News agency4 minutes to read
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Don’t expect it Georgia and Florida will be playing the annual rivalry game at campus sites anytime soon, if it ever happens again.
SEC heavyweights are exploring options to hold the game often referred to as “the world’s largest outdoor cocktail party” at other neutral-site venues during the two-year, $2 billion renovation Jacksonville expects of EverBank Stadium and the surrounding area. .
Although they haven’t completely ruled out playing a home series in 2026 and 2027, officials are focused on allowing cities with NFL-ready stadiums to bid on the game, according to two people familiar with the planning. The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the process has not been formalized or finalized.
The next step is contingent on the Jacksonville City Council approving stadium repair plans that would also force the Jacksonville Jaguars to play home games in front of reduced capacity (about 40,000 spectators) in 2026 and at other venues in 2027. Meanwhile, Georgia would be forced to And Florida will play outside of Jacksonville for the first time in more than three decades.
In 2026, with Georgia scheduled to be the host team, the game will likely land at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, with tickets split 50-50 as usual. The following year, with Florida as the host team, it could end up at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa or Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
The reason is simple: schools can make more money playing the game on neutral venues like EverBank. The schools have played annually in Jacksonville since 1933, with a two-year hiatus during the renovation of the Gator Bowl before the Jaguars’ inaugural season. The game moved to Gainesville in 1994 and Athens, Georgia the following year.
Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart has been vocal about his desire to bring the game back to campus for recruiting purposes. NCAA rules prohibit coaches from contacting recruits at neutral sites, although the home team can leave tickets for them.
But Smart prefers face-to-face contact, something he could get if the game is held in Athens.
“I firmly believe we will be able to sign better players by having them home and away because we will have more opportunities to get them to campus,” Smart said last season.
Smart walked back his comments earlier this week.
“I don’t think about it anymore,” he said. “We’re where we are. That really didn’t cross my mind besides the offseason when I was asked about it. I’m more concerned with how we’re playing than where we’re playing.”
Florida coach Billy Napier was quick to point out, “The main issue here is economics.”
Jacksonville’s payout is about $3 million per school in 2023, a number that includes $1.25 million guaranteed plus a portion of ticket revenue and concession sales. The guaranteed amount per school increases to $1.5 million in 2024 and 2025, the last two years of the current contract.
Georgia also receives $350,000 annually to cover its flights, buses and lodging, while Florida receives $60,000 for not requiring flights.
By comparison, Florida’s home game brings in between $2 million and $5 million depending on the opponent. So a “home and home” series will generate less revenue over two years than a neutral site game.
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