The Florida-Georgia game at Jacksonville’s renovated EverBank Field won’t be a pool party.
A day after the NFL’s Jaguars said it would be up to athletic directors Jeremy Foley and Greg McGarity to decide whether to use the stadium’s new pools and cabanas during their game this fall, the Southeastern Conference rivals made it clear they have no plans to integrate the two-story party deck.
The Gators and Bulldogs are more concerned that there are 7,000 less seats available in the renovated north end zone.
“There’s no wiggle room for lowering the attendance or seating capacity,” Georgia’s McGarity told The Associated Press. “The most important thing for us is the number of seats.”
The Jaguars removed 9,500 chair-backs as part of a $63 million renovation, which includes the world’s largest video boards, two wading pools, 20 pricey cabanas and several other amenities designed to improve the game-day experience.
While Florida and Georgia welcome the giant scoreboards, they would prefer to keep everything else status quo. Especially the seating capacity, which stands at nearly 85,000 for the annual game.
If the schools used the pools and cabanas, they would lose 7,000 seats that already have been sold. They would get a portion of those spots back in pool-side seating, but not enough for the ADs to consider change.
“Our No. 1 priority is to have the same number of tickets available to our fans and we don’t have an interest in any scenario that reduces the number of tickets,” Florida’s Foley said. “We do appreciate the commitment that both the city and the Jaguars are making to enhance the game-day experience for fans that don’t limit seating capacity.”
McGarity said it’s doubtful the pools and cabanas would ever be in play for the Florida-Georgia game, which has been in Jacksonville nearly every year since 1933.
“We’re not intent on using that feature,” he said.
Jaguars president Mark Lamping said Tuesday the schools might reconsider in 2015 and beyond after seeing the pools and cabanas in action. The cabanas have been a huge draw in Jacksonville, with 65 percent of them sold out for the 2014 season and a waiting list for three of the team’s nine home games.
The Jaguars are selling 12 upstairs cabanas for $3,000 a game, with a maximum of 20 people in each suite. The price includes all-you-can-eat food and drinks. The eight downstairs cabanas – the only tickets that include pool access – are going for $12,500 a game, with a maximum of 50 people in each suite. Those also are all-inclusive.
Whether there is interest from Florida and Georgia fans for similar, high-end packages that rival luxury suites remains to be seen.
“It’s open to Florida-Georgia,” Lamping said. “That’s not our decision to make. It’s up to the athletic directors at those two schools. It’s totally flexible.”
Lamping said the party deck was designed to be able to remove the cabanas, cover the pools and erect temporary seating. The city already installs 5,000 temporary seats in the south end zone for the Florida-Georgia game, and needing to add another 7,000 in the opposite end zone could make a trying week even tougher.
The Jaguars host the Miami Dolphins at EverBank on Oct. 26, just six days before the Florida-Georgia game.
“We are committed to working with the University of Florida and University of Georgia to meet both schools’ goals for the 2014 game,” said Joel Lamp, manager of business development and communications for the city of Jacksonville. “We will work with the Jaguars to ensure that Jacksonville continues to offer the best game-day experience at EverBank Field for fans of this storied college football rivalry.”
The teams’ current contract with Jacksonville runs through 2016 – each team makes about $1.7 million annually from it – and Foley and McGarity are intent on keeping it there.
With as many seats as possible.
“Our fans have been attending that game for a very long time,” McGarity said. “We’re not looking to change any aspect of it.”