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View from the O-Zone: Farewell, tarps


JACKSONVILLE – They're gone. At long last.

Yes, you heard right – and in case you hadn't heard, we'll repeat it to allow Jaguars fans a moment of relief and celebration: The tarps are no more.

That's right: the Jaguars on Monday announced several changes on and off the field, many of which reflect momentum built from last season's run to the AFC Championship Game. Those announcements can be found here, with the biggest being that the tarps that have covered parts of EverBank Field for more than a decade will not be in place for the 2018 season.

For real and no fooling.

"We're really excited about it," Jaguars President Mark Lamping said. "We'll be tarp-free, and hopefully that's something we can maintain well into the future."

Aside from the tarps, the Jaguars on Monday announced that ticket prices will increase (more on that in a few paragraphs) – and that concession prices will drop. Demand for tickets as might be expected is dramatically increased in the wake of the best season in nearly two decades, and the Jaguars also made the long-awaited announcement that their helmets and uniforms will change next season.

Details on the helmets will qualify as huge news, of course, but those details won't be public until April. That meant Monday's big news was obvious:

Tarps, tarps and more tarps – and they indeed dominated the discussion when Lamping joined Mike Dempsey, Tony Smith and myself on Jaguars Today on 1010XL/92.5 FM.

How cool for fans is a tarp-free 'Bank? About as cool as could be imagined.

How long has removing them been a goal? Lamping said it was among the first things he and Owner Shad Khan discussed when Khan purchased the team in 2012, and he called the removal big psychologically for the franchise and its fans.

"I always viewed the tarps as sort of a physical illustration of underachievement," Lamping said. "Nobody wants to hear that you don't build a church for Easter Sunday, and yet that's what we did here in Jacksonville; Easter Sunday is Florida-Georgia and you have to have 84,000-plus seats."

That's the reality of the tarps. All they ever were about was making an enormous stadium designed for Florida-Georgia closer to the size it always should have been for this market – most NFL markets, actually.

But perception and reality are different, and the tarps created a national perception that Jaguars fans didn't care about the team. That that perception was misguided mattered little to national media types unfamiliar with the story behind the tarps – and equally unwilling to learn it.

"It was way too complicated for anybody outside of Jacksonville to understand, but the idea that you can get rid of them (the tarps) … I think we can all feel proud of that," Lamping said. "The fact is our fans made that possible. It's nothing the team did. Our fans made that possible.

"Another pat on the back to the quality of football fans here in Northeast Florida."

That's the fun stuff from Monday – and just as fun was the announcement that ticket demand is trending far ahead of this time last year. The Jaguars' sales department already has taken 5,000 deposits from new purchasers this offseason compared to 700 all of last offseason.

Not as fun to season-ticket holders new and old: Those tickets are more expensive than past seasons – an average of a little more than 10 percent with pretty much all tickets up from last season.

It's the first time in 10 years the team has raised prices for essentially all tickets.

Still, while Lamping said he well understands that "you never get thank-you notes from fans about increasing the price of tickets," he added that "The value of Jaguars tickets right now are at a really high level." He also reiterated a point the team has made often in recent offseasons – that increasing local revenue remains critical for the franchise's long-term stability.

The Jaguars have made progress in local revenue in recent seasons by increasing premium seats. But Lamping said the only way to make significant progress in local revenue compared to the rest of the NFL was an across-the-board increase such as the one announced Monday.

The Jaguars in 2017 had among the lowest average ticket prices in the NFL. The team projects that even with this offseason's price increase the Jaguars' average ticket price will rank among the bottom 25 percent in the NFL.

"We're making slow progress, but we really believe now is the time," Lamping said.

Bottom line: Jaguars ticket prices for years have been too low to maintain financial equality with the rest of the NFL. That had to change. The market wouldn't have accepted a ticket increase in recent seasons. Considering the current momentum, what better time? There is none.

The same is true of Monday's big news, too. What better time to remove the tarps? There is none – and for everything else announced Monday, that's how this day should be remembered:

The tarps are gone … for real. No fooling.

They're gone. At long last.

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