Florida, Georgia exercise option to keep 'Cocktail Party' in Jacksonville through 2026

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The annual rivalry game between Florida and Georgia will be played in Jacksonville at least through 2025.

The Southeastern Conference schools released a joint statement Wednesday announcing their decision to exercise a two-year option in the contract to keep playing at TIAA Bank Field, home to the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. The universities had until June 30 to let the city know if they were picking up or declining the option.

“The City of Jacksonville has been an historic host for one of the great rivalry games in all of college football,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said in a statement. “We are excited to have the game in Jacksonville for another two seasons.”

Georgia coach Kirby Smart has been outspoken about wanting to move the game to campus sites for recruiting purposes. NCAA rules prohibit schools from hosting recruits at neutral sites, although Florida and Georgia are allowed to leave tickets for recruits.

But Smart would prefer face-to-face contact, something he could get if the game was played in Athens.

“I firmly believe that we’ll be able to sign better players by having it as a home-and-home because we’ll have more opportunities to get them to campus,” Smart said last season.

Florida coach Billy Napier, meanwhile, has expressed a desire to maintain the status quo.

“The underlying issue here is the economics,” Napier said earlier this week. “It's very beneficial for both teams to play the game there.”

The payout from Jacksonville is expected to be roughly $3 million for each school in 2023, a figure that includes $1.25 million guaranteed plus a split of ticket revenue and concession sales. The guaranteed payout for each school increases to $1.5 million in 2024 and 2025.

Georgia also receives $350,000 annually to cover its charter flights, buses and lodging while Florida receives $60,000 because no flights are required.

A Florida home game, by comparison, generates between $2 million and $5 million depending on the opponent. So a home-and-home series currently would bring in less revenue over a two-year span.

“We are pleased with the decision to exercise the option that will keep the game in Jacksonville for 2024 and 2025,” Georgia AD Josh Brooks said in a statement. “We look forward to discussions that I’m sure will continue over the next couple years exploring all the options for 2026 and beyond. We continue to be appreciative of the working relationship we have with the University of Florida and the City of Jacksonville.”

The rivalry could be pushed to campus sites in 2026-27 if Jacksonville agrees on a massive renovation to TIAA Bank Field and the surrounding area. Although few details have been released publicly, one option would be to shutter the NFL stadium for two years and move all games out of the city.

Another option would spread the rebuild over four years and allow games to be played as scheduled, possible with a reduced capacity.

Nothing will be decided until after newly elected Mayor Donna Deegan assumes office on July 1.

The game known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” has been played in Jacksonville since 1933 with the exception of a home-and-home series in 1994 and 1995 while the stadium was being gutted and rebuilt in anticipation for the Jaguars' inaugural season.

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