In Jacksonville, politics become a major factor in the future of the Jaguars
The citizens of Jacksonville elected a new mayor on Tuesday. The decision will definitely impact the short- and long-term future of the local NFL team.
Donna Deegan, only the second Democratic mayor in 30 years, defeated Republican Daniel Davis. Setting aside the broader implications for Florida and national politics, the question becomes whether the new mayor will be able to work out a deal with the Jaguars for major renovations to the stadium in which they have played since the team’s debut in 1995.
Over the weekend, Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union looked at some of the major issues regarding the $1 billion project. Word emerged last week that the Jaguars would be displaced for two years as the work is done.
The proposed details of the plan have been kept under wraps. Now that the election has ended, specifics could be forthcoming.
Still, the generalities with which team president Mark Lamping spoke make it clear that it’s not going to be cheap, and that the Jaguars surely will be hoping someone else will be paying for the bulk of it.
“This process [before negotiations] is very close to its conclusion,” Lamping told Frenette. “This stadium has reached the end of its useful life. We believe that we can do a renovation in a way that it delivers almost all the benefits of a new stadium, but at a significantly lower cost.
“Our vision is the equivalent of a gut rehab of a house. I think it’s premature to talk about stadium cost. We know exactly what it’s going to cost, but we don’t know if that’s exactly what’s going to be built. We need to have some reckoning with the city. We don’t know if the city’s vision is going to be the same.”
Those words underscore the importance of the looming talks. The Jaguars will want what they want. And what they have by way of leverage is an existing relationship with London, where the Jaguars currently play one game per year.
Their lease in Jacksonville expires after the 2029 season. Absent a renovation, they become free agents in 2030. With a renovation, the Jaguars likely will be required to sign a lease that will take London off the table for decades to come.
The biggest problem with the renovation is that, as proposed, it will keep the team from playing there for two years, while the stadium is essentially rebuilt. Before the election, the new mayor commented on that possibility.
“The Jaguars are an important source of pride for our city,” Deegan said. “I look forward to bringing in the best negotiators to assist me in crafting the terms for stadium improvements, ensuring they remain in Jacksonville for years to come. During construction, I expect our team to play in Jacksonville as they have for nearly thirty years. Terms of a deal will be decided thoughtfully and responsibly with input from all stakeholders, not at the height of a campaign.”
It’s unclear whether and to what extent Deegan will support significant public funding for the proposed renovations. No politician wants to be the one who presided over the departure of a pro sports team, especially at a time when the Jaguars seem to be entering their first era of sustained relevance since the Mark Brunell days.
But the broader question continues to be whether and to what extent multi-billionaires will have their football venues subsidized by those in the populace who would prefer to see the money spent on those among them who need it -- not on those who have made enough to afford to buy and to maintain a superyacht.