Why a $150M Stadium Was Worth It

The city of Jacksonville invested $40M in EverBank Field, home of the Jaguars. The team’s general counsel outlines why the investment made sense

Football is more than just a game, and a football stadium is more than a place to play. The front office of the Jacksonville Jaguars understands this, and that’s why the team and the city of Jacksonville, Florida, launched a major initiative to make EverBank Field a community space.

From adding amenities that are found in no other National Football League stadium—like swim spas—to building the world’s largest HD video boards, the Jaguars have been finding new ways to fill seats.

Owner Shahid Khan wasn’t the only person spearheading these improvements. Megha Parekh, general counsel and senior vice president, has actively been involved in the stadium’s transformation during her three years with the franchise.

In researching how to improve EverBank Field, the Jaguars wanted to go beyond the typical offerings found in a football stadium.

“As sports fans, we know what we’re competing with,” Parekh says. “We are competing with people in their living rooms. What do they have? They have air conditioning. They have the comfort of their own homes. They have big TV screens and food.”

Rather than look at elements of other football arenas in the United States, the Jaguars and the city drew inspiration from hospitality venues. “It’s Florida. It’s warm,” she says. “One of the best things about Jacksonville is the water, and we wanted to bring that element inside the stadium.”

Fans can trade in their customary stadium seats for a poolside cabana on the north end zone plaza. The area includes spa and party cabanas that can accommodate anywhere from twenty to 200 people on two levels, with all-inclusive food and beverages.

This party deck was just one piece of the recent $150 million expansion as the franchise tried to appeal to many demographics of fans. A major portion of the budget was set aside for technology. For example, the stadium now features new video boards. Spanning sixty feet high and 362 feet long, the video boards are the world’s largest and allow fans to see game highlights across an estimated 21,700 square feet of digital screen.

Inside the Jaguars’ “Fan Cave,” attendees can take advantage of Wi-Fi, video game stations, and plush recliners while watching the Jaguars or any other NFL team play. These games are broadcast simultaneously on twenty high-definition televisions. The area is also open to any ticketholder with no additional charge.

The Jaguars and the city also added Wi-Fi to EverBank Field, largely to address the rising popularity of fantasy sports. By giving fans the ability to check on their fantasy teams using the Jaguars’ Wi-Fi during a game, Khan wanted no excuse for Jacksonville residents to sit on their couches to watch the game.

These improvements made EverBank Field one of the most distinctive stadiums in America, but they didn’t come without cost. According to its funding agreement, the Jaguars contributed an estimated $20 million toward stadium improvements, and the city of Jacksonville paid $43 million. The city’s contribution came from existing revenue sources already directed to the stadium, so the stadium’s overhaul didn’t affect Jacksonville’s general fund budget.

“EverBank Field is one of Jacksonville’s most important economic development assets,” Mayor Alvin Brown said in 2013. “This agreement will make our National Football League stadium a world-class facility.”

Parekh, in her role as general counsel, manages the Jaguars’ relationship with the city, so she was part of talks between city and team leaders regarding EverBank Field’s updates. “We are a tenant in this building, and the city owns the building,” she says. “Any time we want to make a modification, we have to go to the city.”

Mayor Brown said the city’s investment—both financially and in approving changes to EverBank—paid off. “It will help revitalize downtown. This is an important step forward for Jacksonville.”

One of the most rewarding days in Parekh’s career was the day the new stadium video boards were unveiled to the city.

The reveal started off with a soccer match between London-based Fullham Football Club, which the Jaguars own, and D.C. United. Following the match, country music singer Carrie Underwood performed.

“It was really three events in one, and it was designed to get as many people as possible there and say thank you, since it was a public partnership,” Parekh says. “We wanted to show the public what we created and get the idea that this a community building, and we want everyone to enjoy it.”

The 2013 expansion was just the starting point for EverBank Field. The next round of stadium enhancements, which will cost $90 million, are underway.

These renovations will include improvements to the US Assure Clubs that visually connect the clubs to the field and the new video boards. Old club seating has been removed, and the new club area will consist of eighteen sections on the east and west sides. Each side will be highlighted by two viewing decks, which will be completed this year.

Though there are major cosmetic changes taking place, the real goal is to create more than a state-of-the-art stadium—Parekh and the Jaguars want to build an entertainment venue.

Though many fans are pleased with the high-tech lounges and luxury treatment, some residents question the amount of money being pumped into the stadium. Parekh emphasizes that the stadium is part of a larger community improvement initiative.

“For me, the stadium is part of a bigger sports entertainment complex that animates Jacksonville,” she says. “The purpose of the complex is to create experiences that are meaningful to people.”

ANOTHER ROUND

In January 2016, owner Shahid Khan and president Mark Lamping unveiled designs for the next round of EverBank Field improvements. They outlined three projects, some of which were completed this year:

1. Ampitheater

  • Theater with 5,500 fixed seats and room for additional temporary seating
  • Positioned under roof that also covers the Flex Field • Will hopefully attract more concerts and events to the venue

2. Covered Flex Field

  • Climate-controlled, covered pavilion with multiuse synthetic turf
  • Includes sliding “hangar” doors so the space can be open-air or covered
  • Used by the team for practice during inclement weather
  • Used for fan entertainment on Jaguars game days and other year-round events

3. Redesign the US Assure Clubs

  • Install a glass wall between upper and lower clubs and the stadium bowl on each side of the stadium, giving the clubs a view of the field and its video boards
  • Install club tables and bar rails • Design each club’s interior to “reflect the demographics and tastes of fans”
  • Upgrade premium padded seats for all club patrons