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Khan: On the right track

Posted May 13, 2014

EDITORIAL: Owner Shad Khan, President Mark Lamping continue to see Jaguars moving in right direction in 2014.


JACKSONVILLE – A lot of work remains.

No one around the Jaguars will say different. Not the key speakers in Tuesday’s 2014 State of the Franchise address at EverBank Field. Not President Mark Lamping, not General Manager David Caldwell, and certainly not Head Coach Gus Bradley, who will never, ever say the work is done.

Not Jaguars Owner Shad Khan, either.

But while Khan on Tuesday said many steps remain, he said something else is as true – that the culture is changing.

He can see it. He can sense it. All around EverBank Field.

“I feel the difference here every day I’m here,” Khan said as he opened an address that covered topics from the London initiative to local revenue to the team’s vision for future renovations to EverBank Field and the Jacksonville Shipyards.

“We have a lot of accomplishments ahead of us, but I think we’ve accomplished an awful lot. We are on the right track,” Khan added.

That was the overview feeling from the Jaguars Tuesday, and Khan – now in his third full year as owner – said he feels it in all areas of the building.

Indeed, a large part of Tuesday’s presentation was detailing developments around EverBank Field. Lamping discussed not only the state-of-the-art video boards being constructed at both ends of the stadium, but the North End Zone upgrades also being installed, as well as field-level seating, kickoff tables, bar-rail seating and cabanas.

Lamping noted of the pace of the developments, noting that the upgrades were discussed conceptually at the 2013 State of the Franchise and that “we have cranes outside today.”

Lamping talked extensively about the importance of local revenue at last year’s event, and it was a theme again Tuesday. Local revenue is critical to the franchise’s long-term stability, and Lamping said progress was made in that area over the past year.

“We’re making progress in terms of the financial infrastructure of the franchise,” Lamping said.

There is a reality facing the Jaguars in Jacksonville, Lamping said, and that’s that being one of the league’s smallest markets creates unique challenges. One is that the Jaguars must attract 20 percent of its fans to fill the stadium, a percentage double any other NFL market.

Lamping said while increasing local revenue remains a critical challenge, he called it, “our problem to fix.”

“We have to fix it to have a sustainable team,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to deal with this and it’s our responsibility to grow it.”

Lamping said winning is important in addressing the issues, and also said the Jaguars must “cast a wider net,” pointing to recent changes in the Jaguars’ radio and television partners as steps toward that initiative.

Lamping also said ticket sales this offseason have been good, with season-ticket renewals running 10 percent ahead of last year and new season ticket sales up 15 percent.

The Jaguars’ ticket price remains the lowest on average in the NFL, a situation Lamping called “unsustainable.” But while he said this is not the time to increase prices, the team has continued seeking creative ways to increase ticket revenue. Within the stadium upgrades, he said, are about 1,500 premium seats.  He said success appears within reach on selling those, and reached, the average ticket price will have increased significantly.

“We can’t follow the playbook of every NFL team, because our challenges are different than every other NFL market,” Lamping said.

Another way the Jaguars have addressed local revenue has been the London initiative, which Lamping said was a success last year, and which remains critical to the Jaguars financially. Lamping said the team’s local revenue grew last season by 8 percent, but that without the London game the revenue would have been down.

Overall, Lamping said London – thanks largely to a comprehensive strategy marrying international and domestic presence – accounted for 15 percent of total revenue last year.

Domestic ticket revenue dropped 18 percent, but because of London, the overall ticket revenue remained even. The Jaguars showed significant improvement in the area of sponsorship revenue, with an increase of 14 percent domestically and 30 percent overall.

Lamping said perhaps the most important aspect of the London initiative – to stabilize the franchise in Jacksonville by leading to economic development and increasing tourism to North Florida – also is working. The Jaguars also increased in popularity in the United Kingdom from 31st to ninth among 32 teams.

“We can monetize that,” he said. “We can use that as an asset to get people even more interested in partnering with the Jaguars in London and in Jacksonville, and as we do that, that supports stability of the franchise here in Jacksonville. The reception has been positive.”

Khan, while saying the London revenue was higher than projected, said there have been no discussions on London games beyond the current four-year deal to play home games there. That ends in 2016.

“We’re just moving right along taking full advantage of the opportunity that’s been given us,” he said.

Lamping also discussed potential development concepts in the stadium and in the city of Jacksonville. Included in the presentation was a rendering of a canvas roof concept at the Super Bowl in February, as well as the rendering of a potential $15-20 million renovation of the EverBank Field Touchdown Clubs. Lamping said there was no timetable on the club concepts.

Also discussed were early concepts for the Jacksonville Shipyards, with Lamping discussing the possibility of having an indoor practice facility as part of the plan.

"If we're the developer, we're going to integrate the team," Lamping said.

And while much of the focus Tuesday was off the field, Khan throughout the presentation and afterward with reporters focused on football.

He discussed the uncertain situation involving suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon, calling the situation “an absolute tragedy,” but mostly Khan said his feeling about the direction of the Jaguars on the field is in lockstep with progress made off it.

Khan has said often since hiring Bradley and Caldwell that he feels absolutely comfortable with the direction of the team, and that he feels comfortable giving the duo time to develop the organization the right way, to build a foundation for long-term success.

He talked Tuesday about liking this past weekend’s NFL Draft, and overall remained consistent in his enthusiasm and support of the football direction of the franchise.

A change in culture? Yes, Khan said, he can feel it. Absolutely.

“You’re not going to have some of our ex-players come back and say they’re coming from a paid vacation in Florida,” Khan said, referencing an infamous statement made by former Jaguars cornerback Aaron Ross after signing with the New York Giants last offseason.

“When you come in, you absolutely feel the drive, whether it’s the business side or the football side. You have to have that to be successful.”

Yes, a lot of work remains, but the state of the franchise? The long-term?

Well, just as has been the case throughout this offseason, you got the feeling again Tuesday at EverBank Field that it very much continues in the right direction.

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