JACKSONVILLE – This is about stability, strength and Jacksonville.
Owner Shad Khan on Tuesday morning announced that the Jaguars have reached an agreement with the NFL office to play two home games at Wembley Stadium in London in 2020, and emphasized multiple points when discussing the decision:
It was made to help keep the Jaguars stable economically.
It was also made to continue to strengthen the Jaguars in Jacksonville.
"Make no mistake: Winning is the top priority," Khan said. "Everything we're striving to do for the franchise and the city is about winning and building a franchise that expects to win consistently. …
"We're not going to rest until we get there, but obviously that doesn't erase what we need to do here away from the game to create and generate the revenues and be everything we can be here in Jacksonville. We're doing it in a way that benefits the city.
"Everything we've done has always been with the city in mind."
The Jaguars, who have played one game a year in London since 2013, will play the two home London 2020 games on to-be-announced back-to-back weeks. Jaguars President Mark Lamping said the dates will be announced when the league announces the 2020 schedule in April.
"Right now, this is just about two games this season," Khan said.
Lamping also said 2020 home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears will be played in Jacksonville. He also announced the team is introducing for the first time variable pricing for season-ticket holders, with preseason games reduced by 50 percent and "prime" games priced higher than other games.
Lamping said the result is a 15 percent overall reduction in price for season-ticket members.
Lamping and Khan, speaking on a conference call with local media Tuesday, said the additional London game is a part of an overall plan to keep the Jaguars competitive financially in a league that is undergoing rapid economic change.
Lamping on Tuesday said the moves of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers into a new stadium in 2020 – and the Oakland Raiders' move into a new stadium in Las Vegas – have further hurt the Jaguars' standing in what the team considers the critical league metric of local revenue. The moves, Lamping said, make the Jaguars' goal of getting out of the NFL's bottom quartile of local revenue – though achievable – more challenging. The moves also mean the league is entering what Lamping called an "uncertain time."
Lamping noted that those teams had moved to address local revenue, also noting that that action was not something the Jaguars would consider.
"One thing about the NFL is it never stands still," Lamping said, citing the New England Patriots' successful mixed-use development – Patriot Place – in Foxboro, Mass., as an example of a successful team still needing out-of-the-box revenue streams.
"Here you have undoubtedly the single-most successful team in the NFL in terms of their performance on the field," Lamping said. "Yet, even a team like that believes it's necessary to grow your revenue – to focus on winning, but at the same time be generating the type of revenue outside the stadium that allows you to continue to compete within the league. The league is full of examples like that."
The Jaguars along with the city of Jacksonville have developed multiple projects to increase local revenue in an effort to stay competitive financially, and the team is working with the city to develop the so-called "Lot J" project adjacent to TIAA Bank Field and the Shipyards in downtown Jacksonville.
Such projects would enhance the Jaguars' local revenue, and Lamping on Tuesday discussed the two 2020 London games as key to the team as Lot J and the surrounding areas develop.
"These games in London will provide us with financial benefits during a much-needed time during the transition from where we are today until we open Lot J," Lamping said. "We're more confident than ever that we can be the catalyst to help the Jaguars and the city of Jacksonville realize our full potential."
Lamping was asked if Lot J's completion could eliminate the need for two London games.
"I don't think there's any question we'll be in a much stronger position when Lot J opens up – then the Shipyards to follow after that – and then many other things we haven't even thought about yet," Lamping said. "All of those things will make us stronger. It will put us in a position where we can take a step back and reevaluate what role London could and should play for the city of Jacksonville and the Jaguars. Whether that means continuing at that level, maybe fewer games – but I think that's the time to do that evaluation….
"Every other team is doing the things we're doing and we can't predict exactly what the situation's going to be like with every other team."
The London game for the past seven seasons has been key to the team's local revenue. Lamping said the back-to-back nature of the games will more than double the benefit because of "certain economies of scale."
Lamping said the Jaguars' agreement with the league for London games is through 2020, and that extending it is not 100 percent in the Jaguars' control.
"We believe London is of particular importance to us, and growing importance to us as we go through the transition over the net several years as Lot J goes from a vision to reality," he said, adding, "We can't snap our fingers and get Lot J open tomorrow.
"As we're waiting to go from where we are now – which is Lot J just a vision – to it actually being open, we need to be looking for those opportunities to supplement our revenue situation. We believe London fits that bill. Not only is it the right time to do it, but it's the right action for us."
Lamping said a drafted development agreement regarding Lot J is currently "in front of the city," with the team expecting to reach consensus with the city. The agreement would then go before the Downtown Investment Authority Board for approval, and then to City Council for approval.
"We're confident this project will be one of many actions that will help downtown Jacksonville realize its full potential," Lamping said. "Hopefully, we'll be looking forward to cranes in downtown Jacksonville. Again, it's in the city, DIA and ultimately the city council's hands."
Lamping said the hope is for a completed development agreement with the city within 30-60 days.
"Were anxious to get started," he said.
Lamping, as he has previously, said Tuesday that winning at a high level – as the Jaguars did in 2017 when they advanced to the AFC Championship game – wouldn't prevent needing to supplement local revenue. Lamping said the 2018 season was the best financial season in franchise history because of the aftereffects of 2017, with the team achieving 97 percent of ticket sales.
"Even with that as a baseline, with the impact of other teams continuing to be aggressive in terms of their actions – highlighted by the new-stadium teams – we're treading water," he said. "We're not moving up in the league. We're treading water and that challenge is even going to become more significant in the future."
Lamping on Tuesday also addressed the future of TIAA Bank Field, saying that the stadium as it exists today "in all likelihood would not meet the needs of the city or the football team 10, 15, 20 years from now." As such Lamping said dialogue has begun with the city regarding a full assessment of TIAA Bank Field to determine the future of the stadium.
"Once we can come to a consensus on that, we can have a very important discussion on what is the right path to make that a reality in Jacksonville," Lamping said, adding that the evaluation process likely will take 12 months with assessments and planning taking an additional 36 to 48 months."
Khan, speaking about his expected reaction to Tuesday's announcement, said it should be "very positive."
"Everything we're doing helps the city, helps us," Khan said. "That's what you need a small-market team to do to get on the competitive footing with all the resources you need to compete with all the big-market teams."