The Jacksonville Jaguars will play two home games in London over consecutive Sundays, the team announced Tuesday.
The team said in a news release the move is strategically aligned with the team's “ambitious and big-picture plans for Jacksonville, and, specifically, the planned Lot J development."
The Jaguars have been negotiating with the city for incentives to turn the Lot J area into an entertainment district.
The Jaguars and Mayor Lenny Curry have previously said both sides are close to an agreement on Phase 1, which has an estimated $500 million price tag.
“Playing two games in London at Wembley Stadium, where we have outstanding relationships, at least next season and perhaps in future years during construction, will help us bridge the gap between now and when we expect the Lot J development to open. Jacksonville's potential is unlimited, and I am confident we can realize it, with the Jaguars serving as the catalyst," said Jaguars President Mark Lamping in a statement Tuesday.
Although both sides have said they are close to a development agreement, at last report nothing had been signed yet.
While the move of two home games to Europe is disappointing for many First Coast Jaguars fans, owner Shad Khan said London remains important to the vitality of the Jaguars as a franchise, and he said in a statement:
I believe in what's possible for Jacksonville and am going to do whatever it takes to help the Jaguars and the City of Jacksonville to reach its full potential. What we plan for the 2020 season and maybe a bit longer is all about believing in what Jacksonville can ultimately become, all while continuing to further grow and develop partnerships and a fan following in London and throughout the UK that have turned out to be pretty remarkable.
This isn't about next season or the next few seasons in Jacksonville, but really about the next 10 years, 25 years and beyond. There is no better time than now to capitalize on the opportunity to play two home games in London, where we will continue to develop our loyal and growing fan base there and throughout the UK, during a period in which I will be focused heavily on creating a new downtown experience that we want, need and must have here.
We have an exceptional opportunity right in front of us for Jacksonville to meet its potential and be the city I imagined we'd become when I arrived here in 2011. I am optimistic and believe it will happen.
Proposed terms of the Lot J deal between the Jaguars were announced in August, but since then the negotiations between the city and Khan’s representatives have been largely quiet, although Lamping said last month the two sides are close and the Jaguars are already looking ahead to Phase 2 of the planned development.
Lamping told WJCT News partner the Jacksonville Daily Record last month that the investment total for phase 1 and 2 combined could be around $700 million.
The city has also secured funding to knock down the Hart Bridge Expressway ramps that run along Gator Bowl Boulevard, which the Jaguars have said is key to the development’s reaching its full potential. That project is expected to get underway soon, now that a $25.45 million bid from Jacksonville-based J.B. Coxwell Contracting Inc. is headed to Mayor Lenny Curry’s desk for final approval.
Lamping said in a call with the news media Tuesday that the hope is for a completed development agreement with the city within 30 to 60 days.
"Were anxious to get started," he said.
WJCT Sports Analyst Cole Pepper is already hearing from season ticket holders who are unhappy with the Jaguars’ moving a second home game to London. Some are saying they won’t renew their season tickets.
“Taking a game away from the Jaguars’ fan base in Jacksonville - a regular season game - was tough enough. Now to have a second one taken away means that you only have six games that matter being played here in Jacksonville,” Pepper said.
Pepper said most season ticket holders don’t care as much about the preseason games.
“It’s going to be a lot easier for folks to buy tickets on the secondary market, and with the Jaguars’ not winning right now, it is not hard to find tickets at less than half price on the secondary market,” he said.“So I don’t think you’re going to see this do anything but hurt season ticket sales.”
Pepper points out the Jaguars have said the team gets about twice as much revenue from a single game in London as they do from a single game in Jacksonville.
Although the regular season schedule isn’t out yet, the team did confirm that home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chicago Bears will remain at TIAA Bank field in 2020.
The Jaguars said season ticket members will receive a 50% discount on preseason games and “favorable variable pricing” on the six regular season games that will result in an overall average ticket price reduction of 5%, representing a 15% savings off their invoice from last season.
“This is a revenue play, simply put. The Jaguars want to make more money on home games, so they’re gambling that they won’t lose the local fan base by taking another game to London,” Pepper said.
Team President Mark Lamping said that 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.
"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.
Lamping also said stadium improvements will also be needed at TIAA Bank Field.
"In all likelihood [it] would not meet the needs of the city or the football team 10, 15, 20 years from now,” he said.
And those discussions about the stadium’s future have begun with the city, Lamping said.
"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. He said the evaluation process likely will take a year and assessments and planning will likely take an additional three or four years.
Bill Bortzfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.