Those who had followed the TV ratings through the Jaguars history were not surprised by yesterday's survey revelations in The Florida Times-Union that confirmed the Jaguars' position as the overwhelmingly most popular team in Jacksonville.
The most stunning bit of TV ratings news occurred two seasons ago, on a late-season weekend when the Jaguars were playing a very low-profile game on the road the day after Florida and Florida State were pitted in their annual grudge match. When the ratings for the week were released, the Jaguars game more than doubled the ratings for the second-ranked TV show in Jacksonville that week, while the Florida-Florida State game didn't even make it into the top three shows of the week.
At the time, the Jaguars were completing a very disappointing season that would lead to a 7-9 record and included a midseason, five-game losing streak. Meanwhile, the Florida-Florida State game was of national interest and had been moved to prime time on Saturday night.
That's when we all knew that what has always happened in every other city in which the NFL has laid down roots was, in fact, happening in Jacksonville. The NFL was rooting itself as the number one sports product, and it had already happened in six short years in a market that had previously been college football crazy.
The simple fact of the matter is the NFL is number one. In Jacksonville's case, the NFL is not only the number one game in town, it is the only game in town.
But those who will doubt the survey numbers will point to the fact the Jaguars are struggling to sell season tickets. If Jacksonville is so Jaguars crazy, why is the team finding such difficulty in filling its stadium?
The answer is just as obvious as the TV ratings should've been. The Jacksonville market is too small and its stadium is too big.
"We're the second-smallest market and we have the seventh-largest stadium, and we were required to have that because of college football," Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said in an address to the Times-Union advertising sales force this morning. "Had we elected to build a stadium that fits our size, we would've probably built a stadium that seats 65,000 because that fits our market better," Weaver added.
Green Bay is officially the NFL's smallest market, but that may be a bit misleading. It's misleading not to include Milwaukee in the Green Bay market. The Packers played three games a year in Milwaukee for several seasons and were the only team in the league to offer season-ticket packages in two cities. When you include Milwaukee in the Green Bay market, Jacksonville becomes the league's by-far-smallest venue.
Jacksonville is a town of whirlwind growth. The NFL weighed that growth potential heavily when it decided to award Jacksonville the league's 31st franchise. In time, numbers won't be a problem in Jacksonville, but, for now, they are.
"We've got to do a better job reaching out to our outer markets," Weaver said in his address at the Times-Union.
Without selling in those "outer markets," the Jaguars would have to sell a season ticket in one out of every three Jacksonville households. "That's a big hurdle," he confessed.
Of course, Florida and Florida State have accessed those "outer markets." Their statewide enrollments and bulging alumni rosters assure a season ticket base throughout Florida and the Southeast.
TV ratings are presented in terms of percentages; attendance is by head count. The percentages in Jacksonville are fine; the head count needs, well, more heads. Growth will provide more heads.
"It's not just about wins and losses. It's about good marketing and staying in touch with your customers," Weaver said. "We may be a small market, but we can fill that stadium up."
To do that, the Jaguars must rely completely on the percentages of fan interest, which caused two Jaguars preseason games last season to produce higher TV ratings than last November's Florida State at Florida game.
What's that tell you?