Alltel Stadium

EverBank Field (originally Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and formerly Alltel Stadium) is an American football stadium in downtown Jacksonville, Florida, and the home stadium facility of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League (NFL). It also hosts the annual Florida vs. Georgia Football Classic, a college football rivalry game between the University of Florida and the University of Georgia, and the Gator Bowl, a post-season college bowl game. The stadium assumed its current name on August 10, 2010, following the approval of a five-year naming rights deal with the financial services company EverBank.


The current stadium opened in 1995, on the site of the old Gator Bowl Stadium, erected in 1949. Located on the St. Johns River, it sits on 10 acres (4.0 ha) of land, including portions of the older stadium. At its opening it had a total capacity of 73,000, and expansions over the past decade have since increased that to 76,867. The stadium hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, and has also held a number of college football games as well as concerts and other events.


Construction

EverBank Field is located in Jacksonville's Eastside neighborhood, which has been home to football fields since the early 20th century. In 1928 the first permanent football stadium, Fairfield Stadium, was constructed. In 1948 this was expanded and renamed Gator Bowl Stadium, in honor of the annual Gator Bowl game first played two years earlier.


The current EverBank Field was built using a few portions of the historic Gator Bowl Stadium. However, all of the elements included from the older stadium — the pedestrian ramp system and the more recent West Upper Deck section of the complex — dated back only to 1982. Construction started January 3, 1994 and the new stadium opened on August 18, 1995 with an exhibition game with the St. Louis Rams. Total construction time was under 20 months and total cost was $134 million – $60 million of which was provided by the city of Jacksonville.


Planning

In January 1993, representatives from the Universities of Florida and Georgia began negotiating with Jacksonville representatives to renew the contract to host the Florida vs. Georgia Football Classic, the annual college football rivalry game between the two universities. The two teams' five-year contract with the Gator Bowl ended after the 1994 game, and the Citrus Bowl had offered Florida and Georgia a larger sum of money than the Gator Bowl for the right to host the game.


To counter the Citrus Bowl's larger monetary offer, Jacksonville mayor Ed Austin proposed a $25 million renovation plan to Jacksonville's aging Gator Bowl Stadium, which had been built in 1949. Both teams had expressed concerns about the condition of the aging stadium, and renovations were considered key to enticing the teams to keep returning to Jacksonville, bringing tens of millions of dollars in consumer spending with them. Despite the promise of renovations, Georgia athletic director Vince Dooley was unswayed, so Austin widened the scope of the renovations, increasing their price tag to $49 million, and traveled to Athens, Georgia, to talk with Dooley in person. Austin's campaigning was partially successful. On March 23, 1993, the two universities announced they had signed a five-year contract with the Gator Bowl, running from 1997 to 2002. The contract was contingent on Austin successfully passing the $49 million renovation bond issue through the Jacksonville City Council and the city completing the renovations by the 1996 game. On Tuesday, May 11, the Jacksonville City Council approved a $219.5 million bond issue, including the $49 million for the renovation of the Gator Bowl.


NFL expansion

Soon after the approval of the bond issue, investors interested in attracting a new National Football League team to Jacksonville requested that another $30 million be added to the $49 million renovations in order to make the stadium more attractive for a professional team. That number climbed higher throughout the summer, and eventually the city reached an agreement with the leading group of investors hoping to attract an NFL team to Jacksonville. On July 1, the city and investors reached a lease agreement contingent on the city investing $112.3 million for improving the Gator Bowl. The lease agreement later collapsed when the Jacksonville City Council voted to send the lease back to a committee for further study rather than approving it. One month after the proposed deal fell through, city officials and investors tried again and were successful in negotiating a deal that included a pledge to spend $121 million on renovations to the Gator Bowl. Due to the expanded renovations, it was announced that the 1994 Florida-Georgia game would have to be moved out of the Gator Bowl, as had the 1995 game, in order to provide time for the newly expanded renovation plan to be completed before 1996. In the end, the expanded bond issue and renovation program proved to be successful, as Jacksonville was awarded the 30th NFL franchise—the Jacksonville Jaguars—on November 30, 1993.


