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Thursday, September 16, 2010
On Jacksonville's ticket, business issues

By Paul Kuharsky

Everbank
The Jaguars sold enough tickets for their opener to avoid a blackout after having seven last season.
Forget that the Jaguars are 1-0 and have reasons to feel good about themselves right now.

Some of their most diehard fans are Kuharsky-level cranky, in large part because of the national perception of their team and the way national NFL columnists address Jacksonville and its NFL entry.

Buy up a media outlet or follow advice I hand out regularly.  Don’t let what I -- or anyone  else -- write influence your enjoyment of your team.

I had a good chat with Macky Weaver, the team’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, this week to get context from the team. I wanted to weave together stuff from him and my own take on some of these issues that seem to be causing such an uproar, at least from monitoring my emails, Twitter, Facebook and mailbag.

Complaint: San Diego, Oakland and Tampa Bay all have ticket sales issues and no one ever talks about them.

My reply: The Jaguars and the Raiders each had seven of their eight games blacked out last season. That was 14 of the NFL’s 22 total blackouts all season. So it makes sense that they would be the primary teams cited when someone is using an example, no? Yes, the Raiders should be mentioned right there with the Jags. As for the talk of a move, connecting a team in a very small market that's not doing especially well at the gate to a big market where revenues would likely rise sharply is not a criminal connection.

Home stadiums in San Diego and Oakland are terrible. There are a lot of bad seats in those buildings. So at least part of the reason people don’t go to their games is because they can’t stand the venue or the view. They may also not care for the management that hasn't gotten the Chargers and Raiders into a better situation while so many teams have upgraded.

Tampa Bay has a great stadium, which means the team isn't leaving town. So people are far slower to jump from trouble selling tickets to a move to Los Angeles. The Bucs bought a lot of long-term goodwill with a Super Bowl win just eight seasons ago. They were blacked out last week and could be heading to a long, bad stretch. If that stretch occurs and coincides with a Jaguars' rebound, why wouldn’t the Bucs become poster boys for poor ticket sales instead of the Jaguars? They would.

The Jaguars fall in the middle. I think EverBank Field is a great place to watch a game, far better than Qualcomm Stadium or Oakland Coliseum, but not as good as Raymond James Stadium. I don't believe people are staying away because of the venue. There is the possibility that when team owner Wayne Weaver sells, it’ll have to be to someone with an inclination to leave.

Team’s take: Macky Weaver and the Jaguars want to be transparent and are running this chart monitoring tickets sold to remaining home games. Based on historical data, what they’ve done so far from group and individual sales, they are optimistic about the next four games.

There are uncounted tickets already accounted for in that companies have vouched to buy them for employees, who have not yet chosen their game or games and completed the transaction.

“Say someone has agreed to contribute $20,000 to subsidize tickets to individual games at $20 apiece,” Weaver said. “So there are 1,000 tickets that are going to be supplemented for their employees. If you look at the amount that are outstanding, it’s a pretty good number still out there in the wing. Someone that’s looking at potentially going to the Houston game in November, they aren’t going to buy that now because they know that offer will be out there and keep in communication with the HR department and things like that.”

Weaver and the Jaguars are still knocking on corporate doors seeking more of those deals. Weaver said 20 to 30 percent of the team’s tickets are sold that way, through more than 50 companies.

To sell out non-premium seats and get a blackout lifted, the team needs to sell 50,900 tickets. It has 41,000 season ticket holders.

The bad economy hit the market extra hard, and -- combined with two bad seasons -- gave the Jaguars a black eye at the gate.

“All of a sudden we were the poster child for blackouts,” Macky Weaver said. “Even though it might be referenced that another team is having a blackout, never are the potential consequences of it ever to the level that’s been focused on Jacksonville. There is a frustration level with that fact. But the fact is, the games were blacked out, so there is some legitimacy in the conversation.

“End of the day I think people here want to prove to the other NFL markets and people around the country that this is a very viable NFL market and one that has the potential to really, really support the team and make sure that it’s successful.”

Complaint: The Jags will sell enough tickets to get a lot more games on TV than the opener, but people keep saying we’re at risk of blackouts.

My reply: Include me on that list. I’ve twice written about how expecting and anticipating selling tickets and no longer having money to replace them in your ticket office are two different things. That’s great that good things should happen.

Tim Tebow fans
There were plenty of Tim Tebow fans in attendance on Sunday.
But a good share of the league’s teams already know that they aren’t going to be blacked out and need no such chart, because they sell their tickets in the offseason, not during the season.

That’s the standard in the most popular league we have. People in many other NFL markets think of home tickets as a coveted commodity that cannot easily be had, not something you can walk up and buy the week of the game.

Selling out in June and selling out non-premium seats before Thursday [the blackout deadline] are the same thing in some ways, and different in others. The team has this chart on its web site because all the tickets are gone and games on TV are not assured.

“There is a difference between feeling positive about where we are versus being over the hump,” Weaver said. “The work’s not done yet, and the work is not going to be done at the end of the year. This is an ongoing effort. It’s going to be important that everybody that can support this team does, whether it’s on a one-game basis or a 10-game basis. We do need the support of the community.”

A full stadium enjoying a quality team and a fun atmosphere is the key to attracting more fans inside. (Wins help. A lot.)

Games on TV are the best marketing tool any team has. Every team wants to be assured of being on TV in its home market every week.

“It’s a three-hour infomercial,” Weaver said.

Complaint: The stories aren’t about football, they are about the tickets and the marketing and Tim Tebow.

My reply: Yeah, same with what you're writing me.

Fans don’t generally get to choose storylines, but I assure you, the writers and editors who do are picking ones they believe a) paint the most relevant pictures and b) draw the most eyeballs.

You are kidding yourself if you think Tim Tebow isn’t an enormous story. He may not turn into an NFL star, but he’s a star already and a giant personality, particular where he's from and where he went to school. And the media writes about stars, mostly because people love to read about them.

Maurice Jones-Drew is the most written-about Jaguar. Know why? He’s the team’s biggest star.

Team’s take: “There were not near as many Tebow jerseys in the crowd Sunday [for the Week 1 game against Denver] as I thought there would be,” Weaver said. “There were definitely Tebow jerseys. I would say more Gator Tebow jerseys than Broncos. Certainly it helped [sales], but to try to delineate between opening game and all the excitement that had been built up this offseason versus the Tebow factor is hard.”

Weaver said the feeling around the team has changed -- on the football side and the business side -- as Gene Smith enters his second season as general manager, with strong community guys who will play hard on Sundays and win over and hold onto new fans.

Complaint: Why are non-Jaguars fans inclined to cheer their difficulties? This one is mine, not one I’ve heard from readers, though they may well share it. [Important aside: I do not perceive the organization to be whining. At all.]

My take: Too many people outside of North Florida revel in the Jaguars' economic issues.

I’m as cynical as they come, but I also hope to catch and temper myself when I am tempted to take delight in someone else’s downfall or struggle. I do love it when the Red Sox suffer, but of all the things I might mock a Boston fan with, I hope a potential move out of town never becomes one.

Why are non-Jaguars fans inclined to cheer their difficulties?

“I don’t know,” said Weaver, who said he has a sense of it too. “I don’t know if it’s a byproduct of our early success [the Jags went to the AFC Championship Game in their second year in existence] and now seeing that there are ups and downs in this league. That might have something to do with it.

“And I think because it’s become it’s so mainstream in conversation that when you talk about blackouts the first thing most media outlets do is mention us because we were tops on that list.

“We’re going to get off that list.”