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Boise State vs. FSU game illustrates intersection of Jacksonville politics, policy

Jacksonville’s tradition of hosting neutral site, destination college football games continues, with city officials announcing an Aug. 31, 2019, clash between Boise State and Florida State.

FSU has made a habit of neutral site games, and the game against Boise State is a compelling interconference matchup between the perennial ACC power and the perpetual Mountain West Conference champions.

Showcase games like FSU vs. Boise State don’t happen on their own. As speakers at Wednesday’s news conference made abundantly clear, a convergence of events, personalities, and passions enabled Jacksonville to get the kind of high-profile event that cities like Dallas and Atlanta vie for (and get) every year.

Ed Burr, chairman of the FSU Board of Trustees, is one major player. He was on hand at the news conference and introduced another key FSU personality with a major Jacksonville connection: President John Thrasher.

Thrasher was “delighted … to come back now and announce a major football game at the Gator Bowl,” he said, a reference to the stadium’s familiar, pre-corporate sponsorship name.

Thrasher lauded Jacksonville’s most prominent football fan, Mayor Lenny Curry, calling him an “old friend” from politics who has “obviously gone a lot further than I did.”

Curry, of course, has maximized a synergy with Jacksonville Jaguars’ owner Shad Khan that has seen $88 million in city money poured into infrastructural improvements at Jacksonville’s sports complex: $43 million for the world’s biggest scoreboard during the Alvin Brown administration, and under the Curry administration, half of a $90 million buy-in that secured a new amphitheater, a covered practice field, and club seat improvements.

And more is expected, as the Jaguars have entered into a development agreement with the Cordish Companies.

Back in July, Khan took Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa on a tour of Cordish developments in Baltimore and St. Louis.

Curry referenced the plans during the presser, referencing “innovative things we’ve done,” and the “partnership” with Khan, while alluding to future improvements to come, via “private capital invested in this area over the next ten years.”

“When you look at the plans, the private capital that’s going to go in and around and down here, with retail and entertainment and commercial,” Curry said, “that will be one more big thing that can demonstrate to universities we’re trying to recruit here for big-time college football.”

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Curry said. “Right now, it’s not an annual thing … [but] we’re going to pursue more collegiate football.”

There are good economic reasons for that.

The last neutral site game, a 2016 tilt between Navy and Notre Dame, was estimated to have a $30 million economic impact for the city.

Curry noted that there will be financial incentives in play, but did not have those figures at the media event.

Favorable conditions, in terms of the FSU connections Burr and Thrasher, have allowed for favorable terms. Per JAXSPORTS head Rick Catlett, the teams get no guarantees for this game (money which often equals $5 million a team for these major neutral site contests). But “bowl game prices” will prevail for this matchup, which looks like a preview of the bowl season, but in August.

Catlett expressed optimism that the momentum behind college football in Jacksonville puts the city “back in the national championship hunt.”

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Andrew Gillum Andrew Gillum

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