Commentary: JAXUSL’s soccer stadium could be the perfect solution for Jaguars temporary home

FILE - Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence leaves the field following the team's NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Oct. 16, 2022, in Indianapolis. The NFL Players Association is calling on six venues, including Indianapolis, to change their current playing surfaces, saying the turf in those stadiums results in statistically higher in-game injury rates involving non-contact and lower-extremity injuries. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File) (Michael Conroy, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The JAXUSL soccer franchise doesn’t have a name, hasn’t settled on a site for a stadium and doesn’t know exactly when it will play its first game but could play a major role in keeping the Jaguars in Jacksonville during a two-year renovation.

Hear me out.

One possibility that I’ve thought about since the very beginning of the Jaguars stadium talk — could the USL’s Jacksonville franchise provide an assist? Absolutely. Shad Khan and Co. should skip Daytona Beach, Gainesville and Mickey Mouse World and keep the Jaguars where they belong.

The Florida Times-Union’s Mark Woods wrote a thorough think piece on that topic Wednesday, and it is a very logical option to keep the Jaguars in town during a revamping project that is expected to take 30 months.

Could the Jaguars play in the JAXUSL’s still-to-be-built stadium? It absolutely makes sense. To me, it makes the most sense. And it hits multiple areas of need in the process.

I asked Jacksonville USL’s Steve Livingstone about it last week during the team’s celebration of the Super League’s women’s franchise and he laughed and said, “Who knows? Nice thought, right.”

It’s an excellent thought. It’s practical. The timelines align just about perfectly. It makes financial sense, keeps games and local revenue — and more importantly — the Jaguars in North Florida during renovations.

Sure, there’s a long way to go before we get to that point. Jaguars team president Mark Lamping has mentioned numerous times that it would be a great problem to have because it would mean a stadium deal was agreed to and a lease extension with the city was in place.

But fans and media alike have honed in on the two years of displacement since the Stadium of the Future renderings and construction timelines were presented. That’s a huge question. There are three popular regional choices — Daytona Beach (either the Speedway or Municipal Stadium), Gainesville and Orlando — that have emerged as logical choices. All three locales have positives and one massive drawback — none are in Jacksonville.

Seeing the Jaguars play in the 352, 386 or 407 for two years is a tough pill for rabid fans to swallow. One home game is already in London, but the other seven or eight regular season games being pushed out of town is a tough sell. Not impossible of course, but not the best.

The timelines align with JAXUSL almost perfectly with a Jaguars stadium renovation.

When the JAXUSL announcement was made last year during a presentation at TPC Sawgrass, it said its intentions were to build a 15,000-seat venue to host both its men’s and women’s teams. That venue would be in place by 2025 or ‘26. The Jaguars prefer a 2026-27 construction and return to the palatial Casa de Khan to start in 2028.

It would also address a glaring hole in the area sports landscape, one that has been talked about for years and never built. The absence of a true multi-use facility in North Florida stings. There are excellent venues on college campuses at UNF and now Edward Waters University, and a beautiful VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. But a JAXUSL soccer hub with the bells and whistles of two seasons of Jaguars could bridge the gap for bigger events that don’t require the venue of a TIAA Bank Field, but call for something better than being held at a local high school or even a UNF.

What are some of those events, you ask? The Florida High School Athletic Association high school football championships would be a big one. When the city looked at making a bid on the games several years ago, TIAA Bank Field was ruled out because of what seven games over two weekends on the field would do to it.

The Jumbo Shrimp’s 121 Financial Ballpark was too small by several yards to be able to convert to a football field. Spec Martin Stadium in DeLand has hosted the soccer state championships. Daytona Municipal Stadium hosted the NAIA football national championships for five seasons, and bids to host the 2025-26 NAIA football championships are due July 1, 2024. Livingstone said that the soccer organization wants to build something that is about more than just seasonal soccer.

“We want it to be a facility that’s going to play a part in the community. We don’t just want it to be a pro-elite facility,” Livingstone said last week. “And that’s important as well and part of our planning processes. We’re working through and doing our diligence and hopefully we’ll get to that point sooner rather than later.”

There’s already NFL precedent for such a situation. When the Chargers were waiting on SoFi Stadium to be constructed, they played three seasons (2017-19) at then-StubHub Center (now called Dignity Health Sports Park), a 27,000-seat soccer stadium in Carson, Calif. It added an additional 3,000 seats, so it was the NFL’s smallest venue by far. There was massive ridicule about such a setup, but Jaguars fans wouldn’t be chafed by criticism. They’ve endured it ever since Jacksonville was awarded a franchise in 1993. But a blueprint exists for such an arrangement to work.

Jacksonville would get a beautiful soccer venue that would become something much greater than just a soccer venue. It would be a temporary home for the Jaguars, a beautiful featured field for premier Florida Elite soccer matches and give something that the area has lacked for decades.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.