3 things: What Georgia-Florida staying in Jacksonville for 2024-2025 means

October 29, 2022 Jacksonville, Fla. - Tim Tebow is greeted by Florida fans outside TIAA Bank Field ahead of Georgia vs Florida NCAA football game on Saturday, October 29, 2022. Tebow has been a vocal proponent of keeping the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville, and UGA officials have agreed that is the best option for 2024 and 2025. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

ATHENS — Georgia and Florida battle as fierce rivals in various sports each year, but when it comes to playing their annual football game in Jacksonville, the schools are business partners.

Administrators from UGA and the University of Florida have opted to exercise their option on continuing to play the annual rivalry game in Jacksonville, Fla., at TIAA Bank Stadium.

Gators coach Billy Napier spoke the day before the announcement was made, sharing the reasons why Florida would continue to play Georgia some 60 miles from their campus the next two seasons.

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“The underlying issue here is the economics,” said Napier, who went 6-7 in his first season as the Gators’ coach last year.

“It’s very beneficial for both teams to play the game there.”

Georgia sources have cited Kirby Smart’s recruiting budget as one reason for continuing to sell the Bulldogs’ home game with Florida to Jacksonville, pointing out how shopping the rivalry to the traditional site 340 miles from Athens makes sense because of the extra revenue it produces.

The University of Georgia makes approximately $2.8 million more per year by playing the Florida game in Jacksonville each year, based on the most recent contract contract approved in 2021 that included the two-year option.

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In addition to the revenue gains, here are some takeaways from Georgia and Florida continuing to play in Jacksonville in 2024 and 2025.

TIAA Bank Stadium renovations ahead

Napier shared with Florida media on Tuesday that it’s possible Georgia and Florida will play home-and-home if or when TIAA Bank Stadium undergoes renovations.

“If we have some venue renovation scenarios that come up,” Napier said, “we’ll do what’s been done in the past.”

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Outgoing Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry suggested the renovation will likely take place in 2026 and 2027.

The last time the Jacksonville Stadium — then known as the Gator Bowl — underwent renovations was in 1994 and 1995, and the game was played in Athens and Gainesville.

Florida won both games, with Steve Spurrier’s program dominating by scores of 52-14 and 52-17.

Georgia and Florida can give recruits tickets

The Bulldogs and the Gators elected last year to give tickets to recruits at the game after agreeing for years not to supply the free tickets.

The recruits will still get tickets moving forward, but coach Kirby Smart has called that a “moot point” as far as any recruiting benefit.

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“Per NCAA rules we are not allowed to see them or talk to them,” Smart said. “We can’t do anything with them, so it’s really a moot point.

“They get to go, but what good does that do in terms of recruiting that you don’t get to spend time with them and host them? It doesn’t change the official visit they are on.”

Economic impact

The Georgia-Florida game has a tremendous economic impact on the Jacksonville area of about $45 million per year, adjusting for inflation off the city’s 2015 estimate of $35 million.

An Athens-Clark County commissioner estimated last year the economic impact for the UGA business community if the game were to go home-and-home to be $25 million a year, with many fans likely electing to stay in Atlanta or Macon.

The game is a source of pride for many in Jacksonville, as the revenue generated has improved the quality of life in Florida’s largest city.

Curry vowed his city would “fight” to keep the game during an interview last summer, and the community lived up to its word in its successful negotiations with UGA administrators.

“Kirby Smart values recruiting, which he should, he’s going to fight for what he believes is the best interest in recruiting football players for his football team,” Curry said.

“We think there’s a balance there, and both schools have great recruiting opportunities right here in Jacksonville, and we’re going to fight to keep that football game here, working the relationships with the athletic directors, and every single donor and booster at both universities.”

The current elected Athens-Clarke County officials have not, however, publicly offered any concessions or made any comments about their desire to host the game.

Smart had publicly debated Tim Tebow on the location of the game last year on the SEC Network, taking up for the Sanford Stadium environment.

But Smart has since received a raise that has made him the third highest-paid coach in college football and operates with the largest recruiting budget in the nation.

The Georgia head coach has played in the rivalry game himself and has talked of his appreciation for its pageantry, so it’s unlikely he’ll have too many complaints when asked about the new deal at the SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., next week.

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