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Gator Bowl exploring options for 2027 game during construction


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Jacksonville’s City Council voted Tuesday to partner with the Jacksonville Jaguars on renovation plans for EverBank Stadium.

It passed, as expected, so the stadium’s tenants now know when to vacate.

The Jaguars plan to play in a reduced-capacity stadium in 2026, then play the 2027 season somewhere else, before returning to the newly renovated stadium for 2028.

The decision also impacts the annual Georgia-Florida game and the Gator Bowl game.

Officials with the Gator Bowl have already begun exploring other options.

Greg McGarity, the president of the Gator Bowl, said he needs 40,000 seats and a stadium capable of supporting a national broadcast on ESPN. He also noted that creative solutions are already being considered.

“For the 2027 game, we have already had preliminary discussions with UF and will also await the designation decision by the Jaguars as well,” McGarity said.

Unlike the Jaguars, who must make plans for 10-11 displaced home games, including preseason games, the Gator Bowl only needs to find a home for one day.

“It makes it easier since it’s only for one year,” McGarity said.

The Gator Bowl annually hosts several events around Jacksonville that will remain in the city. If the game were to be moved out of town, only it would leave Jacksonville for the 2027 season.

Television drives the bowl games, and one aspect of the broadcast is the atmosphere in the stadium. Show a great game with a great atmosphere, and the game's image improves. That could be temporarily limited if the Gator Bowl moves into the 88,000-plus-seat Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.

“(Atmosphere is) very important but not essential, especially for the 2027 game,” McGarity said.  “For all other games, it’s essential to provide opportunities for fans to have a fun day before and after the game.”

The atmosphere would likely be much different in Gainesville since, depending on the teams selected, the Gator Bowl typically expects to sell around 50,000 seats.

Unlike the Jaguars, who could consider playing some of their 2027 games in Orlando, that city is not an option for the Gator Bowl because of scheduling conflicts with bowl games already played at Camping World Stadium around the same time each year.

The Gator Bowl has made the trip to Gainesville before. When the Gator Bowl stadium was being renovated to accommodate the NFL’s expansion Jaguars in 1994, the Gator Bowl was moved to the Swamp. More than 62,000 watched Tennessee beat Virginia Tech, 45-23.

Unless a new and creative solution within the Jacksonville area is found, the most likely landing spot for the Gator Bowl would indeed be the home of the Gators.

Cole Pepper has covered professional, college and high school sports in Florida since 1996. Originally from the Kansas City area, Pepper came to Jacksonville to launch a sports radio station, the first step in a career that has included work in radio, television, and online reporting. He was the studio host for the Jaguars radio network for 15 seasons and now consults for JAX USL, the group bringing professional men’s and women’s soccer to northeast Florida. You can reach Cole at colepepper1@gmail.com or on Twitter @ColePepper.