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Preserve and protect

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The Jaguars are rapidly approaching an important deadline. At one p.m. on Thursday or at four p.m. on Friday, it will be announced whether or not Sunday's season-opener against archrival Tennessee will be blacked out to local television.

One p.m. on Thursday is the standard blackout deadline, but the Jaguars are likely to request an extension of that deadline and the league will comply. Should that request be made, Friday at four p.m. would become the drop-dead time.

Just under 3,000 tickets were unsold at the close of business on Tuesday. Should the Jaguars not sell those tickets, league guidelines would require the Jaguars to blackout Sunday's game. Owner Wayne Weaver would then be faced with a familiar decision: Play nice guy again and buy the remaining tickets so the game can be shown in Jacksonville, or show tough love.

Those of you who want your Jaguars for free would campaign loudly for Weaver's generosity. Who doesn't want somethin' for nothin', huh? You would say, of course, that showing Jaguars games on local television builds the fan base and that'll sell tickets on down the road.

Yeah, that point was first made in the 2001 season, when for the first time the Jaguars blacked out a regular-season game; week three vs. Cleveland. Blackouts quickly became a way of life, but that trend was reversed two years ago when the stadium was downsized by 10,000 seats so that it fit the size of the market. Since then, every home game has been on TV. The last game to be blacked out was the infamous home finale against Houston in 2004.

Well, here we are again, folks, and this isn't the home finale. This is the home opener; the season opener. Whoa!

So what should Weaver do if all of this week's tickets aren't sold by deadline time? Be a nice guy and cave?

There are other points to be made for caving:

• The Jaguars recently made a dramatic change at quarterback and blacking out the game would deny most Jaguars fans the opportunity to experience the drama and results of that change at quarterback.

• It's the season opener. What a bummer it would be to start the season with a blackout.

• The message could be very damaging. Only seven games were blacked out leaguewide last season. Should Sunday's opener go dark, it's likely the Jaguars would start the '07 season with two blackouts in two weeks and that would send a message that might threaten the future of professional football in Jacksonville.

• Another excuse for not buying tickets – Byron Leftwich made me do it – would be extinguished. Previously, "Tom Coughlin made me do it" and "the stadium is too big" had been extinguished. Fans are still hanging on to "the Jaguars don't market the team," but this summer's $400,000 TV ad blitz put a major dent in the marketing excuse. "Tickets are too expensive" doesn't work, either, because premium seats don't count toward the blackout number and the Jaguars have one of the least expensive non-premium seat ticket averages in the league and the fourth-fewest non-premium seats in the league, which means the Jaguars have the fourth-smallest blackout number in the league.

• The cost of seat covers will have been wasted. The stadium was downsized and the seat covers were purchased for the express purpose of lowering the blackout number and putting Jaguars home games on home TV.

• The best point I can make for not blacking out the game is that a lot of people who can't afford tickets and are passionate Jaguars fans will be deprived their greatest earthly pleasure. My heart goes out to you; especially to those of you who are home-bound.

There is, basically, one reason for not allowing the game to be shown on local TV should tickets remain unsold. That one reason is obvious: Blacking out the game would sell more tickets; it would probably cause all of the remaining tickets to be sold prior to kickoff.

That's why the owners who were blind-sided by an act of Congress back in 1973 clung to the 72-hour sellout rule long after the act of Congress expired. Those owners didn't want to take on Congress, but they knew they had to protect ticket sales. It's a compromise that continues to work.

Weaver's number one obligation as the principal owner and executive officer of the Jaguars is to preserve and protect the future of the NFL franchise that was awarded to Jacksonville. That future, of course, relies on ticket sales, and more so now than ever before because of the link between ticket sales and a cut of the league's new revenue-sharing program.

The Jaguars' ticket revenue must fall within 10 percent of the league average for the Jaguars to get a cut of the league's revenue-sharing program, and not selling tickets isn't going to get it done. Should the Jaguars fail to qualify for a share of the revenue-sharing pool, they will have lost even more revenue, further exacerbating the team's financial outlook and damaging its ability to compete.

That's not what you want and that's not what I want. We want these tickets sold. Weaver might be facing a tough-love decision.

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