One of my favorite NFL teams is on its deathbed and it saddens me. Their demise will be tragic, frustrating and all but imminent.
The tubes are protruding, the nurses are circling, and the priest is just outside the hospital room.
|Tarped off sections have become commonplace in Jacksonville. (Getty Images)|
The Jaguars are limiting attendance to its August 6 intra-squad scrimmage to season ticket holders only. It was controversial move and the team hoped fans being disallowed from watching the scrimmage would be the football equivalent of putting up ropes and a bouncer outside of a nightclub. It would create a crowd, a buzz, and fans would then sign up for tickets in droves.
It's easy to lose track of how many times the Jaguars have attempted to lure fans with ticket promotions and gimmicks only to be rebuffed. It's because the metrics remain the same as they have for years. The stadium is too large, the fan pool too small and the tickets still too expensive for the targeted populace.
Jacksonville is a beautiful town full of good people hungry for football but hurting in their pocketbooks. No amount of begging for Jaguars fans to buy tickets can change those facts.
The Jaguars represent the official end of the small-market experiment the NFL launched some 15 years ago. Those of us who championed the league expanding to non-traditional markets have to admit we were wrong.
The city of Jacksonville continues to pay the price for the NFL's past expansion greed and current money grab for television revenue. The biggest problem for Jacksonville is that when the schedule expands to 18 games -- which seems inevitable -- it only puts more pressure on the Jaguars to sell tickets.
In fact, an 18-game schedule presents ticket selling challenges to almost every small-market team.
NFL owners, I'm told, are agitated with the Jaguars' situation more than ever and increasingly favor the team moving to Los Angeles, London or even Orlando (assuming there's a new stadium built). My guess is that in two or three years the Jaguars will be moving to Los Angeles.
Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver has publicly stated there's a possibility the team might play some home games in Orlando but has long maintained he won't move the team. I don't expect that promise to hold.
Los Angeles and Orlando aren't panaceas. There's a reason no team has been in L.A. since O.J. went on his slow speed escape but that option is looking more attractive to NFL owners as the blackouts continue in Jacksonville.
Jaguars fans are among the most underrated in the NFL for their passion and football knowledge but cash strapped is cash strapped. The money and populace just aren't there.
Detroit has been a miserable franchise in a city with frightening unemployment over the past few years, yet at one point still had 50 straight sellouts at Ford Field. Why? Because Detroit has five million people to Jacksonville's approximately 1.2 million.
The Jaguars had nine of their 10 home games blacked out last season. Jaguars blogging sites like Big Cat Country say ticket sales are improving but I've heard that before. My friend Pete Prisco, who is based in Jacksonville, thinks I'm crazy to suggest the Jaguars are on the verge of collapse. It's true. I am crazy. Just not about this.
Whether the Jaguars stay in Jacksonville a year or two or three is up for debate. Whether these are the Jaguars' waning days shouldn't be.
Vic Ketchman is the team's website writer. He's one of the most knowledgeable about the NFL and about as non-alarmist as you can get. What he wrote about the Jaguars' ticket sale problems was blunt and honest.
"Ticket sales, not the futures of David Garrard and Jack Del Rio, is the number one issue confronting this team, and it's not about next year's ticket sales or growing the fan base for 2020, it's about selling tickets for this year. This is it," Ketchman wrote.
"This is save the whale and, from my perch on the beach, the whale is struggling to live," he added. "I think everyone would do well to understand that the radical nature of this decision underscores the team's desperation to sell tickets. The team knew this decision would be harshly criticized, yet, it went forward with it. Why do you think it did? If your answer is that we have reached the tipping point, then you are a logical person."
The expectations for Jaguars fans were always set too high. Then the economy tanked and those expectations went from unreasonable to impossible.
It seems only a matter of a few years before the Jaguars are gone.
And that saddens me.