JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There was a time when a lot of people assumed that the Jaguars would move out of this town.
“If you remember, five years ago, we were the leading candidate to move to L.A.,” says team owner Shad Khan, sitting in his office at Everbank Field.
“That one game,” Khan says, “is almost 20 percent of our revenue.”
That’s because the Jags keep the gate from the London game, and Wembley Stadium at capacity brings in a lot more revenue for a “home” date than Everbank.
“You have 80,000 tickets paying a higher price,” Khan explains.
According to a Bloomberg News report, the average ticket price for a game last season in Jacksonville was about $86 compared to about $130 in London. Crowds at Wembley Stadium have averaged about 83,745 in the four Jaguars games played in London. The franchise averaged about 61,000 at Everbank Stadium last season.
The Jaguars, valued at $1.95 billion, had $344 million in revenue in 2016, according to Forbes.
London’s viability is to the point that adding a second regular-season game in England isn’t out of the question.
“I think we’ve talked about that,” Khan says. “There might be a time where it would make sense to play more than one game.”
For now it’s just one per season: this year against the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 24, a game that will be streamed live on Yahoo Sports. But the London series has had a ripple effect not only for Khan and the team, but for the city of Jacksonville, officials here say. Although one home weekend is lost every year, there are notable gains elsewhere.
“Every year we have a new list of [business] prospects,” Khan says. “There is the element of having visitors and tourists, but I think this is much more than that.”
The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce agrees. Daniel Davis, the group’s president and CEO, estimates that the London game has brought 1,000 jobs to Duval County since the series began. He says the city’s relationship with Deutsche Bank, which has its U.K. operation headquartered in London, has “catapulted” over the last several years. In 2016, a U.K. company called City Refrigeration brought employees from England to Florida to set up a North American headquarters.
“In my opinion those jobs would not exist if not for the connection was made because of the game in London,” Davis says.
The Chamber’s plan for the London game begins weeks before the players board their flights. Davis said he had an employee taking meetings in London in mid-August. Then the week before the game is even more critical.
“Shad Khan and the Jags have helped us in a way we could not have done without,” Davis says. “Walking down Regent Street [in London] and seeing ‘Jacksonville’ on the signs is pretty incredible and I don’t think you can put a price tag on that.”
Davis even says he has mulled ways that Brexit might indirectly assist the push for new business in northeast Florida. (A direct flight from Jacksonville to London would also help.)
Khan says the only minor hiccup has had to do with D.C., not Duval. He’s worried the political uncertainty surrounding the Trump administration has been “quite a distraction.”
“I think it’s a missed opportunity on a number of fronts, including economy, tax reform, those kinds of things,” Khan says. “That is important because it sets the infrastructure where people decide how to invest, where to invest, and make some long-term commitments. So we kinda missed the last six months of our lives we’ll probably never get back. But I’m hopeful something gets done.”
But he’s “super optimistic” about the country’s economic future in general, and he just invested $45 million in a new amphitheater attached to the stadium. He says that more than makes up for a lost home football weekend.
“We’re adding money to your pocket,” he says of local vendors. “We’ve added 40-some concerts. We added the Navy vs. Notre Dame game [last year]. We’re hoping to get World Cup qualifying games.”
Jobs have come in, and rumors of the Jags’ departure have departed. That’s a victory beyond the field for Khan.
“For me,” he says, “it was always, ‘What do we have to do to make it work here?'”
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