Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lease Assures Jaguars Safe at Home; Team Tied to Jacksonville

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lease Assures Jaguars Safe at Home; Team Tied to Jacksonville

Article excerpt

Byline: Bart Hubbuch, Times-Union sports writer

********************CORRECTION January 3, 2003

Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver is 67 years old. Because of a reporter's error, his age appeared incorrectly on Page C-13 Sunday.

**************

The Jaguars could have a new coach, a new quarterback and a much different look next season.

What they won't have -- any time in the foreseeable future -- is a new address.

Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports consultant who assisted in moves by the NFL's St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders, said even if majority owner Wayne Weaver wanted, the Jaguars would be hard-pressed to play anywhere but Jacksonville before its Alltel Stadium lease expires in 2030.

Ganis recently reviewed the Jaguars' nearly 100-page lease with the city of Jacksonville at the request of the Times-Union.

"It's a pretty strong lease and one of the better leases in the NFL as far as protecting the community," Ganis said. "It has the right language to keep the Jaguars in Jacksonville for the full 30 years. And it's not a 'sweetheart' lease for the Jaguars by any means, because there are no financial guarantees to the team by the city like you find in some other places."

Weaver has never hinted at wanting to relocate his eight-year-old franchise in the NFL's second-smallest market, but fan speculation about a potential move has grown the past two years because of slumping attendance at 73,000-seat Alltel Stadium.

Hoping to blunt such talk last year, Weaver went against the tide of his fellow NFL owners by contributing $28 million, or nearly 85 percent, of $33 million in improvements to the stadium. Weaver also extended the team's lease for five years through 2030.

Weaver also overcame huge odds to bring Super Bowl XXXIX to Jacksonville in 2005.

"That [lease extension] was a gesture to respond to what the media speculates and the fans always ask, which is whether we're going to move the team," Weaver said last spring. "So I told the city, 'Here, increase the lease for five years.'

"That's my way of saying the Jacksonville Jaguars are the Jacksonville Jaguars, and they're not going to be anything else."

Even so, pessimistic talk among fans and on Internet message boards persists. Ganis said such sentiment is natural for a young franchise in an immature pro sports market when the economy is soft and the team isn't winning. The Jaguars could finish 6-10 for a second consecutive year if they lose their season finale today at the Indianapolis Colts.

But in Ganis' opinion, any talk of a move by the Jaguars is unfounded because of a lease that favors the city in many respects and because of Weaver's recent extension to that contract.

"The fact that Weaver extended the lease five years shows where his head is at," Ganis said. "It looks as if he is dedicated to Jacksonville, because the greatest weapon for any owner in any sport is the portability of his franchise -- the threat that you can take it away. Extending the lease shows that he's not trying to get out of there."

The belief among fans that teams can summarily break leases and move at the whim of their owners gained strength in the mid-1990s, when the Cleveland Browns and three other NFL teams relocated within three years.

But that perception also is wrong, Ganis said, because the leases of the Rams, Raiders and Houston Oilers -- not to mention the Baltimore Colts 20 years ago -- all had expired at the time of their relocation. Browns owner Art Modell, meanwhile, still had three years left on his lease and was allowed to move his team to Baltimore only after the NFL agreed to give Cleveland a replacement franchise.

The NFL also recently amended its relocation policy to forbid teams from moving if they would have to break an existing stadium lease to do so.

"Moving an NFL team nowadays isn't an easy thing to do," Ganis said. …

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