SBJ/January 31 - February 6, 2005/SBJ In Depth

Jags' impact lays ground work for Sunday

In the 10 years following the Jacksonville Jaguars’ inaugural season in 1995, the city’s tax base and available office space about doubled, while the number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered there tripled.

How the team’s presence has contributed to such trends depends greatly on whom you ask.

“The reality is that NFL football just makes things happen in a community,” said Robert Helms, chairman of the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s huge in terms of visibility, and the impact that visibility has.”

Economists, however, say quantifying that impact is difficult.

“There are some measurable direct benefits from having about 100 people with very high salaries living in Jacksonville,” said Paul Mason, chairman of the Department of Economics and Geography at the University of North Florida. “But the majority are intangibles associated with the city’s reputation.”

Perhaps the most noticeable impact attributable to the Jaguars will occur when Jacksonville hosts Super Bowl XXXIX on Sunday at Alltel Stadium.

Georgia State University associate professor of economics Bruce Seaman estimates a Super Bowl can inject $150 million to $220 million into a metro area, while NFL-commissioned economic impact studies have cited figures exceeding $300 million.

But there’s no arguing that none of those millions of dollars would be coming to Jacksonville if the Jaguars weren’t firmly established here.

Corporate recruitment

The arrival of the Jaguars spurred the city to invest millions of dollars to improve its sports venues to make them more accessible and fan-friendly, building the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville and Veterans Memorial Arena. Both were funded as part of the Better Jacksonville Plan, a program funded by a half-cent, voter-approved bump in the local sales tax.

At least 25 firms have moved headquarters to the city in 10 years, the local chamber says.

The new arena has increased capacity for concerts and will be a site for first- and second-round games of the 2006 NCAA basketball tournament.

The baseball park, which replaced Wolfson Park as home of the Class AA Jacksonville Suns, helped the Suns set team records for attendance and was integral to the city’s successful bid to host the Atlantic Coast Conference’s postseason baseball tournament in 2005 and 2006.

“I don’t think the new arena or baseball park would have been done when they were done, if at all, had it not been for the Jaguars,” Mason said.

The city and the Jaguars spent $60 million renovating Alltel Stadium in preparation for hosting the Super Bowl, and with the renovated stadium, city leaders look to the sports complex to become an extension of a downtown that it hopes will soon become a thriving entertainment area.

The Jaguars also have made selling Jacksonville as a place to set up shop easier, said people involved in luring companies to town, including Ed Burr, the outgoing chairman of the chamber’s Business Recruitment Committee.

“As we traveled the country, one of the things Jacksonville suffered from [before the Jaguars] was very little identity,” said Burr, CEO of LandMar Group, a real estate company that is considering taking over the large-scale mixed-use The Shipyards project near Alltel Stadium.

“Now business executives at least know of Jacksonville,” he said.

Jerry Mallot, executive director of Cornerstone, the chamber’s economic development arm, said the typical number of prospects that Cornerstone is working with at any time has risen since the team arrived from about 30 to about 60.

“The role [the team’s presence] played was giving us the level of visibility and marketing beyond what we were able to do,” Mallot said.

As empirical evidence, Mallot points to the 25 to 30 companies that have moved their headquarters to Jacksonville during the team’s first decade, including two Fortune 500 companies.

Bill Foley, CEO of Fidelity National Financial, a Fortune 500 company that moved to Jacksonville from California in 2003, said the decision to come to Jacksonville was an economic one.

But the Jaguars’ presence was “part of the overall package” for Jacksonville, especially with respect to evaluating the city’s quality of life.

“It made Jacksonville fractionally more attractive,” Foley said.

Small business-friendly

When it comes to small business in Jacksonville, the Jaguars have made a big impact, said Susan Hartley, president of SunBelt Coffee & Water and chairwoman of the chamber’s Small Business Committee.

The Jaguars have contributed to Jacksonville's quality of life, leaders say.

Hartley said the team directly boosts small companies by patronizing local vendors and service providers. Her company provides coffee for the Jaguars.

“Not all big businesses in town use local vendors,” said Hartley, who also chaired the Small Business Committee in the 1990s. “The Jaguars have made a point of using local vendors, even if they are not as cheap as some of the national players.”

Besides its direct support of small businesses, Hartley said the team has indirectly affected small businesses by contributing to a climate that creates opportunities.

“It’s a new economy for small businesses in Jacksonville,” said Hartley, a Jacksonville native. “We have matured and come into our own identity, and the Jaguars have played a part in that.”

Hartley said her company has had at least 10 season tickets since the Jaguars’ inaugural season and frequently uses them to entertain prospective clients.

Fidelity has a suite at the stadium, which Foley said the company uses every game to entertain customers.

A helping paw

From 1995 to 2003, the Jacksonville Jaguars Foundation awarded more than $6.8 million in grants, according to the foundation’s Web page. But to Jonathan Lever, the money “doesn’t even scratch the surface” of how the Jaguars have impacted the charitable and nonprofit communities in northeast Florida.

Lever, executive director of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida, said the Jaguars and team owners Wayne and Delores Barr Weaver have raised the bar for expectations of big businesses to support nonprofit organizations.

“The philanthropic leadership has been huge,” Lever said.

Tony Quesada writes for Jacksonville Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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