Almost as soon as the celebration surrounding Jacksonville's new NFL team died down, however, a renovation contractor's plan to give eight percent of the stadium work to minority-owned businesses drew criticism. The NAACP and another group said African-American businesses should have been awarded twice that amount of work.


Current stadium

The stadium's re-opening day was also the home debut of the Jaguars during the 1995 NFL season. It was the first time that an expansion NFL team had played its first game in a new facility. The Gator Bowl returned as a New Year's Day bowl game on January 1, 1996, following the 1995 NCAA season.


In 1997, the stadium changed its name to Alltel Stadium after naming rights were acquired by Alltel, a telecommunications company best known as a wireless carrier. The name Alltel Stadium stopped being used by the city after January 2007 when the contract expired.


In 2005, the stadium hosted Super Bowl XXXIX in which the New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 24–21 in front of 78,125, the largest Super Bowl in attendance since 1994. In 2003 and 2004, $47 million in improvements to the stadium were implemented to prepare for the Super Bowl. These improvements included the addition of a unique sports bar in the south end zone called the "Bud Zone," a larger and wider video and scoring display from Daktronics, escalators in the north and south end zone, and a new "terrace suite" called the "Sky Patio" right above the "Bud Zone" in the south endzone.


Before the 2005 season, mainly due to low attendance figures and looming blackouts, team officials installed a series of tarps to reduce the seating capacity for Jaguars games. The covers were placed to block out seven sections in the upper north endzone and four in each upper deck section, located on the corners of each. This puts 9,703 seats out of service, leaving the stadium with 67,164 seats for the regular season. While some believed that this was a sign that the city couldn't handle having an NFL team, the current 67,164 seats available is actually very close to Wayne Weaver's first proposal to renovate the stadium during his bid for an NFL team in 1992 before the city council failed to approve it, mainly due to not having enough seats to accommodate the annual Florida-Georgia game.


Despite the changes, however, blackouts have still occurred, including two of their first three home games in 2007: against the Atlanta Falcons on September 16 and against the Houston Texans on October 14. In 2009, nine of ten games were blacked out locally. It is believed that the 2008 US Financial Crisis played a major part in the 2009 season blackouts, leading to insufficient ticket sales, with only the final home engagement of the regular season, with the Indianapolis Colts, managing to sell out. However, the Jaguars' 2010 season saw one of the biggest ticket sales turnarounds in recent memory, which lead to zero blackouts that year. As a result, it has been speculated that during a League spring meeting in early 2011 (which was covered by NFL Network), several NFL teams have inquired about the Jaguars' 2010 ticket sales model.


For the Super Bowl, Florida-Georgia game, and occasionally the Gator Bowl, temporary bleachers are put up in the south end zone and the tarps are removed, raising capacity to over 84,000.


The attendance record was set on September 29, 2007 when 85,413 watched Florida State defeat Alabama in what was dubbed the River City Showdown. Each school received nearly 36,000 tickets, and the Gator Bowl Association added 5,800 additional seats.


On July 26, 2010, naming rights to the stadium were bought by EverBank, one of the nation's largest privately-held bank holding companies with approximately $11.2 billion in assets. On August 10, the deal was officially approved by the Jacksonville City Council with a 14-3 vote.


During the Jaguars' off-season, the team not only managed to retain more than 90% of their season ticket holders, but also managed to acquire at least 13,000 new season ticket holders according to the "fuel gauge" meter that was constantly present on the team's website during the off-season. On September 12, 2010, those numbers were proven to be correct as the Jaguars opened up their 2010 season to a total of 63,636 out of 67,164 tickets distributed in their season opener against the Denver Broncos, which they won 24-17.

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