JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars’ announcement that they will play two home games in London in 2020 created quite a stir among fans. It also generated numerous questions about the team’s future in Jacksonville, whether it’s a competitive disadvantage and whether this will become the norm.
Are the Jaguars going to be playing two (or more) home games in London going forward?
The Jaguars don’t have a contract to play any more games in London beyond this season, but owner Shad Khan has been open about wanting to continue playing a game there. On Tuesday, he said an arrangement of two games could continue.
“We’ve talked about possibly playing two games,” Khan said. “But you know, we’re not the sole judge here or the decision-maker. I think it has to make sense for the league, which they ultimately decide. But I mean right now, this is just about two games this season."
Team president Mark Lamping said the hopeful completion within the next four years of a $700 million development outside of TIAA Bank Field will result in increased revenue, and that could change the team’s strategy when it comes to London, too -- possibly even eliminating the need to go overseas.
“I do not think there is any question that we will be in a much stronger position when Lot J opens up and then the Shipyards [project along the St. Johns River] to follow after that and many other things that we have not even thought about yet,” Lamping said. “All of those things will make us stronger. I think it will put us in a position where we can take a step back and re-evaluate what role London could and should play for the city of Jacksonville and for the Jaguars. Whether that means continuing at that level, maybe fewer games.”
This will amplify the people saying the Jaguars will move to London permanently. Why are they wrong?
Things certainly could change, but there are no plans now to move the franchise. Lamping told the Florida Times-Union last month that the Jaguars would not do what the Chargers, Rams and Raiders did by dealing with stadium issues by relocating, saying: “Not on our watch, OK.”
Plus, the league is a long way from having a franchise in London full time. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during his Super Bowl news conference last week that the league would have to find a way to ensure competitive balance before that could become a reality.
“Can we do it so that all 32 teams -- not just the team in, if there was a team in London -- can be done in a competitive fashion?” Goodell said. “That’s No. 1 for us.”
Whenever Khan has been questioned about moving the team, He has said to judge him by his actions. So let’s look:
He has invested $76 million of his own money for improvements to city-owned TIAA Bank Field: $11 million on locker room and weight-room renovations, $20 million to help erect the NFL's largest scoreboards and $45 million to help fund an indoor practice facility, outdoor amphitheater and renovate the club seats.
He’s spearheading the $700 million development in one of the parking lots outside the stadium and will be sharing parts of the cost. He also wants to be involved in another development project along the St. Johns River near the stadium. Jacksonville has been traditionally slow and resistant to change and to spend big money, and he’s facing some of that now.
Why invest that much in the city if he’s planning to leave? You don’t become someone with a net worth of nearly $8 billion by investing more than $100 million on projects you’re going to abandon.
What do the Jaguars say to fans about losing another home game?
Khan said he thought that fans would have a positive reaction to the second home game in London because it helps the team’s local revenue and gives them a better chance of escaping the bottom quartile of league teams in that category. It was a tone-deaf response because fans, at least those sounding off on social media, are pretty angry -- and Khan and the team should have expected that.
Telling the fans that preseason game tickets will be reduced by 50 percent and that season-ticket prices will decrease 15 percent isn’t really a big deal -- there’s one fewer regular-season home game, so of course the prices should go down.
Khan’s other point was that the second home game in London is good for the city itself. It creates additional revenue that can then be funneled back into the Lot J project which -- if it comes to fruition -- would revitalize downtown and make the franchise more stable. Lamping also pointed out that the New England Patriots have a similar entertainment district outside Gillette Stadium and if one of the league’s most successful franchises in a big market feels the need to do that, then it makes sense for a small-market team to do something similar.
“Everything we’ve done is always with the city in mind ...,” Khan said. “Lot J is about the city and why the two games in London, while we embark on the biggest downtown project in recent memory, absolutely makes sense for us. We move downtown forward, we improve our local revenues and we continue to grow our profile internationally, and not just for the Jaguars but also for the city of Jacksonville.”
Does this put the Jaguars at a competitive advantage or disadvantage?
The games will be in back-to-back weeks, but that doesn’t give the team a competitive advantage at all. Players are creatures of habit when it comes to game-week preparation. They like to stick to the same practice and meeting schedule, eat at the same time (and in some cases the same things), and study the same way. No surprises and no variations.
Going to London for 11 days and staying in a strange place, eating different food, being away from their families and changing their routine does not give them an advantage. If it did, the Jaguars would not be 3-4 in their seven previous London games and wouldn't have lost their last two by a combined score of 50-21.
And you can bet the players won’t like it, either. Playing in London makes them subject to significantly higher taxes than they would face in the United States and now Jaguars players will pay that twice in 2020 -- so in effect they’re taking a pay cut so the Jaguars can make more money. Players grumbled about the taxes in the locker room before. It surely will be louder now.