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A word of warning


We had a lively discussion on Wednesday night's "Jaguars This Week" radio show. The phone lines lit up as soon as the show's topic was announced. So why aren't Jaguars fans as passionate about buying tickets as they are about making excuses for not buying tickets?

That's what I'm having trouble understanding. "Ticket sales" is the number one hot-button topic in Jacksonville. It's even bigger than Byron Leftwich bashing. But why?

Actually, that's a rhetorical question. Please don't bother e-mailing me answers because I won't even read them. No more excuses, folks, and I mean it.

Frankly, there was only ever one excuse that held water: The stadium was too big. It really was. It didn't fit the market. It didn't fit most markets.

That problem, however, has been resolved. Nearly 10,000 seats have been put out of service for this season. Alltel Stadium's new seating capacity is 67,164, and that puts it comfortably in the middle ranks of NFL stadium size, in one of only two markets in the NFL that doesn't have another major league sports team. Tiny Green Bay is that other market, and most would say Milwaukee should be included in the Green Bay market, and if you do that Jacksonville becomes the only NFL city that doesn't have a major league baseball, NBA or NHL team.

Scott Loft, the Jaguars' ticket director, was our guest on Wednesday night's radio show and Loft told us how one out of every 15 people in Jacksonville has to buy a season ticket for the Jaguars to sell-out Alltel Stadium. I guess that means the Jaguars should've covered more seats, right? Not so fast. Do the math on, say, Chicago, a 7.6-million market with over 260 major league sporting events a year. Chicago may be 7.6 times larger than Jacksonville, but it also has a 26-times greater drain on the sports entertainment dollar.

I'm sorry, but I just won't accept any more excuses. You can't make me believe a town with a million people in a region that has one of the country's most explosive economies shouldn't be able to fill a mid-sized NFL stadium.

Unfortunately, however, that's the way it looks. Two months out from the preseason opener, the numbers don't look good. Less than three months removed from the regular-season opener, ticket sales have flat-lined and even though a newly-configured Alltel will give the Jaguars the fourth-smallest TV blackout figure in the league, the possibility exists that multiple games will be blacked out this season.

You wanna know the numbers? OK, here they are: On average, per game, about 11,000 tickets remain unsold for the 2005 season.

Spin it any way you want. Just don't spin it to me. I'm worn out by the spin. It is what it is. Good football towns don't make excuses, they buy tickets.

So I will close with this word of warning: Sportswriters aren't as stupid as you might think. If, say, a national-type writer is in Alltel's press box next fall and happens to notice empty seats in a stadium with 10,000 covered seats, look out, because the firestorm of criticism that was caused by so many empty seats for last year's Houston game will begin again. They will write that Jacksonville is not such a bold city and that it is certainly not a good football town.

It's that simple, and they won't accept any excuses either.

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