JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Commissioner Roger Goodell visited two teams on opposite ends of the NFL spectrum Monday, congratulating one on their Super Bowl victory and sending a subtle message to the other about fan support.
Goodell spent the afternoon in New Orleans, meeting with players, coaches and front office personnel. He commended the Saints on their accomplishment and how they did it.
His visit to Jacksonville was much less celebratory. He met with local business leaders, city politicians, team officials, players and coaches, getting a firsthand look at one of the league's struggling franchises. He expressed support for the small-market Jaguars, but also hinted that fans need to do more to keep the team in town.
"This is a great opportunity for this community to demonstrate their passion for this team and their passion for football," said Goodell, whose stops were part of a tour taking him to eight NFL cities in six days.
The Jaguars blacked out nine of 10 homes games last season, becoming the poster child for attendance problems and getting labeled a target for potential relocation.
"We want this team to be successful and we want it to be here," Goodell said. "We just want to make sure that we're playing in front of large audiences and hopefully sold-out audiences because that's what we do expect in the NFL."
The Jaguars are hoping to turn things around this fall. They sold naming rights to the stadium for the first time in three years, getting a five-year, $16 million commitment from EverBank. They sold naming right to the practice fields for the first time ever, signing a deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida.
Although neither deal directly leads to ticket sales, the Jaguars insist having local businesses back the team can only be a positive sign for the future.
There are other reasons for optimism, too.
The Jaguars have about 5,000 season tickets remaining to sell to avoid more blackouts.
"I think we're going to get there and we're going to erase the word 'blackout' in our community," owner Wayne Weaver said.
Maybe so, but Goodell believes the Jaguars could learn a thing or two from New Orleans. The Saints were often ridiculed as the Aints in their early years and more recently endured the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
"The relationship between this team and this community is special, and we should all work to try and create that kind of relationship," Goodell said.
Goodell said the league tries to take successful tools from one market and integrate them into another, but it's just not that simple.
"We do everything we can to share intelligence from one market to another," he said. "But you also have to recognize that every market is unique. Every community has is own challenges. Every team has its own challenges and you have to be intelligent about the approach."
The Jaguars have tried just about everything.
They didn't raise ticket prices for the third consecutive year and even cut prices in January for some seats. They offered payment plans that gave season-ticket buyers eight months to pay without any interest. They allowed fans to lock in 2010 prices for three years and make equal payments for those 30 games over 30 consecutive months, with no interest and no deposit.
Still, they have come up short.
Although Weaver acknowledged he needs an "exit strategy" as he nears his 76th birthday, he has no plans to sell or move the team. But he also realizes attendance has to improve to keep the franchise viable in Jacksonville.
Weaver invited Goodell to visit in hopes of making a final sales push — and maybe help Jacksonville enjoy the kind of turnaround that happened in New Orleans.
"I think the team is going to continue to be successful here," said Goodell, who visited Kansas City on Sunday and heads to Philadelphia on Tuesday.