Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Jacksonville’s Bulls history says yes, but its Jags history says…maybe

The Jacksonville, Florida, market is one that is, to be kind, interesting when it comes to professional football.

Jacksonville isn’t the biggest television market in professional football, ranking 50th overall in the United States, according to Nielsen. That seemingly small ranking didn’t make a difference nearly three decades ago, when Jacksonville’s United States Football League entry – the Bulls – was welcomed to the city with open arms.

While playing in the old Gator Bowl, the Bulls led the USFL in average home attendance in their first season in 1984 (46,730 fans per game), and was among the league leaders in 1985 (44,325). That happened as the Bulls went just 6-12 in 1984 and 9-9 (with running back Mike Rozier) in 1985.

That showing seemingly was the impetus for Jacksonville earning a National Football League expansion team – the Jaguars – starting in 1995. And while the Jags had some success early in its history, including trips to the AFC Championship Game in 1996 and 1999, the team’s lack of wins of late has resulted in a big dip in attendance.

In 2009, the Jags filled what then was called Jacksonville Municipal Stadium to just 73.9 percent of capacity. There has been a rebound of late, however, and last fall, now EverBank Field was filled to 96.8 percent of capacity for Jags home games.

EverBank Field really is the most viable stadium for a potential new spring outdoor alternative professional football league team, with its capacity of 76,000. The next-best venue in Jacksonville would be Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium, home of Jacksonville State’s football team. It has a capacity of 24,000.

Smaller venues in Jacksonville include the University of North Florida’s Hodges Stadium (9,400 capacity) and the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville (11,000 capacity), the home for the Class AA Jacksonville Suns.

BOTTOM LINE – When one looks at the box-office success of the Bulls, Jacksonville would seem to be a strong choice for a possible new spring outdoor alternative pro football league team. That success, however, nearly was 30 years ago, and the modern-day Jags have had their struggles at the gate.

That being said, there is a solid base of football fans in Jacksonville, and with no competition from the National Hockey League, National Basketball Association or Major League Baseball, a spring outdoor football team could have the run of the city.

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