As someone who’s maintained for a while that it’s money, not tradition, keeping the Cocktail Party in Jacksonville, this piece from Gene Frenette doesn’t surprise me.
But an equally big story in the next month — with huge future economic implications for Jacksonville and those committed to preserving the game’s rich history — will take place away from the TV cameras and behind closed doors: renegotiating a Georgia-Florida contract that expires after the 2016 game.
While these negotiations are often viewed as a foregone conclusion — Jacksonville has been the series host since 1933 (except 1994-95 when the stadium was rebuilt to accommodate the NFL expansion Jaguars) — it’s possible things could get a little dicey this time around.
Both universities and the city of Jacksonville aren’t prepared yet to start negotiations because they’re waiting to see the Jaguars’ plans for renovations to the EverBank club seat areas in the east and west stands, a place normally reserved for the wealthiest boosters of each school.
Those renovations are expected to reduce the club seat capacity for Jaguars games in 2016 from 11,000 to about 8,000, which team president Mark Lamping said will improve the game-day experience and be a more appropriate number for the city’s NFL market size.
But as it pertains to the Georgia-Florida game, two possible sticking points for the schools must be ironed out. The first is replacing an estimated 3,000 club seats so that stadium capacity for the SEC showdown is back up to 82,917, as mandated in the contract. Another issue is how those temporary replacement seats, both in terms of comfort and aesthetic feel of the surroundings, will be received by the school’s top-level donors.
The city seems imbued with the belief that everyone wants the game to stay in Jacksonville, with the attendant consideration that there will be give and take from the schools about that, but I’m not so sure in this day and age that’ll be enough. Take this comment from McGarity:
Mousa hinted that everything is negotiable, that maybe Georgia and Florida would be willing to accept extra compensation — beyond the $3 million each receive for playing the game in Jacksonville — in lieu of losing some club seats.
But McGarity shot down that idea in an email, writing: “Priority number one is number of seats (being 82,917), no doubt about that. If we wanted more revenue, we would simply raise ticket prices.”
Maybe that’s just holding your ground early in negotiations, but if you’re the city, you probably wince seeing stuff like that being made public.
This probably makes you wince, too.
One of those venues is Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which will replace the Georgia Dome as the Atlanta Falcons’ home field in 2017. With a seating capacity of 75,000, and the potential to expand to 83,000, the $1.2 billion stadium has already sent a message to the college football world that it intends to be a major player for sporting events.
McGarity said maintaining the Georgia-Florida game tradition in Jacksonville is important, but he acknowledges the new Atlanta venue — along with AT&T Stadium in Dallas and a newly renovated Citrus Bowl in Orlando — cannot be ignored as potential competition down the road for any neutral-site game.
“There are newer and more modern options available now that are in play (to attract neutral-site games),” McGarity said. “They’re business people, too.”
How much is there to squeeze out of the city? We’re going to find out.