The city of Jacksonville has reached an agreement with the Jaguars to renovate EverBank Stadium. | Casmira Harrison, Jacksonville TodayThe city of Jacksonville has reached an agreement with the Jaguars to renovate EverBank Stadium. | Casmira Harrison, Jacksonville Today
The city of Jacksonville has reached an agreement with the Jaguars to renovate EverBank Stadium. | Casmira Harrison, Jacksonville Today

#AskJAXTDY | Does Jacksonville get its money’s worth on EverBank Stadium?

Published on May 10, 2024 at 6:23 pm

Q: With a deal reached between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the city on splitting the cost of an estimated $1.4 billion “Stadium of the Future” renovation, Jacksonville Today reader Paul N. asks what taxpayers are getting for their money when it comes to investing in EverBank Stadium.  

Paul asks what revenue streams the city receives from its stadium ownership and what expenses the city incurs. In other words, regardless of what the City Council decides about the new proposal, are taxpayers breaking even on stadium operations today?

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“I feel the mayor would want me to have a better understanding of stadium operations before I could pass judgment on its future.”

A: Asked how return-on-investment for the stadium is calculated, Mayor Donna Deegan’s spokesman, Phil Perry, replies: “ROI for a building like the stadium is more akin to a park or library rather than the traditional business sense.”

Indeed, as the balance sheet shows, the stadium is not on its face a money maker for taxpayers. In the four years ending in 2023, the city’s operating expenses for the stadium totaled more than $87 million, while total revenues were just over $20.6 million, for a net “city contribution” of $66.4 million out the door. 

In short, the stadium costs the city drastically more money than it brings in. In response to our public records request, the city’s contracted stadium operator, ASM Global Management, provided annual financial reports that show this recent financial snapshot: 

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Those annual average expenditures of nearly $21.8 million include: 

  • Maintenance and repair work
  • Utilities and electricity
  • Contract services
  • Police and fire
  • NFL game-day personnel

On top of annual operating costs, the city also pays off debt on the facility. According to a city council auditor’s report, as of 2021, the principal and interest owed for stadium debt was projected to be roughly $95.7 million through 2031. And while the Jaguars are required to cover a portion of that debt through rent, the team’s rent payment has not been constant. In 2021, the Jags owed a little over $6 million in past due rent, with a schedule of payments that were set to escalate each year, from about $3.9 million yearly through 2024 up to roughly $7.7 million in the final three years of the current lease, through the 2029 NFL season.

And, most recently, stadium expenses have also included $10 million for engineering and design work on the “Stadium of Future” — that’s money spent regardless of whether council approves the deal that’s being presented next week. 

Money generated from the stadium

Over the same four years, average annual city revenue from stadium operations was just under $5.2 million per year.

Revenue includes: 

  • Parking fees
  • Rental fees
  • Some concessions and merchandise (non Jaguars-related)
  • Ticket “incentive fees”

“The city financially would be better off not holding events,” says Mike Clark, a former longtime editorial page editor for The Florida Times-Union and a Jacksonville Today contributor, after looking at ASM financial reports. 

How the city pays for it 

Money to cover stadium operations mostly comes from the city’s general fund, with some tax revenue sources that are earmarked for sports venues. 

A portion of a local hotel “bed tax” goes toward venue maintenance and debt service. 

Another historic source of stadium funding is about to dry up. EverBank Stadium is one of eight facilities in Florida that receive up to $2 million a year in state sales-tax dollars. Most were awarded in the 1990s, and, according to the city, Jacksonville’s share of those dollars ends this year.

The city chooses to cover some stadium expenses with a portion of the money it gets from JEA, at an average of $2.8 million annually over the last four years. The money generated by the city’s public utility company largely covers the cost of electricity, water and sewer for stadium operations.

According to a recent Action News Jax report, some in the city government are pushing to increase the annual JEA contribution to the city by $15 million, to $138 million from $123 million annually. The report says the mayor’s office denies asking for additional funding specifically to fund the impending stadium deal. 

Naming rights income handed to Jags

Years ago, the city had an opportunity to further offset its expenses for the stadium by taking a 25% cut of the naming rights agreement between the Jaguars, the city and EverBank Financial. In 2010, when John Peyton was mayor and Wayne Weaver owned the Jags, the Jacksonville-based bank agreed to a five-year, $16.6 million marketing contract to name the stadium, with the city getting a quarter of the proceeds, or a little under $4.2 million. 

As The Florida Times-Union reported at the time, the Jaguars wanted all of the EverBank proceeds to boost its financial position going into the season. And by forgoing the city’s cut, “City Hall could send a public message of its support in keeping the team in Jacksonville.”

