by Max Marbut
Mike Sullivan is retiring from the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission as its manager of the Sports and Entertainment division, but he’s not getting out of the game.
He has been on the City’s team to promote bringing sports events to Jacksonville since 1984. As executive director of the Sports and Entertainment Board and later, the Jacksonville Sports Development Authority, Sullivan was one of the key players involved in bringing the NFL here, the city’s biggest score to date in terms of sports.
Sullivan pointed out the team he has been part of for the past 23 years has a long list of accomplishments in addition to the Jaguars. Jacksonville has added the Atlantic Coast Conference football championship and Sept. 29 game between Florida State and Alabama at Municipal Stadium to the Gator Bowl and the annual Florida/Georgia game. The ACC baseball tournament has become part of the line-up and Jacksonville is in the history books as a site that hosted the NCAA’s “March Madness” men’s basketball tournament.
“This city has gone through an unbelievable change in the past 23 years,” said Sullivan, who credits the Better Jacksonville Plan’s creation of the Sports Complex possible as being the single-most important element in making the city known as a big-time sports destination.
“Years ago when we had the old facilities, it was impossible to get people to bring events to Jacksonville. We would go after events, but it wasn’t easy to bring them here with the facilities we had,” he said. “Now, they call us to ask if they can come here.”
Gator Bowl Association President Rick Catlett remembers the day Sullivan arrived in Jacksonville. Catlett was former Mayor Jake Godbold’s liaison to the Recreation Department and was about to head a full-time effort to bring an NFL team to town. He said Sullivan was initially hired to replace him and was later asked to manage the City’s sports facilities.
Catlett said he believes Sullivan has earned an important place in Jacksonville’s sports history.
“If there was a job in City government that had to do with securing or operating sports, Mike did it,” said Catlett. “If history is written the way it should be written, it will say Mike was the quiet guy behind the scenes who made a lot of great things happen.”
Sullivan isn’t looking at a rocking chair and a fishing pole – in fact, far from it. He’s joining Axcess Sports & Entertainment, a local company founded by former NFL and Jacksonville Jaguars executive Michael Huyghue that represents athletes and entertainers.
“Michael Huyghue made me an offer that was just too attractive to turn down,” said Sullivan of the reason behind his career change.
He will develop new special projects for Axcess and promote the events division of the company. He will also be the firm’s liaison to the mayor’s office and other City departments.
Sullivan added while he knows working in the private sector will have its own set of challenges compared to municipal service, “We’re going to do everything we can to bring more events and excitement to Jacksonville.”