one foot after another, from feet to football

by tom weppel
In 1995, there was no Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace! The Regency Square Mall was THE Mall in the City. There was no 9A! (There was no NEED for a 9A!)
And in 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars began their inaugural season of professional football in the National Football League. And now here we are, in 2009, with the Jaguars starting their fifteenth season of play. Certainly, much has changed since the Jaguars first took to the field in 1995. Without question, the team and the franchise have had a tremendous impact on the city, in multiple ways. “I think we’ve brought attention and media exposure the City would never have gotten without an NFL franchise and that may be the greatest influence. Hopefully more people are aware of Jacksonville and all the great assets this community has, and as more people continue to discover the great things about Jacksonville’s affordable quality of life the more that growth will continue.” So said Wayne Weaver, principal owner of the Jaguars.
While there are other owners involved with the team with a minority interest, Weaver alone is the main figurehead of the franchise. And to be honest, without Wayne Weaver, there would BE no Jaguars! He certainly has been the man who has led the team and the franchise to some fairly lofty achievements since ’95, reaching the AFC Championship Game twice, and getting into the AFC playoffs on numerous other occasions.
Weaver, who grew up in Columbus, Georgia, got his high school education, then proceeded to work his way through the business ranks, getting into the world of Womens shoes. After learning his trade with the Brown Group in St. Louis, he eventually started his own Womens retail shoe store chain, the Nine West Group. He currently holds majority interests in both the Shoe Carnival store chain, and with the Liz Claiborne footwear line. At the time of Weaver’s starting the Jaguars, his retail and footwear interests were generating over $550 million annually.
Clearly, though, there are differences between running a Shoe Corporation, and an NFL franchise. When asked about this, Weaver stated, “An NFL team is clearly a very high-profile business and it gets a lot of attention, both positive and negative. In other businesses the owner can be pretty invisible, but owning a team in the NFL puts you in the public eye more often. And that can be a good thing and it can also be a bad thing. Also, the highs and the lows and the winning and the losing that you go through throughout the season give you great thrills and also sometimes break your heart. As an owner you’re emotionally involved in the whole process.”
In consideration of Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, Wayne Weaver and the Jaguars have certainly brought prominence and exposure to millions on a nationwide basis, along with economic growth, notoriety, and strength. There is no question this market is much more well-known nationwide, with the Jaguars making their home here in the area. Popularity came to a head a few years ago, when the Super Bowl was played in the Municipal Stadium downtown. Millions around the world watched as the New England Patriots defeated the Philadelphia Eagles. Jacksonville was exposed to all those around the world as a market to be utilized.
On a local level, Weaver and his wife have established a Foundation that has certainly given millions to many noteworthy causes in Northeast Florida. Both the Weaver Family Foundation and the Jaguars Foundation have done a fantastic job in distributing funds to needy charities throughout NE Florida. Last year alone, their Foundations have donated over $1.9 million. Since inception in 1994, the total amount donated has gone over $32 million.
Delores has fought for the cause against teen pregnancy. She has also done her share to fight for local education, and against domestic violence. Meanwhile, Wayne has also served on the boards of local businesses, including Stein Mart, the Jacksonville Zoo, and the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens. Their presence has been strongly beneficial to various factions.
Both Mr. and Mrs. Weaver have made a strong commitment in being involved in the local community, in many ways. There is no question Weaver and the Jaguars have been tremendously influential over the past fifteen years, to Jacksonville, and Northeast Florida. They have established themselves as leaders in the community. They are certainly worthy of praise and notoriety, leading the First Coast to becoming noteworthy, both on a regional and national level.
There is no question the market has grown since 1995, and the potential for even more growth is there, as Weaver acknowledges. “This market has certainly grown since we first got here, but right now we’re all seeing that growth has been hurt by the economic conditions. I think overall Jacksonville has a higher profile than it did 15 years ago and that’s in part because an NFL team lives here, and hosting a Super Bowl brought a lot of international attention to this market. I expect the market to begin growing again and to continue that growth in the future. It’s just taking longer for the growth to happen than a lot of people probably expected.”