Monday, July 27, 2009

Is Wayne Weaver the NFL's Version of Marcel Aubut

Is Wayne Weaver the NFL's version of Marcel Aubut?

By Evan Weiner

July 27, 2009

7:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- Back in January 1995, a dejected Marcel Aubut exited an elevator on the seventh floor lobby of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square in Manhattan and told whoever was listening who knew him in the crowd milling about that the Quebec Nordiques were done by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that National Hockey League owners negotiators and players representations had just reached. Aubut owned the Nordiques and he was right. About a half a year later Aubut sold his Nordiques to Charles Lyons and his Ascent group which moved the franchise to Denver.

The owners’ pact was far too generous for the players for small market Quebec to survive and even if Aubut secured a new arena in Quebec City, he probably would not have generated enough revenues to continue a viable business. A hockey team after all is a business.

Sometime in 2011 or maybe 2012, perhaps Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver will emerge from some elevator and sound an awful lot like Aubut. Weaver might be saying that the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise cannot afford the new collective bargaining agreement reached by National Football League owners' negotiators and the players association.

Perhaps Weaver will keep his team and move the operations to a new stadium say in the City of Industry, California east of Los Angeles or just sell the team to people who want a franchise in the Los Angeles marketplace. Or he might find that businesses and people have flocked to Jacksonville and the city is flourishing in 2012 or 2013 just like city officials predicted back in 1991 when a number of business leaders including Jeb Bush went after a football team and formed Touchdown Jacksonville! Touchdown Jacksonville! gave up on the bid in 2003 after the Jacksonville city council said no to a financial package to rebuild the Gator Bowl.

By August 1, 1993, the city council reworked the money allocation deal and the NFL awarded the league's 30th franchise to Jacksonville with Weaver at the helm.

If a stadium is built in the City of Industry, Weaver's Jaguars, Buffalo's Ralph Wilson, San Diego's Spanos' family, Minnesota's Zygi Wilf, St. Louis' owners along with the York family in San Francisco and Al Davis in Oakland figure to be getting calls from Ed Roski who is planning the stadium. There is a catch though; Roski will not build the stadium without an agreement from at least one NFL owner.

Jacksonville, while being successful on the field, is increasingly ceasing to be viable in the NFL. Sure the team gets a lofty paycheck from the league because of television revenues but the Jacksonville market is not or cannot support the team at an NFL level based on attendance at the Jacksonville stadium.

The two pre-season games have not been sold out and even though the team could "buy" the remaining tickets and trigger a sellout which would allow the games to be shown live in Jacksonville and other cities with the Jaguars territory, the team decided it wasn’t worth the effort since the team pays the costs for TV production and the combination of buying tickets and production costs meant red ink.

The pre-season TV blackout is just the tip of the iceberg for the franchise. The city has not been able to attach a corporate sponsor on the stadium which means that Weaver is not getting millions from naming rights and a staggering total of about 17,000 of the team's 42,000 season ticket subscribers from 2008 decided for various reasons not to renew for the upcoming season. This is the third season that Weaver will not have a naming rights partner. His former partner gave him $620,000 annually to put up a shingle on the building, Weaver was hoping for $4 million annually in 2006, so far no one is really interested in putting up a new shingle.

Weaver's rebuilt Gator Bowl stadium does hold close to 77,000 people but over the years, portions are the stadium were closed off to bring the seating capacity down and with it, the likelihood of sellouts so games can be televised locally except that has not exactly happened. More than 9,000 seats were covered by a tarp beginning in 2005 but by 2007 even with less tickets to sell, Weaver failed to have a full house in two of the team's first three home games. The Jaguars bottom line has suffered in the 21st century.

On November 2, 2005, Jacksonville officials and Weaver signed a new stadium agreement which reduced the team’s rent at the stadium between 2006-08. The deal ended the threat that Weaver would break his lease and move elsewhere.

Weaver was given a Super Bowl to host in 2005, there is one theory that smaller cities like Jacksonville bid on getting a Super Bowl because they think it is a huge opportunity to attract business. After all, corporate bigwigs, not everyday football fans attend the Super Bowl and with golfing opportunities along with mingling with local business leaders and politicians, there is always that possibility that an area can entice a CEO or a corporate decision maker to relocate in the Super Bowl host city.

Those assumptions are always wrong. Jacksonville did not land any companies because of the 2005 Super Bowl. In 1997, during the National Hockey League's expansion presentation, there was an item that related to teams moving into cities and whether a "big league" presence influenced companies to move into a city because of big time sports. There was a study done in Charlotte, North Carolina about businesses that moved into that area following the announcement that Charlotte had secured an NFL team in 1993. The answer came back that no company that moved into Charlotte between 1993 and 1997 did so because there was an NFL expansion team in the city.

Jacksonville lost season ticket holders after the 2005 Super Bowl.

Jacksonville is not the only team that is having trouble selling tickets but the Jacksonville problems manifested long before the 2008 economic meltdown and there have been reports in the past that the team was headed to Los Angeles. Weaver debunked those reports a year ago when there was a rumor he was ready to sell the franchise.

Whether Weaver can afford to own the Jaguars in 2012 in Jacksonville is open to question. NFL owners want to change the financial formula that they use to pay players, particularly signing bonuses and seem willing to go into 2011 with the idea of locking out the players in an effort to gain cost containment.

Weaver does share national TV revenues but is lagging in generating local revenues which has pitted big market owners against small market owners in league battles as the small market owners want a piece of Jerry Jones' Dallas marketing dollars or Daniel Snyder's local revenue to pay down debts or expand scouting and coaching staffs. The outcome of the 2011 negotiations will determine whether Weaver will become the NFL's version of Marcel Aubut.

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