As the Jacksonville Jaguars prepare to face one of the NFL’s most storied franchises in today’s playoff game in Pittsburgh, the team’s marketing leaders see what the Jaguars could someday become.
Northeast Florida’s only major professional sports franchise is trying to grow itself into an ingrained part of the regional culture the way loyalty to the Steelers has been passed from one generation to another.
Part of getting to that point is capitalizing on the region’s fastest-growing county: St. Johns.
“For us, St. Johns County represents a couple of things: One, it represents the growth of Jacksonville,” said Jaguars vice president of marketing and digital media Steve Ziff. “I think it’s critical that we’re always thinking about young families, new people (to the area) and expansion.
“For us, St. Johns County represents growth and evolution.”
There is no doubt much of this county’s growth is tied to Jacksonville, where many St. Johns County residents work. This county has seen population growth of more than 100,000 residents since 2000.
St. Johns County also has the state’s highest median household income, as of 2016.
That population growth and wealth have led to St. Johns County being the biggest secondary source of season ticket holders. According to a Times-Union report in July 2017, about 13 percent of the Jaguars season ticket holders were from St. Johns. Only Duval County had more (66 percent).
Ziff said that number has grown even since then. He said St. Johns County is close to providing a fifth of the fans who attend games.
“We look at it as a core part of Jacksonville that we don’t want to ignore, that we want to build in,” Ziff said.
The marketing effort also goes well beyond trying to sell tickets in the county.
Ziff said it’s important to reach very young football fans, potentially making them Jaguars fans for life.
“It’s probably one of the more important long-term marketing plans and strategies that we have is to engage (youth),” he said. “We’re looking at kids now and saying, ‘We need to get kids to become avid fans of the Jaguars and connected to the Jaguars in some capacity by the time they’re 8 or 9 years old or we may start losing them.’”
The team has a host of outreach programs, some of which are sales events while others are simply community engagements.
Jaguars public relations representative Amanda Holt said the team offers Flagler College students a discounted ticket program, has a sales team rally at Nocatee each offseason and has a presence at each Nocatee farmers market.
There are plenty of other activities, too. The ROAR (Jaguars cheerleaders) and mascot Jaxson de Ville have made more than a dozen appearances in the last six months in St. Johns County, including St. Augustine Center of Living and several elementary schools.
The St. Johns County School District has partnered with the Jaguars to reward top-performing students with opportunities to get game tickets.
The Jaguars Foundation has participated in a host of events and causes here, most notably sponsoring free swimming at the Willie Galimore Center.
Those are the kind of things that could help the Jaguars eventually become a community stalwart like the Steelers have become in their eight-decade, six Super Bowl championship history.
“Football is family,” Ziff said. “Football is a bonding tool.”
It certainly is in markets like Pittsburgh and Chicago and Philadelphia that have had teams much longer than Jacksonville. The Jaguars certainly have their own following in Northeast Florida, but it doesn’t yet match the multi-generational support of the historic franchises.
The large contingent of Buffalo Bills fans last week at EverBank Field is a great example of how important a football team can be to a local culture.
Ziff hopes the Jaguars are making progress toward that goal. And he expects this county to be a huge part of it.
“I think that’s what what we’re going for,” he said. “The generational lineage of a football team, or any sports team, is a critical component of that team’s success.
“What we want to do is create something that families can bond over, talk about and share — whether it’s a positive or a negative. There are many memories that can be made at a football game or over talking about the Jaguars.”