Memo to Jacksonville Jaguars — Come play some games in Orlando
Jacksonville Jaguars, come on down!
If you need a place to stay, we would love to have you temporarily playing your home games in Orlando — the biggest city in America without an NFL team.
In case you haven’t heard, Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry did a radio interview on AM-1010XL earlier this week and revealed that the Jaguars will likely soon be looking for a second home in a couple of years while TIAA Bank Field is renovated. Curry said the Jaguars are scouting potential locations for their home games for what could be both the 2025 and 2026 football seasons while the city tackles a billion-dollar remake of the stadium that will include a canopy roof and other assorted bells and whistles.
Look no further, Jaguars.
Orlando is here for you.
If you don’t believe me, just listen to Steve Hogan, the CEO of Florida Citrus Sports and the man in charge of bringing major sporting events to Camping World Stadium.
“I’ve been telling just about anybody who will listen to me that NFL regular-season football needs to be in Orlando,” Hogan told me on my radio show Friday. “If we can’t have our own team, then I think Orlando is the perfect market to help build your brand in. We’d love to have the Jags come down here and play.
“If they call, we’re going to be all over it,” Hogan added. “Our mayors [Orange County mayor Jerry Demings and Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer], myself and Florida Citrus Sports will move heaven and earth to make this happen. Our fans, their fans — this community will light up for NFL regular-season games. If the Jaguars want to move here for two years, we would crush it!”
This is the perfect chance for the Jaguars to do what they should have done years ago — cultivate the 17th-largest TV market in the country. Orlando has always been right here for the Jaguars’ taking but, quite frankly, we have been snubbed over the years and they’ve never given us the respect we deserve as the biggest TV market in their coverage area.
Full disclosure: I love the Jaguars; they are my favorite team in all of professional sports. But several years ago amid the abyss of the organization’s mostly miserable history of losing, I went to bat for the many Sentinel readers who were upset at having to watch Jaguars’ games every Sunday. It got so bad in 2013 that Orlando CBS affiliate WKMG aired an apology message across the bottom of the screen for having to show the Jaguars-Raiders game instead of the highly anticipated “Manning Bowl” game between Denver (Peyton Manning) and the New York Giants (Eli Manning).
I once had an email exchange with NFL spokesman Greg Aiello about why Orlando gets stuck with Jags games and Aiello told me: “Smaller-market teams like Jacksonville must regionalize to be successful. Orlando is an important market for the Jaguars.”
My response to that has always been this: If we’re so important to the Jaguars, then why don’t they act like it?
There was a time when I thought the Jags were finally starting to get it. I had a conversation with former team owner Wayne Weaver 15 years ago about the team’s attendance woes and he made it seem like the Jags were finally going to start treating the Orlando market like a true fan base.
“There’s certainly the possibility that we would play some out-of-market games,” Weaver told me then. “If it happened, Orlando would be the best option and most reasonable location. … In the past, we have reached out to try and cultivate that market and haven’t had as much success as we would have liked. We probably need to do a better job. That’s a given. We are looking at a long-term strategy and thinking out of the box on how we can build a fan base in Orlando.”
Shad Khan soon bought the team from Weaver and the Orlando strategy was abandoned. Instead, Khan built a fan base in London where the Jaguars traditionally play one game every year and will play two games there this season.
No doubt, becoming London’s NFL team was a shrewd and synergetic business move for Khan, who also owns Fulham F.C. — a soccer team in the English Premier League. However, now Khan and the Jags have an opportunity to also embrace the Orlando market by playing regular-season games here while their stadium is renovated.
Camping World Stadium (60,219) is almost the same size as Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field (67,838) and Orlando fans would embrace the chance to watch real NFL football. Heck, we sold out Camping World for the freaking Pro Bowl in 2016 and drew at least 51,000 fans for the three ensuing Pro Bowls.
If the Jags are smart and really want to enhance their brand and grow their season-ticket base in the third-largest state in the nation, they would play five home games in Orlando, a couple in Gainesville and maybe one in Tallahassee. Instead of just being the Jacksonville Jaguars, they could become the North Central Florida Jaguars.
Let me say it again:
Jacksonville Jaguars, come on down.
Orlando is here for you.
We’ve always been here for you.
All you have to do is reach out and we are primed and ready to be a Jags town.
Email me at email@example.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9:30 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 and HD 101.1-2