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Mayor's letter to NFL puts Jaguars in tough spot


Popularity is the key to political success. Obviously, Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney learned that lesson a long time ago and he recently seized the opportunity to serve and satisfy his constituents by announcing his campaign to petition the NFL for a TV blackout rules exemption for Jacksonville.

Everything in Delaney's letter to the NFL made perfect sense. It was carefully worded so it would be very difficult for critics to dispute without suffering major popularity loss. If it was a show of civic spirit, it was also political genius.

Of course, there were some facts Mayor Delaney omitted from his letter. For example, in comparing Jacksonville to Chicago, a city with nine times the population base, Mayor Delaney did not mention that Chicago also has two major league baseball teams, an NHL team and an NBA team, all of whom create an overwhelmingly greater drain on the Chicago entertainment dollar than exists in Jacksonville. Remember, major league baseball plays 81 home games a year, and the NHL and the NBA each play 41. That means Chicago hosts 252 regular-season major league sports events a year, compared to Jacksonville's eight.

Mayor Delaney also failed to remind his constituency that Jacksonville probably wouldn't have an NFL franchise if it hadn't convinced the league it could sell out a 73,000-seat stadium and, in the process, provide visiting teams with big paydays. To that end, when the Steelers played in Jacksonville for the first time on Oct. 8, 1995, they took home their biggest "road" check in their 63-year history.

What is Wayne Weaver to tell the other owners today? Sorry, we made a mistake?

The one fact that has become totally lost in all of this debate is that the NFL rules governing blackouts were written by Congress in 1973 for the purpose of recognizing and protecting the importance of ticket sales to the success of professional football. Congress' interest was that, provided all of the tickets were sold, the rest of the country's fans would not be denied the pleasure of their passion. After all, the tickets were sold; they couldn't buy one if they wanted.

There's also another fact that's been skewed. Weaver has not adhered to the blackout policy as steadfastly as other owners have. The blackout rule reads, "sold out." If one ticket remains unsold 72 hours before kickoff, the game is to be blacked out. Weaver, for the purpose of exposing his product and creating goodwill in the community, altered those rules significantly by creating "obstructed-view seating," "military seating," and "handicapped seating," all of which the Jaguars subtracted from Alltel Stadium's 73,000-seat capacity, effectively reducing that capacity to 70,000.

Where was the acknowledgement of those efforts? Maybe Weaver should've called a press conference to announce he was voluntarily lowering the blackout number; fired off a letter to the NFL explaining he was departing from league policy, whether the other owners liked it or not.

The fact of the matter is the NFL will not budge in its stance on its TV blackout rules, which were forced on them by Congress. To grant Jacksonville an exemption from the rules would be to set a precedent to which fans in every other city in the league would resort when necessary. To do that would be to effectively decrease the seating capacity of every stadium in the league. In the process, of course, the NFL would lose millions of dollars, all because it decided to give a small city with big promises a chance to join the "big leagues."

Mayor Delaney's letter to the NFL has certainly increased his already-high and well-deserved approval rating, but it may be at the risk of the Jaguars' and the NFL's popularity.

Please explain: How does that benefit Jacksonville?

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