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Matt Rapp, executive director of The Players Championship, left, and Jacksonville Sports Council executive director Alan Verlander.
Jax Daily Record Wednesday, Mar. 4, 201512:00 PM EST

Armada, Jaguars, TPC executives tout economic impact

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

“In 12 months, we went from 0 employees to 60, including players and coaches.”

“We have a global television reach of 1 billion households and an economic impact of $151 million.”

“We have 180 employees and hundreds of millions of dollars cycle through the organization each year.”

Those were some of the comments made Tuesday when the Commercial Real Estate Women Jacksonville chapter hosted a panel discussion of how the business of sports contributes to the local economy.

Moderated by Alan Verlander, executive director of the Jacksonville Sports Council, the panel included Mark Frisch, owner of the Jacksonville Armada soccer team; Mark Lamping, president of the Jacksonville Jaguars; and Matt Rapp, executive director of The Players Championship.

Verlander said the council’s goal is to promote sports events that support and improve the local economy through tourism, job creation and investment.

Frisch talked about how the Armada has grown from an idea three years ago to a business with 60 employees that’s part of Jacksonville’s newest professional sports league.

He said interest in Jacksonville started as soon as the North American Soccer League announced Jacksonville was joining the league.

“I started getting emails from people all over the country who wanted to come and work in Jacksonville,” he said.

In addition to the global television audience, what Rapp described as “our time to shine for the world,” he cited the direct economic benefit from The Players Championship.

More people who attend the tournament each year are from outside North Florida than from within and golf fans spend money while they are here.

“They don’t eat fast food, they eat in nice restaurants. They don’t sleep on friends’ couches, they rent a house or a hotel room,” he said.

Preparing the TPC Sawgrass for the annual event also brings income to the area. Rapp said crews begin constructing pavilions and fan amenities long before the first golfer tees off.

“It’s now 63 days away, but work began months ago,” he said. “Then it takes two months to take it all apart.”

Lamping said in addition to the Jaguars’ full-time staff and players, the team employs about 1,700 part-time employees on game days.

“It’s one of the reasons communities work hard to get and keep NFL teams,” he said.

All three sports executives said revitalizing Downtown is part of their agenda.

Frisch said when plans were being made to find the Armada a home pitch, Downtown was the only choice. The team chose The Baseball Grounds, which will be known as “Community First Park” when the Armada plays home games there this season.

“We are going to create 20 new action nights Downtown,” he said.

Rapp said while The Players is sometimes perceived as an event in Ponte Vedra, the economic benefit to Duval and other surrounding counties is enormous.

“We fill a lot of hotel rooms in Duval County and Downtown,” he said. “People who come to the tournament from other places say that having nice hotel rooms only 40 minutes from the event is awesome.”

Lamping spoke of Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s proposal to develop the Shipyards property along East Bay Street near EverBank Field. He said the area can use a lot of improvement.

“It’s the highest concentration of bail bond agencies on the planet and there’s the jail,” he said. “The best part of the experience is the smell of coffee. The bar is pretty low.”

Commenting specifically on Khan’s proposal to the city to construct retail, residential and commercial space on the vacant municipal riverfront site, “We’re the reluctant developer,” he said.

“Shad Khan has a big vision for everything he does,” Lamping said. “Shad wants to control the pace. He wants to move fast, and we’re the only ones in the position to do that.”

The next step will be to hear the Downtown Investment Authority’s response to the plan when it meets on Friday.

“We’ll see what happens and we’ll accept it,” Lamping said. “As soon as we control the property, things can happen quickly.”

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