It is a college pigskin classic that annually nets about $20 million for Jacksonville’s economy as fans from Florida and Georgia descend on TIAA Bank Field each October.
But a joint statement about the future of the Georgia-Florida game has some wondering if a game that’s been held in Jacksonville since 1933 will continue here after the current contract is up in 2023.
City officials discussed the multitude of events coming to Jacksonville with Saturday’s game, from Friday’s Georgia-Florida Hall of Fame induction ceremony to the universities’ baseball exhibition game that night. They also discussed traffic and crowd control issues, including advice to get to stadium parking lots five hours ahead of the game.
As city officials gave their annual game update, the mayor also talked about the universities of Florida and Georgia’s rare joint statement concerning whether their annual football game will continue to be played in its longtime home.
The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at TIAA Bank Field in front of an estimated 76,000 fans. Mayor Lenny Curry said the current contract between the city and two schools was good for two years, ending with next year’s game. There is an option for two more years. But the joint statement said that while the annual game “is an important tradition,” both schools are focused on their current seasons. So there will be no contract discussions about future matchups until “the last contracted game nears.”
“When those discussions take place, we will consider a multitude of factors,” the statement continues. Those include: “Tradition, finances, future SEC scheduling models with the addition of Texas and Oklahoma, and what is best for both schools’ football programs overall.”
Curry said the statement’s content “doesn’t concern me; didn’t surprise me.” He said he spoke with the schools’ athletic directors in 2015, just after his election, and has been through discussions since.
“I just don’t think they want to answer the questions this week,” Curry said. “I think everything they said is what you would expect. There is tradition here. There is history here. There’s obviously football concerns; there’s financial concerns. All of these are things we are going to have to deal with in every negotiation.”
The game is the only SEC matchup held at a neutral site, the two teams each getting almost $3 million in proceeds from the games this and next year, according to the Florida Times-Union.
When asked if he thought the schools wanted more money, the mayor chuckled as he said that “there’s a business side to everything; money matters.”
He also said that even though he will no longer be mayor when the next negotiations commence, he will “absolutely” work on keeping this important game in Jacksonville.
“It’s a tradition. This has been going on for 90 years,” Curry said. “I grew up going to this game. I still go to this game. It’s part of the fabric of this city. When you think of this football game, you think of Jacksonville. When you think of Jacksonville, you think of this city, and the whole week leading up to it.”
The game will be broadcast on CBS.