JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars are giving fans extra incentives to support the struggling franchise.
Team owner Wayne Weaver and Jacksonville mayor John Peyton unveiled a new rewards program for season-ticket buyers Tuesday, with Weaver calling it a "one-off no-brainer" that could save the team.
The "Teal Deal" gives season-ticket holders coupon books offering more than $2,000 in discounts from local businesses. The books also could pump millions into the Jacksonville economy.
"It's the finest rewards program in the major leagues -- in any sport," said Tim Connolly, the Jaguars' senior vice president of business development.
The incentive package, which is being offered through May, could boost ticket sales and help the Jaguars avoid television blackouts in 2010. Jacksonville had seven of the NFL's 20 blackouts in 2009, the kind of attendance figures that embarrassed Weaver, concerned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and had several cities making preparation for a potential relocation of the franchise.
Weaver has made it clear that he doesn't intend to sell or move the the Jaguars, but he also has repeatedly said attendance must improve to keep the franchise viable in one of the league's smallest markets.
"We can't be an NFL city with 42,000 people in our stands," Weaver said.
They didn't raise ticket prices for the third consecutive year and even cut prices in January for some seats. They offered payment plans that gave season-ticket buyers eight months to pay without any interest. They allowed fans to lock in 2010 prices for three years and make equal payments for those 30 games over 30 consecutive months, with no interest and no deposit.
They created value meals at concession stands. They offered season-ticket packages for half the games and introduced a "flex pack," which allows fans to buy tickets to any three games and save $30.
A civic group called "Touchdown Jacksonville" also stepped in and began a ticket-selling campaign to generate buzz and end speculation about the team relocating or playing games in London or Orlando.
Weaver credited the group with some of the team's recent sales success. The Jaguars have renewed 22,000 season tickets and sold 7,500 new season tickets. But that's still well short of the 50,957 tickets needed to avoid blacking out home games.
"If you do the math, we still have a ways to go," Peyton said.
The Jaguars believe the "Teal Deal" could close the gap. Although Weaver doesn't expect to sell the remaining 21,281 seats as season tickets, he believes 8,000 of them will be part of single-game group sales and the other 13,000 will be claimed as season tickets.
"It is an incredible, incredible deal, and it's really going to move the needle to help us get to where we have to go," Weaver said. "All the NFL communities are struggling with tickets, some more than others. Obviously, the smaller markets are struggling more than others. Florida markets and some of the other states that have been hit harder with the economic recession are struggling more. We just have to grind it out and be creative."
The five-county Jacksonville area has 1.3 million people. It would seem easy to find 60,000 to attend Jaguars games, especially since there's no other major-league teams competing in the area.
It wasn't a problem when the franchise started in 1995. But after the newness wore off and losing seasons followed -- the Jaguars have made the playoffs twice in the last 10 years -- attendance started to dwindle. The economic collapse and a 5-11 record in 2008 left season-ticket sales at an all-time low.
Weaver believes things will eventually turn around. But in the meantime, offering incentives to fans might be the way to go.
"Everybody is having a hard time selling tickets," Weaver said. "This is kind of a one-off no-brainer."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press