The NFL’s attendance issues for the 2010 season have been of major focus in the preseason and through the first week of the season. Most highlight the economic downturn and high ticket prices as the culprit but this is a more nuanced issue than most commentators are willing to accept.
Of course, Jacksonville has been the butt of the majority of blackout jokes for some time; 7 of the 20 blacked out NFL games in 2009 were Jaguars games. Is Jacksonville more economically-depressed than other NFL cities? Sort of. Jacksonville has the 73rd-highest unemployment rate for all US metro areas. How many NFL markets rank higher?
Three. Detroit, Miami, and Tampa.
The smallest of these markets, Miami, is still 250% bigger population-wise than Jacksonville. (San Diego is pretty much right between Miami and Jacksonville at a clean 1,000,000; this doesn’t count the sizable Mexican market).
Seems simple then, right? Jacksonville just doesn’t deserve an NFL team. There are 32 teams and Jacksonville’s in market 47… but Jacksonville’s the only market in Florida that’s actually gaining in population.
The key here (and this is where Jacksonville and San Diego cross paths) is in the demographics of that population. It matters little how many people live in a region; it matters how many people there fit the profile for a potential NFL fan.
Who is your NFL fan archetype? Fortunately, we know. The average NFL fan is:
Male 25-40 years old White Has a household income of $75,000
We have plenty of people like that in Jacksonville. There are plenty of people like that in San Diego, too.
You know what job pays a mean of $70,168? The military’s paying that much right now.
San Diego, Norfolk, VA and Jacksonville are the three cities with the highest saturation of active-duty military residents in the country. While combat operations are complete in Iraq, the United States military maintains more than HALF A MILLION TROOPS DEPLOYED OVERSEAS.
Put simply, San Diego and Jacksonville are great NFL cities demographically, but they’ve been stripped of their key ticket-buying demographic by the War on Terror. The people who were buying up Jacksonville Jaguars tickets during the Tom Coughlin era are now serving on aircraft carriers or in Afghanistan or Okinawa or Germany.
The same can be said for San Diego (more of them on aircraft carriers though).
Neither city has a lack of residents who love their football teams. Both cities have a lack of residents who are, well, resident… and not by choice.
The same can be applied across the NFL, of course; every city in America supplies troops to our military. But the NFL’s core ticket-buying demographic remains the exact same demographic the Department of Defense finds most preferable in war; until the War on Terror is scaled back to pre-2002 levels, the NFL will continue to struggle to find fans to buy tickets.