Jaguars would consider games in Orlando if NFL expands season

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Following a model once used in Green Bay and now seen in Buffalo, the Jacksonville Jaguars are considering playing home games elsewhere.

Team owner Wayne Weaver said Wednesday that the Jaguars would consider playing in Orlando if the NFL expands its regular season to 17 or 18 games.

"We know that we can't be a viable NFL city if we only sell 46,000 seats in a 66,000-seat stadium," Weaver said.

The Jaguars (1-2) have struggled to sell tickets in recent years and are looking for ways to boost attendance in a difficult economy. About 17,000 season-ticket holders decided not to renew in 2009, and the Jaguars had less than 40,000 for their home opener.

With the NFL closely monitoring the franchise's ticket woes, Weaver is looking for ways to keep the Jaguars in Jacksonville. Orlando could be key. It's close, has a growing population and has long been considered a football-starved region.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used to hold training camp in Orlando, hoping to expand their fan base across Interstate 4, but the Bucs pulled out this year after building a $35 million training facility in Tampa.

Other small-market franchises have done even more with neighboring cities. Green Bay and Milwaukee used to share the Packers, and the Bills recently signed a long-term deal to play games in Toronto.

"It's a business model that's worked in other NFL cities," Weaver said.

Weaver cautioned that it's far from a done deal, though. Not only does the NFL still have to expand the regular season, but Orlando also would need to revamp the Citrus Bowl or build a new stadium to make it happen.

"There's a lot of 'ifs' that would have to come about before we could make that happen," said Weaver, who added that he hasn't even spoken to Orlando officials about a possible deal.

Weaver has tried to reach out to the Orlando area in recent years. His marketing department made several trips south and organized bus trips for anyone wanting to come to Jacksonville for home games. He believes more can be done to woo the region, too.

"We have not done a great job of it quite frankly, and we haven't been that successful in getting fans to come up here," Weaver said. "If we were to go to a restructured season in the NFL, wouldn't it make sense to play an out-of-market game to try to energize that fan base as Jaguars fans and get people traveling back and forth to Jacksonville?"

It couldn't hurt to try.

Jacksonville's ticket sales are arguably the worst in the league. There's virtually no chance for the team to avoid blacking out Sunday's game against the AFC South rival Tennessee Titans, and the situation looks just as bleak for the remaining six home games.

The franchise doesn't have a lucrative, naming-rights deal for the stadium, already covered up nearly 10,000 seats to reduce capacity and lower ticket-sales requirements, and faces constant speculation about relocating to another market.

Weaver refused to characterize this as a last-ditch effort to save the franchise or as a means of sending a strong message to the 1.3 million people in the area who seemingly refuse to buy 60,000 tickets for the only professional game in town. But he made it clear that Orlando could be an option. He even said playing a preseason game there before 2012 would be considered.

Weaver said expanding the NFL's regular-season schedule was "likely," but indicated the tougher part of the deal would be getting the Citrus Bowl up to date.

"I don't think they have the suites or the club seats," he said. "I don't think they have the kind of facility that would accommodate the kind of revenue you have to derive out of an NFL stadium."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.