Wayne Weaver thought he finally had a deal. Then he read the "fine print."
Is it back to square one for the Jaguars in their negotiations with the City on signage rights for the Florida-Georgia, ACC title and Gator Bowl games? Weaver is hopeful it hasn't come to that.
"It's in the City's court," the Jaguars owner said.
In a letter to Mayor Peyton on July 14, Weaver suggested the City and the Jaguars agree to assign a monetary value to Alltel Stadium's electronic signage. The Jaguars paid for the new signs, which replaced outdated fixed signage that had been in place since the stadium opened in 1995.
The City had wanted a global lease amendment but it became apparent that wasn't going to happen, causing Weaver to suggest the two sides address the more immediate concern, a signage-rights agreement.
City proposals for a global settlement focused on the Jaguars guaranteeing more than $48 million in payments to the City for stadium naming rights in future years, as well as the Jaguars paying over $20 million more in rent, in exchange for rent relief in the near term.
"These City proposals are not attractive to us. We cannot risk making these guarantees. Look at Joe Robbie Stadium and the Nashville Coliseum. They have been without naming sponsors for a number of years," Weaver said.
An agreement seemed imminent following a phone call from Peyton to Weaver on Sept. 9. Peyton agreed to monetize the value of the electronic signs. The following day, the Jaguars received an e-mail from City consultant Dean Bonham. The e-mail offered to buy the signs for $9.6 million in rent credits over a few years. It was a figure Bonham assigned to Alltel's signage for the four major yearly events (Florida-Georgia, ACC title game, Gator Bowl and Monster Truck Show).
Bonham's offer became unacceptable, however, when the Jaguars discovered several changes in the proposal that had already been rejected by the Jaguars in their global lease negotiations with the City. The City recently withdrew the offer and is again pursuing a global lease.
"I remain hopeful the City will monetize the signs, so I can take the rent credit over a three or four-year period, gradually bring our sales up to the NFL median, sell our premium seating and win football games. That is our mission and our commitment to our fans," Weaver said.
"People have short memories of how hard we worked, and I do mean we – city government, business leaders, etc. – to be awarded a franchise for Jacksonville. We did it by convincing the league this is a great market and we could make it work. Since that time, we have convinced our partners in the NFL to bring the Super Bowl here. As a by-product of the Super Bowl, the Jaguars and the NFL spent $38 million to enhance the City's facility, and that has helped the City attract the ACC title game and to maintain the Florida/Georgia game, as well as the Gator Bowl," Weaver added.
Jacksonville was awarded an NFL franchise in November of 1993 and the Jaguars began play in 1995. As of last February's Super Bowl at Alltel Stadium, 19 new stadiums had been built in the NFL since Alltel Stadium hosted its first game. With those new stadiums came new revenue streams and more favorable leases that are now making it difficult for the Jaguars to compete financially with the other teams in the league.
"We've done everything we can to make the NFL accessible to everyone in Jacksonville. Our ticket prices for the general bowl in 2005 are actually lower than they were in 1995 and are among the very lowest in the league. We have covered 10,000 seats in an attempt to make the games available on TV to all of our fans. As a result, our total gate for the 2006 season will be the absolute lowest of all teams in the NFL," Weaver said.
"It's frustrating that we read in the paper that we're moaning about being a small market. It's not complaining, it's about dealing with the reality of a small, growing market," Weaver said.
Weaver hopes the team and the City can re-focus their attention on the deal he thought they had; a $9.6 million rent credit in exchange for Alltel's signage rights.