JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The annual Georgia-Florida game is just 22 days from now, and with COVID-19, this year will be the quietest in history. The matchup is scheduled for Nov. 7, but a lot surrounding the iconic rivalry is still uncertain.
Leaders with the city of Jacksonville said as things stand, attendance will be capped at 19,000 fans, and tailgating and staples like RV City won’t be happening.
It comes at a time when the Gators' football team grapples with its own coronavirus outbreak, with more than two dozen players and staff members reportedly testing positive for the coronavirus.
As of now, Jacksonville’s most attended game will have about 20% to 25% capacity, much like Jaguars games. Gators and Bulldogs will each get about half the tickets to sell, with some going to sponsors and the city. Tickets will be sold from each school’s box office.
“Keeping the tradition going is important,” parks director Daryl Johnson told the Jax Chamber on Friday. But he noted many events will be absent.
There will be no RV City, no Bold City Bash, no concerts before the game, and tailgating in public lots is discouraged, according to city leaders.
However, on private property, business owners say the festivities will continue, safely.
“Tailgating for the big game will definitely be happening here, maybe a little differently here, but still happening and friends will have a great time,” said Alan Verlander, CEO of Airstream Ventures.
His company operates the River City Railway on Adams Street. It’s a group of train cars converted into luxury tailgate suites, and they’re all sold out.
“We are taking every precaution that we can to make sure that people are safe,” said Verlander. “If they go in the cars, they wear their mask. If they’re outside, obviously making sure that people are washing their hands and being smart and safe.”
Another company gearing up for the game is Party Shack, which builds and deploys portable pods where people can tailgate in a village-type atmosphere. They’ll be part of the Georgia Bulldogs Club tailgate at the WJCT property, near Metropolitan Park.
“We’re going to make it a watch party because not everybody’s going to be in the stadium,” said Joe Bowers, co-owner and managing partner.
Bowers said this year they’re spreading them out in a much larger area and limiting the number of people allowed in each area. But for the economy’s sake, he said, the show must go on as vendors are struggling with the effects of the pandemic.
“It’ll be safe. We’ll take all the protocols, everyone’s temperature, everyone will have masks before they get in. We will do all the same protocols that you would see at a local supermarket or restaurant or bar,” he said.
Three weeks before kickoff, leaders from the city and both schools are still finalizing plans and have not released many more details about gameday operations.
The Jaguars have a home game against the Houston Texans the following day, meaning the stadium will have to be cleaned, restocked and the field must be repainted in about 16 hours.