May 9, 2014; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Exterior of EverBank Field where Blake Bortles (Central Florida) addressed the media at the Upper West Touchdown Club at EverBank Field a day after being selected as the third overall pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
The Jaguars have good ideas that turn sour in an unfortunate way, such as a “too big” stadium followed by tarps, then a lack of cap management, then a three-headed decision maker for draft day. There are all types of good ideas that didn’t settle well for the team long term, thus resulting in poor media perception of Jacksonville. When you couple these situations with the public perception of an inability to win games or sell seats, well, the outcome doesn’t give J-ville a proper persona. Enter Shahid Khan and a makeover.
Most in the public only know a few things about the Jaguars: restoring the Gator Bowl, the infamous tarps, the supposed lack of tickets sold and…Tebow. Now, that public perception has begun to change. Now, people are starting to hear more about that solid General Manager Caldwell and the energetic Head Coach Bradley. That team that put in a big TV and then there are the cabana’s. Poolside and live football. Yum!
A Grand Restoration
Completed in 1995 and ensuring that the city would continue to host large NCAA events, including the annual Georgia/Florida NCAA football clash, the Gator Bowl became something new. Investors dreamed of one day hosting an NFL franchise in the city and these renovations turned into something much larger. Originally, an extra $30 million would be spent to reel in an NFL team. Eventually, it became a total of $121 million to both keep major collegiate and other events while looking as appealing as possible for an NFL team and all the jobs and revenue that comes with one of the highest demand sports rights in the business. It was so….grand. The good news? Everything worked and Jacksonville got a team! The bad news? Public relations hit major failures nationally regarding the city and the capability of the team to win and the fans to care by filling the seats.
With seating reaching up to 82,000 at Everbank Field, the city held onto the annual Florida/Georgia game. However, after ticket sales slowed following a collapse from within from the team, the stadium just looked empty at times. The Jaguars then placed tarps over some seats that were, in some sense, decorative. These tarps helped lower the seating total to roughly 67,000 seats. This number helped the market much better. With less seats, the team could reach higher a percentages of tickets sold and therefore not be as easily threatened by the games being blacked out on local TV. So Jacksonville temporarily fixed the seating issue and ticket issue all at once with tarps.
Well they fixed a problem but their permanence seems to not only create a new problem but advertise it. According to the Washington Post they were “pulled like window shades over this city’s lofty dreams.” The problem was that the tarps were eyesores due to the constant reminder that they represented a failure to sell seats. So, the national media took it upon themselves to “scout” for the Jaguars and “help” them sell seats. This, obviously, was backed with the intention to merely help the team out of the goodness of their hearts and not bash the team’s inability to handle public relations and talent issues by touting their own ego.
For example, ESPN’s infamous Skip Bayless tweets in with another ‘solution’:
Even If He’s Released
Back in 2013, newly appointed Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell got swamped at his introductory press conference by questions about none other than Tim Tebow . Who would’ve thought!!?? He quickly responded:
"“I can’t imagine a scenario where he’d be a Jaguar. Even if he’s released.”–David Caldwell, Jan.10, 2013."
What’s important here is the start of something new. Caldwell directly handled the BIG issue in the media regarding Jacksonville. People not only watch success but they flock to it and I believe, personally, that once the Jaguars become a consistent playoff team, that moment at Caldwell’s press conference will be looked back at as the point the Jaguars really matured as an organization and developed into something that could not only fix the issues of the past but move forward without creating new issues.
Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports
The Public Relations Society of America defines Public Relations as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”
The Jaguars clearly needed a make over. The Jaguars needed something fresh and new, they needed talent. The Jaguars needed winners on the field and in the front office. What Shahid Khan did and continues to do could be considered magnificent. Khan seems to have made a list of all things negative for the Jaguars and gone about fixing them. Ticket sales have risen, Tebow talk almost completely evaporated, talent is on the rise on the field and in the front office with stars such as team President Mark Lamping, read up on him here. He was a marketing exec at Budweiser for 13 years. He’s effective.
Khan is in the process of “Khan-struction”, an adding of a screen so large that even the term ‘video board’ dilutes it. Add in poolside cabanas atop a deck to view the games from, along with a rise in international popularity due to playing one home game a season in London, England; add in local revenue going up 8% and a team that started so awful last year and finished above .500 in the last group of games and, well, things really are up.
This from the AP, stated in the link above:
"Khan is doing his part. He already has committed $31 million, including $20 million to help pay for $63 million scoreboards the Jaguars call the largest in the world. They are being installed this month and will be unveiled later this summer. Khan also paid to revamp the locker room and the training room."
What is the national perception of Jacksonville now?
ESPN reporter Mike Dirocco spoke of the Jaguars draft “earning a lot of praise around the country.” That’s just a small reference, you can easily find stuff by simply Googling. However, I wanted to share my favorite quote.
"“If you are a real football junkie, if you love the true building of a team, then feast your eyes on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Really.”– NFL.com’s Adam Schein, Apr 17, 2014"
With the Jaguars going from a team that couldn’t even get their own fans in the stadium to a team that doesn’t experience blackouts anymore, gathers talent well, even luring in the ‘elite’ players such as Cleveland C Alex Mack, and now praised in the national media–a dark hole for Jaguars news for many years. The Jaguars truly stand before you as a completely different organization than they were even 3 years ago. If the trend continues and success really does come with the topping of the next proverbial mountain climb, well, the Jaguars succeeded in more than the game of football. They revolutionized a team image. They changed everything. They revolutionized their Public Perception.