Then, in 2014, when Alvin Brown was mayor and the current NFL team owner, billionaire Shad Khan, was at the helm, a different city council voted to show the team support by once again handing over the city’s naming-rights share to the Jags. That time around, it was a $43 million, 10-year contract. The city’s waived share would have been nearly $10.8 million.

The stadium’s current naming rights agreement ends after this year’s NFL season.

Unhappy to discuss

We started trying to answer Paul’s questions by talking to the three entities involved: the city of Jacksonville, ASM Global Management and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Turns out, amid monthslong secret negotiations between the city and the team, no one was eager to publicly ponder stadium ROI. 

Over several months starting in the fall of 2023, Jacksonville Today sought a conversation to clarify the overall stadium financial picture with the city’s chief negotiator, Mike Weinstein, along with the City Council Auditor’s Office and the Division of Sports and Entertainment finance manager, as well as with ASM and Jaguars team President Mark Lamping. All either declined or did not return messages.

“I’m sorry to do this, but we’ve made the decision that out of respect to the negotiations and where it stands, we won’t be commenting on the Stadium of the Future at this time,” Jaguars spokeswoman Lyndsay Rossman said in a March email canceling a previously scheduled meeting between Lamping and Jacksonville Today

Beyond the bleachers 

“If the stadium is the strong economic driver that the Jags say it is, then they should be releasing everything. It would prove their case,” says Victor Matheson, a professor of economics at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, in a phone call this week with Jacksonville Today.

Of course, the ROI on a stadium goes beyond the building itself. Economic ripple effects include fans’ swarming Intuition Ale Works before a game, local artists’ selling DUUUVAL-inspired gear from brick-and-mortar stores, and the thousands of people who are employed at the stadium. 

The Jacksonville Jaguars have proposed renovating EverBank Stadium into the "Stadium of the Future."
The Jacksonville Jaguars have proposed renovating EverBank Stadium into the “Stadium of the Future.” | Jacksonville Jaguars

In pitching the Stadium of the Future, the Jaguars say the renovation should result in a $21.7 billion economic impact for the city from 2028-2052. That’s according to an economic impact report the Jags commissioned from research firm Tourism Economics. 

“Most economists would not put any weight on that at all,” Matheson says of the Jags’ economic projections, adding, “There’s nothing in the report about what would happen in the absence of the Jags.”

The economic effects of a stadium are not nothing, Matheson’s research has found. But stadiums do not increase net economic activity “or citywide societal welfare at all.” However, the area immediately surrounding a stadium can benefit. “The evidence is fairly clear that they can generate significant neighborhood effects, and policymakers may have good reason to make a conscious decision to prefer one area over another.”

He says it may be possible to justify some level of public subsidies. “But that should not be interpreted to mean that the optimal level of public spending is anywhere near what taxpayers in North America (and many places in the rest of the world) have paid for stadiums and arenas over the past several decades,” one of his reports concludes.

J.C. Bradbury, professor of economics, finance and quantitative analysis at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, agrees. He calls the Jaguars’ projected economic impact figure “concocted nonsense” from a “motivated consultant.”

“This document should be wadded up and thrown in the garbage can,” Bradbury tells Jacksonville Today. “It’s worthless for informing policy.”

Bradbury says economists have studied the effect of sports venues extensively and found they have little to no economic benefit on the community as a whole. 

“This is because most venue-related spending is done by local residents, and thus spending at the venue represents a reallocation of existing wealth within the local economy,” Bradbury says in an email to Jax Today. “There is no mechanism for refurbishing an existing stadium to generate large economic impacts to the community.”

Bradbury, along with other economists, published a meta-study last September to try to inform public policy on stadiums. The analysis describes “a forthcoming new wave of stadiums” following a history of publicly subsidizing their construction.

The conclusion: There is a disconnect between research and policy.

“Economists agree that stadiums are poor public investments that never pay off. Jacksonville would be wise to avoid another stadium grift,” Bradbury writes. 

In making the team’s case for continuing to fund the stadium through a public-private partnership, the Jaguars say: “One thing certain is that as the Stadium of the Future debate unfolds, proponents will point to economic impact studies that will show the entire region benefiting to the tune of billions of dollars, while opponents will cite economic studies that professional sports teams have little or no economic impact on their communities. Regrettably, the facts will always remain subject to interpretation.”

The team says the deal “will ultimately be determined by elected officials.”

Next steps

City Council is expected to receive the stadium deal during its regular meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, May 14, at City Hall, 117 W. Duval St. The meeting can be viewed online.

Then, starting the next evening, the Jaguars and Mayor Deegan will host five “community huddles” on the plans to gather input across the county. Details are here.


author image Reporter

Casmira Harrison is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on local government in Duval County.

Harrison can be reached at casmira@jaxtoday.org.

author image Reporter

Casmira Harrison is a Jacksonville Today reporter focusing on local government in Duval County.

Harrison can be reached at casmira@jaxtoday.org.


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