This is a tale of two NFL cities, their struggle to sell tickets and beat blackouts, their unique disadvantages and their prospects for the future.
Jacksonville's and San Diego's football teams will face each other in Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday. The weather forecast is spectacular. It's San Diego's home opener and the Chargers will wear white, which means the Jaguars' teal jerseys will sparkle in the eye of the TV cameras. The telecast, however, will be seen in Jacksonville and almost nowhere else, certainly not in San Diego, which will be experiencing its first TV blackout in six years.
The worst part about this is that it wasn't even close. There will likely be large expanses of empty seats at the "Old Murph." The economy is bad, the Chargers are coming off another postseason flop, they lost their opener in Kansas City, management has decided to play hardball with two of the team's star players and, of course, the Jaguars don't exactly drive ticket sales, either.
Back in Jacksonville, spirits are high this week, on the heels of a thrilling, opening-day win over the Broncos. Enough general-bowl tickets were bought to avoid a blackout and the first true blackout watch isn't expected to begin until late Nov., when the Jaguars begin a finishing stretch of three home games for which ticket sales are sluggish. The Jags might need to be in playoff contention to sell the tickets for those games.
When the Jaguars and the Chargers kick it off on Sunday, it'll be a game between teams from the two NFL cities most often linked to rumors of Los Angeles. The L.A. Bowl? Not exactly, but the teams' concurrent ticket-sales struggles give this game flavor. In this case, the more important game is the one being played in their ticket departments.
San Diego is a city of immense beauty and potential, but it has natural disadvantages that hamstring the Chargers, as well as the baseball Padres. It is tightly wedged between Mexico to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, the desert to the east and that vast wasteland known as Los Angeles to the north. Talk about tight.
Some would say Jacksonville is in a similar situation, though its boundaries aren't nearly as rigid as San Diego's. Yes, ocean is to one corner, the state line is to another and not much in the way of population is to the west. Whereas San Diego's regionality lies to the north, Jacksonville's is to the south, but just as San Diego runs into Los Angeles, Jacksonville runs into Orlando.
Here's the difference: Whereas Los Angeles is a threat to San Diego, Orlando is potential help for Jacksonville.
Only teams in the largest markets can survive in today's sports economy without regionalizing themselves. Ticket prices and the ever-increasing competition for the entertainment dollar are forcing teams to reach out beyond their primary market areas. The Packers are Wisconsin's team, the Seahawks belong to the Great Northwest, the Saints to the Gulf Coast and the Falcons are reaching out in all directions. Jacksonville's future would seem to include Orlando, which is part of the team's secondary market.
Given the football futures of the two teams that'll meet in San Diego on Sunday, Jacksonville might have the edge, based on its regionality potential. Here's one reporter's four-point strategy for securing the future of professional football in Jacksonville:
1. Avoid blackouts—This is a must. This team must finish this season without having a home game blacked out. If it can do that, it'll take forward momentum into the offseason that'll allow for the perception of Jacksonville as a football town to change.
2. Labor peace—A new CBA that provides for the future of small-market teams and avoids a lockout would also give the Jaguars a full offseason to sell tickets. A lockout would cripple that effort.
3. Continued improvement—Nothing sells tickets as winning does. It's safe to say Jaguars fans believe General Manager Gene Smith is assembling a winner. The team is on the rise and it's only going to get better.
4. Involve Orlando—Marry strategies 1-3 with number four and the Jaguars will become one of the success stories of the NFL.
Here are the 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Chargers.
1. Run the ball—It's half of the Jaguars' current identity and it'll help keep P. Rivers and company on the bench.
2. Rush the passer—This is the other half of the Jaguars' current identity and it's the only hope the Jaguars have of defending the pass.
3. Play with fury—Forget about that West Coast stuff. Let it rip.
4. Win special teams—That's what the Chiefs did.
5. Cop an attitude—Everyone's dumping on Jacksonville. Go ahead, play with a chip on your shoulder.
6. Take a deep breath—The air will be fresh and clean, with just a hint of late-summer chill. It'll be wonderful.
7. Make him throw outside—Rivers likes to live in the middle of the field.
8. Focus on Gates—The Chargers tight end is on his game.
9. Be efficient at QB—David Garrard was a model of efficiency last week. More of the same would work.
10. Win up front—That's where the Jaguars are strongest.