The Jaguars - Jacksonville and College Football

December 11, 2009 22 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

It's one of the most talked about topics at the water cooler - the Jaguars - and their ticket sales woes. Up to this point, the Jaguars have yet to even be close to selling out any of their home games, and most likely will not for the rest of the year. It seems every national media outlet has had at least one writer take a shot at Jacksonville for the lack of ticket sales. Today, Metro Jacksonville continues its seven part series discussing the Jaguars and the Jacksonville Market, and how they compare to other NFL cities.

An Overview of the Series

Part 1 – How Jacksonville became an NFL city
Part 2 – NFL Economics: What’s changed since 1995?
Part 3 – Jaguars on the Field: How do we compare?
Part 4 – Jacksonville and College Football
Part 5 – Jacksonville vs. Other Small Markets
Part 6 – NFL Relocations and the LA Stadium Plan
Part 7 – What does the future hold?

Jacksonville has had a direct tie with major college football since the turn of the century, when the University of the State of Florida (now known as the University of Florida) was created in 1906.  Until 1962, the Florida Gators played at least two games in Jacksonville nearly every year.  The Florida Georgia game was first played in 1915 in Jacksonville.  The Gator Bowl was first played here in 1946.  Finally, Jacksonville has also played host in the past to random neutral site games, as well as the first three ACC Championship Games.


Jacksonville’s first permanent football stadium, Fairfield Stadium, was completed in 1928, and was primarily constructed for the use of the three new high schools in Jacksonville (Lee, Jackson, and Landon), and had a seating capacity of 7,600.  The stadium was also constructed with an east-west alignment, instead of a traditional north-south field.  In 1933, it became the permanent host of the Florida-Georgia Game.  Thirteen years later, the stadium hosted its first gator bowl, and in 1948, the stadium was expanded to 16,000 seats, renamed the Gator Bowl Stadium, and the field was realigned to a traditional north-south alignment.  Over the years, the stadium was slowly expanded, and in 1984, an upper deck was constructed.

The Gator Bowl, shortly before the demolition and construction of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium.

The major renovation occurred in 1994-1995, when the stadium was reconstructed to accommodate the Jacksonville Jaguars.  The only thing to survive was the 1984 west side upper deck.

Florida-Georgia Game

The first game between the Gators and the Bulldogs was played in 1915 in Jacksonville.  It wasn’t an annual rivalry (being played sporadically between 1915 and 1932 in a few different cities, including Savannah and Tampa).  Finally in 1933, it was decided that Jacksonville would play host to this game every year, which it has done faithfully (except in 1994 and 1995 due to the construction of Jacksonville Municipal Stadium).

Each year, about 5,500 temporary seats are added to the stadium for this game to expand the capacity to about 82,000 people, consistently making this game the highest attended sporting event in Jacksonville.

The 2009 Florida Georgia Game. The tickets are distributed to the universities equally, split between the two sides of the stadium.

Gator Bowl

In 1946, Jacksonville hosted the first Gator Bowl game, between Wake Forest and South Carolina.  The game was not well attended, not even selling out the 7,600 seat Fairfield Stadium.  However, by 1949 the Clemson-Missouri Gator Bowl attracted over 30,000 fans.  The game steadily rose in popularity over the decades, and now routinely attracts 60,000-70,000 fans each New Year’s Day.

The 1961 Gator Bowl.  The stands in the south end zone dated back to the original stadium built in 1928.

Other College Games

Over the years, the city has played host to a number of other games.  Most recently, Jacksonville was the host for the first three ACC Championship Games in 2005, which Florida State won over Virginia Tech.  The game was a rousing success for both the ACC and the City of Jacksonville, with over 75,000 tickets sold for the game.  However, the next two games were not nearly as successful at the box office, and the game was moved to Tampa the following year.

The 2007 ACC Championship Game.  Not exactly a packed house (and there weren't 50,000 people stuck in traffic)

In 2007 and 2008, the Gator Bowl Association also put on the River City Showdown, two games between Florida State and Alabama (2007), and Florida State and Colorado (2008).  The 2007 game actually set the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium attendance record (85,412), but the 2008 attendance was significantly lower (shocking that no one from Colorado traveled to Jacksonville in September for a meaningless regular season game).

So, with all of these games played here, it begs the question:

Does Jacksonville like College Football Better?

Based on the numbers above, it wouldn’t appear so.  The Gator Bowl has good attendance, if there is a quasi-local team involved, and/or a team with fans that are known for traveling well.  Both are the case for the 2010 Gator Bowl, and they are adding temporary seats, as the game sold out almost immediately.  However, when the game is between two out of region teams that don’t travel well, the locals aren’t exactly gobbling up the extra tickets.

The Florida-Georgia game puts 82,000 people in the seats annually, but is that really that difficult?  You have a game where the further team is 6 hours away, against a perennial rival in a tradition that has been built over the last century.  Let’s face it – if Waycross, Georgia had an 80,000 seat stadium, it would be packed every year for this game.

The Florida Gators are perennially sold out, but it’s not like they put 90,000 people in the stands from Jacksonville; they draw from the entire state.  It isn’t hard to find 90,000 fans in an environment with 50,000 students, and support from a state with 16 million people.

Finally, we see what kind of turnout there is for games like FSU-Colorado and the ACC championship game (assuming there isn’t a local team playing).  So in the end, while there might be a lot of casual college football fans in Jacksonville, when it comes time for them to open up their wallets, it really doesn’t happen.  Notice a correlation with our pro team?

Bonus Question

Earlier, we mentioned that Fairfield Stadium was completed in 1928.  We also said that the first Florida-Georgia Game was played here in 1915, among other games.  So, where were football games before 1928 played?

Read the next article in the series for the answer!

Article By Steve Congro