Recently, CBS Sports Analyst Danny Kanell took a jab at Jacksonville. When describing the Jaguars’ fanbase, Kanell scoffed, “I don’t think Jacksonville — it’s a nice, like, crowd or whatever — but they’re looking to go to London for a reason.” From many in the national media, and even some locals, there is a constant desire to disparage Jacksonville and Northeast Florida.
To say the least, Jaguars fans were not happy with Kanell. Perhaps we in Duval do harbor a chip on our shoulder, a reactive defiance to persistent attack. That may be true. What is also true is a view of Jacksonville from some in the national media that is probably more from the 1990s than it is a 2023 reality. In 1993, there were five cities that were being considered for an NFL team: Charlotte, St. Louis, Baltimore, Memphis, and Jacksonville.
When discussing the chances of Jacksonville to get an NFL team, Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote wrote, “[T]he Jacksonville Jaguars…generally are given a slightly better chance than you and your neighbor Eddie would have if the two of you flew to Chicago and crashed the meetings…’” He then continued, “Jacksonville’s problem is Jacksonville, smallest market of the five.”
In the 1990 census, the Jacksonville metro’s population was 906,727. Of that number, Duval County had a population of 672,971. Jacksonville was smaller than the metro areas of Dayton, Ohio (951,270) and Grand Rapids, Michigan (937,891) and comparable to Knoxville, Tennessee, today. Yet, visionary leaders including future Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver knew that times were changing no matter what the national media believed then.
Among the top 40 U.S. metro areas today, Austin, Texas, leads in growth. No surprise there. Who was second fastest? Jacksonville (current No. 38 in population).
Northeast Florida is growing faster than Nashville, Las Vegas, or Tampa. Last year, Duval County passed the 1 million population threshold, symbolizing Jacksonville’s ascent.
High growth brings new challenges and opportunities. We are seeing a lot of those today. But, it’s time for our leaders to ditch a small mindset and rise to the moment.
Our leaders must embrace a visionary approach, tackle the challenges accompanying growth and seize emerging opportunities. Jacksonville stands at the threshold of its much talked about potential, requiring concerted efforts to fulfill its burgeoning promise.
Of NFL markets, Jacksonville is already larger than Green Bay (Milwaukee), Buffalo and New Orleans. But if the current trends hold, by the end of the decade, the Jacksonville Metro is poised to rival NFL metros like Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Kansas City in size — those boom towns from another era.
Meanwhile, according to new data from Vivid Seats, the Jaguars brand is growing as well. In Alachua, Volusia, Seminole, and Leon counties, combined home to over 1.5 million people, the Jaguars are the most popular NFL team. In the data, the Jaguars’ popularity extends through Southeast Georgia, including Savannah, touching portions of South Carolina. Winning helps there especially with a former Clemson star QB at the helm. Within a two hour drive of Jacksonville, population is growing
When asked why Jacksonville and Charlotte were eyed for expansion in 1993, then NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said, “As the process evolved, it became clearer and clearer that the Southeast was a terrific area…for the NFL.” The NFL recognized the demographic change that was happening back then. It’s only accelerating now.
As former Jacksonville Mayor Jake Godbold once said, “We sometimes overlook the fact that self-image can be as important as jobs and economic development.” There is a lot of work to do in this city and in our region. There are a lot of challenges that we need to rise to and problems that have plagued us for too long. We need an efficient city government that does what it is supposed to do, learns from its mistakes, streamlines its processes, and gets out of the way, allowing the private sector and so many of our local institutions to build a better future.
But this may be the moment where Jacksonville, building upon our authentic history, takes that next step into a new, bold, and dynamic era. Almost exactly 30 years ago, on November 30, 1993, Jacksonville celebrated a defining moment worth commemorating: the arrival of the Jaguars.
But this isn’t 1993 anymore, whether some in the national media want to recognize it or not. Jacksonville is a big-league city. The Jaguars are an institution with generations of great fans. And Danny, Jacksonville is only growing.
Lead image: Kadericka Hill, special to Jacksonville Today