JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III donned a No. 59 Jacksonville Jaguars jersey Tuesday and took the practice field for a little fun.
It might have been a business trip, too.
The Jaguars have made it clear they would like to regionalize their small-market franchise, which could lead to playing preseason games in neighboring cities like Daytona Beach, Gainesville and Orlando. And Chitwood wants to host a football game on Daytona’s front-stretch infield.
“We’ve not had a formal discussion with the Jags here, but we’ve got some great relationships,” Chitwood said after catching passes and fielding kickoffs with the team. “There’s always an opportunity.”
Bethune-Cookman and Florida A&M played games at Daytona in the early 1970s, and with the famed track undergoing a $400 million renovation, Chitwood believes the upgraded facility will land more sporting events in the future.
“We’ve got a little bit of runway in front of us because the property won’t be done until January 2016, so plenty of time to work through this,” Chitwood said. “But I truly believe we’re going to be adding events to the property.”
Chitwood said NFL games, college football, UFC fights, soccer matches and music festivals are on the radar.
“With the investment we’re making, we can really compete for those kind of sporting events where really we didn’t have the chance before,” Chitwood said. “The property’s just too good not to use for multiple events, whether it’s the camping, the parking, just the stadium effect. … We can do this. That ball field, which is what we call it, it really fits and makes sense.”
With the Jaguars already playing one home game a year in London through 2016, they might not be ready to play another game outside of Jacksonville. But it also would be a way to capture interest in surrounding markets, which team president Mark Lamping has made a priority.
And there has been a sharp increase in season-ticket sales from areas in and around Orlando, Lamping said, since the Jaguars selected former UCF quarterback Blake Bortles with the third overall pick in the NFL draft last month.
“If one of the things we have to deal with is the fact that Jacksonville is not the largest NFL market — in fact, it’s one of the smallest —what we have to do is try to expand that region and do a more effective job of marketing in north Florida, central Florida and southern Georgia,” Lamping said.