Yesterday the Jacksonville Jaguars sent this tweet.
Hang in there with us. We’re going to get better.
That quote could apply to all of Duval County for basically its entire history, and yet the city and team are both right back where they started with very little changing. Having a “port” city where the Atlantic Ocean and St. John’s River meet makes sense in every way except for how it’s been planned and executed since conception. Jacksonville is America’s largest city by land mass in the Lower 48 at 747 square miles. But being the biggest certainly hasn’t translated to being the best in .. well, anything?
Jacksonville is what happens when dreariness is allowed unencumbered sprawl. To be the city in Florida that all the other state’s residents makes fun of requires a unique combination of unattractiveness, poor urban planning, and at least three Applebee’s. The good news about having to drive everywhere and everything being at least 20 minutes away is that the strip mall near your home is at least 20 minutes away for someone else.
Long known as “The City That Stinks” thanks to putting so much manufacturing right on the river, the urban planners also put the jail downtown and a block from the river. And that has helped limit development because nobody wants to be by a jail or factories that offend olfactory senses. But the thought of maybe, you know, not putting manufacturing and prisoners in the prime area where people might want to live simply never occurred to the urban planners of the area.
And when one of the great development opportunities in American history came calling, a powerful banker in the area said he didn’t deal with “carnival folk.” Walt Disney World ended up two hours down I-4. It’s worked out OK for the residents and taxpayers of the Orlando area.
But now a new Urban Planner is in charge as head coach, asking residents to stand by his team. If past is prologue, it likely doesn’t go well. When your most famous fan is a fictional character known for being the not-so-useful idiot on a well-received sitcom, that means you might not have broken through the cultural zeitgeist in a way most NFL franchises have.
The Jaguars are 177-241 all-time, putting them next-to-last in NFL franchise winning percentage behind the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But on-and-off the field, that other port city in Florida has certainly turned it around as the reigning champions in basically everything sports, as well as being Florida’s best city to live.
The owners of the Jaguars aren’t exactly slouches, having developed one of the best sports and entertainment brands anywhere over the last two years. A true success story, and one beloved by its fans. You can call them “carnival folk” too if you wish, but they’ve been successful everywhere else. And even they can’t get The Mistake By The Sun Bake fixed.
And yet Jaguars fans will remain some of the most loyal in sports. While it’s not a huge contingent, those that go to games or see each other on the street will greet with a hearty and enthusiastic “DUVALLLLLLL” with a devotion many teams would kill for. As much as they lose, and yes there are often plenty of tickets available, there is a core of people that absolutely love this team.
But the kind of change the franchise needs might not come as much from the internal, but fixing the town around them. Sometimes the team reflects the city, and it might be time for Jax to try and become a destination instead of a laughing stock. The assets are there; great beaches, cheap real estate, room to grow, and cheap gas just 25 miles away in Georgia.
So get it together, Duval. At least before the London Jaguars become the city’s second-biggest missed opportunity ever.