot of Duval County.

Weaver is sending a clear message to Orlando football fans that he wants them on his bandwagon. If his comments create a little interest from potential fans in the Orlando area, they served their purpose.

But, let's put this notion that Orlando is getting an NFL franchise to rest once and for all.

They are not going to get a team.

First, The Citrus Bowl is a dump, and the city has no intentions of building a new facility to accomodate any professional franchise.

There have been plans in place to renovate the existing facility, but the money to pay for these renovations was expected to be derived from taxes imposed on tourists in the form of a bed tax.  Earlier this year, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer put any talk of renovating the stadium on hold because tax revenues had taken such a serious hit with the downturn in the economy that it could be another five years before anything can be done to pursue updates.

The current Citrus Bowl might be a quaint place to host World Cup soccer, college bowl games, or the occasional outdoor concert, but it is not nearly adequate to handle the demands of an NFL franchise. Based upon current plans to renovate the stadium, even after the facility is upgraded, it will not have enough luxury suite capacity to entice an NFL team to call the stadium home.

Second, Tampa Bay is not going to allow any team to be dropped less than 80 miles away from their home market.

The Bucs have played second fiddle to the Miami Dolphins for more than thirty years in Orlando. Their success over the past decade has allowed them to make inroads with the fans. The recent improvements could be undermined by another franchise claiming the market as home.

Third, Orlando is not a very good professional sports town. They tout the Magic and their sellouts this past season, but when the team struggled, it was not just on the court.  They had a difficult time filling half of the Amway Arena in Orlando when the team was losing, and that venue holds just a tad over 17,000 fans.

It took several years and multiple attempts to finally get the Magic a new facility in Orlando, and the tax payers resisted every step of the way before finally caving in and building a new arena.

We will not even discuss the minor league baseball franchise that no longer exists because of a lack of fan support.

Wayne Weaver understands he needs to expand his market and generate buzz for his team. He sees the Orlando market as a target of opportunity to draw fans into Jacksonville for games. Dropping teasers indicating he might be willing to play some home games there will perk the interest of local fans, and possibly sell some tickets.

Weaver also knows better than most that Orlando does not particularly care for or about his team. It was a Dolphins town before the Jaguars arrived. There are NFL fans in the town who still hold a good deal of resentment for the Jaguars because Orlando became a secondary market for Jacksonville when they arrived on the scene, forcing the area to watch Jaguar home games when they are televised.

The tactic of floating a suggestion to get fan interest is something the owner has become quite adept at lately. 

Wayne did the same thing a couple of weeks ago by throwing the Tim Tebow bandwagon a bone. In carefully chosen words, he gave Tebow fans in the Jacksonville market the sense the Jaguars would certainly be interested in drafting Tebow. He never really committed to the idea, but expressed intrigue in the prospect.

To Tebow followers and Gator homers, his words created a lot of excitement in the Jacksonville market. But, the probability of the team spending a high draft pick on Tebow, or any draft pick at all, is unlikely. The mere suggestion was intended to get fans excited enough to possibly sell some tickets in anticipation of any personnel decision regarding the Gator quarterback.

It certainly got the attention of pundits around the country, and created a much debated topic for over a week in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars almost certainly got the attention of potential season ticket holders in the process. Securing these fans and actually getting them to buy tickets will be the next challenge.

It is not far fetched to think we can expect Wayne to find something that will entice fans in Georgia and South Carolina to give the Jaguars a look.

Based on recent events, would it shock anyone to hear Weaver giving an interview to a Georgian publication where he is asked about possible future head coach options and he floats a guy like Mark Richt as someone he has a great deal of admiration for?

That is a name which will certainly get Bulldog fans excited.

Wayne Weaver is a savvy marketing guy.  He built his fortune selling women’s shoes. Finding the right button to push for his target audience will almost certainly help the bottom line.

Sure, the Jaguars might be willing to hold a portion of their training camp in Orlando. They might even be interested in playing a preseason game there to attract fans. But, the likelihood of the team packing up the U-Haul and heading to Orlando is slim.


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