Nearly 25 years ago, President Ronald Reagan made a challenge to the United States’ long-standing Cold War rivals, the Soviet Russians, and specifically their leader Mikhail Gorbachev. At a time of heightened tensions between the two sides, Reagan traveled to Berlin and spoke with the symbolic Brandenburg Gate behind him to highlight the oppression and dividedness it represented. Here, he spoke perhaps his most famous words as President, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
The Jaguars, too, have a looming symbol of oppression hanging over us. It casts a dark cloud over the Jaguars and our city and is the physical embodiment of all the national criticism we face, as the uneducated blowhards that influence the perceptions of sports fans around the US and around the world continue to berate Jacksonville as unworthy of an NFL team. I’m talking of course about the giant gaudy tarps that cover the four corners of the stadium and several sections in the North Endzone. The Jaguars have not had a blackout since 2009, yet the national perception remains that no one attends Jaguars games, that we are teetering on the verge of losing our team and moving to Los Angeles. No one bothers to understand that these tarps bring our capacity to a more proper size for Jacksonville’s market size and that the only reason the stadium was built to hold more than 76,000 fans was for hosting Florida/Georgia, the Gator Bowl, and other special events. Without the tarps, Everbank Field would have the 7th highest capacity in the NFL. But this does not change the fact that these tarps are an eyesore. And the national media will continue to perpetuate incorrect information, because that’s easiest for people to believe.
Shad Khan has said he’ll do “whatever it takes” to make professional football succeed in Jacksonville and has talked about or pursued many ways of increasing the Jaguars’ exposure and improving their image. It’s time for Shad Khan to put his money where his mouth is. There is no bigger improvement that could be made to the image of the Jaguars and to Jacksonville than fixing the problems that these tarps manifest.
I wrote the following letter into the Jaguars.com O-Zone column. I hope John Oehser decides to publish it and it generates some positive discussion. What do you guys think?
I believe something must be done about the tarps. Anyone that does their research understands that they effectively “right-size” our stadium to the market (and even then, there are still 11 NFL stadiums with smaller capacities), but there’s no denying they hurt Jacksonville’s image as a viable football town. I believe winning is of paramount importance, but Shad Khan has demonstrated that he is willing to invest well outside of the gridiron to improve the Jacksonville Jaguar brand. He’s show interest in playing in London to increase our international appeal, he’s talked about modernizing our uniforms, and he drove the pursuit of Tim Tebow because of his marketability and in spite of what his football personnel evaluators believed. Removing those tarps would remove a huge stain on our name that the national media can’t help but poke at and would do more to bolster our image than any of these other pursuits. I understand that a major reason that seating is necessary is for the Gator Bowl, but why is Khan not discussing a solution to this? I think we should open the south endzone, which would provide a beautiful, signature view of the St. John’s River and bring in temporary bleachers for the Gator Bowl. This horseshoe design with temporary seating for bigger games has been utilized effectively and Jacksonville should do the same. If Mr. Khan is serious about improving our national (and international) image, this is the best investment he could make.
- Andrew Hofheimer