Brian Roberts has been a Jacksonville Jaguars fan since the NFL franchise was founded more than 20 years ago and there’s no way he’s going to miss the team’s next playoff game Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Jacksonville native Roberts, 30, a paralegal, was so determined to get to the game, he even bought tickets to Sunday’s divisional round before the Jaguars played the Buffalo Bills in Jacksonville last Sunday.
Roberts and seven of his friends demonstrate a hardcore football fan’s commitment to a team and a study in an elaborate personal finance model.
“I love to travel and I love the Jags. So, you’re combining two of my favorite things,” said Roberts, who lives in Riverside. “To be frank, not knowing when we will potentially be in this situation again or look as good as we do now in terms of competitively or when I think we could win again, it’s about cashing in on an opportunity.”
Roberts pulled off several financial maneuvers to pay for his part of the trip and to front his friends — six of them are leaving with him from Jacksonville, while another who lives in Washington, D.C., will drive to meet the group in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Roberts’ plan started by buying as many tickets for the Jaguars game against Buffalo as he could. As a season ticket holder, he could buy up to 10 tickets at $76 each to the home game. He bought all 10, then sold seven of them for about $300 to $350 each on StubHub — an internet ticket retailer — for a total of $2,200 in revenue and a net profit of about $1,500.
“I made a bunch of money off of it. So, I took some of my profit and bought tickets for Pittsburgh thinking if we won, I would go. If we lost, I would just sell them for money,” Roberts said. “Then, for my friends who didn’t just make $2,000 like me selling tickets, all these strings were pulled to make it as economically possible for everyone to get to go.”
Roberts ended up spending a total of $1,152.74 for the eight tickets to the Steelers game, about $144 plus change per ticket — not too bad even with the tickets being in the Heinz Field upper level end zone.
CHARTING THE JOURNEY
After the Jaguars beat the Bills on Sunday, Roberts said he and his buddies started charting their journey to Pittsburgh.
“This ball got into motion in the parking lot after the [Bills] game. Then there was a bunch of due diligence on the internet Monday basically,” Roberts said.
Internet site Google Travel led Roberts to the cheapest travel plot — but it wasn’t out of Jacksonville. His group would have to drive to Orlando initially if he was going to get to Pittsburgh affordably.
“Because airfare was like $700 [per round-trip ticket] out of Jacksonville, we’re actually flying out of Orlando on Spirit Airlines,” which costs about $131 per round trip ticket, Roberts said.
It’s not exactly a direct flight. The plane is flying to Cleveland, Ohio, where the Jaguars fans will rent a sport utility vehicle (costing about $25 for each person) and drive 90 miles to Pittsburgh to their airbnb.com apartment. It costs about $110 per person.
Cutting costs even more, each one of the group will take only one carry-on bag to save luggage fees and will wear or sit on all their clothes and Jaguars gear.
“There won’t be much luggage,” Roberts said. “It will just be bodies.”
On Monday after the game, the group will drive 45 miles to an airport in Latrobe, Pa., where they’ll hop on a Spirit Airlines flight back to Orlando, then drive back to the First Coast.
Other Jags fans are spending whatever it takes to get to the Steelers game.
Chris Todd, a chief financial officer for an investment firm who lives in the Intracoastal West area, said he spent $500 for each of the three tickets he bought off of StubHub. He’s going with his two sons who are 25 and 19 years old and grew up on Jaguars football. He’s also flying out of Jacksonville International Airport on airplane tickets that cost about $700 each for round-trip airfare and the three will stay at the Embassy Suites in downtown Pittsburgh.
Todd also bought his division tickets before the home playoff game.
“After sticking with the team for so long and all the changes and having faith in the team, it was that feeling of wanting to be there in the event this kind of comes through,” Todd said.
“I know I’ll be a minority [fan] up there. But if one of the [Jags] players looks up in the stands and sees three freezing cold Jacksonvillians in teal, maybe it will make a difference,” Todd said with a laugh.
While Todd will be in the minority rooting for the Jaguars, he won’t be alone.
StubHub officials released playoff ticket sales for the Steelers game; outside of Pennsylvania as of Tuesday, the largest block of tickets bought came from Florida.
Pennsylvania ticket sales that averaged $252 per ticket accounted for about 20 percent of the retail. Florida was generating 15.6 percent of ticket sales and, out of those, 5.66 percent were sold in Jacksonville, the most in the state, with Orlando, Miami, Ponte Vedra Beach and St. Augustine rounding out the top five, respectively.
VividSeats and Interdependence — two other ticket brokers — report similar trends.
John Caputo, one of the co-founders of the Jaguars fan group Bold City Brigade, said it should come as no surprise many Jaguars fans are doing whatever they can to get to Pittsburgh. He said fan excitement is similar to the 1990s seasons when the Jags went to the AFC championship games twice but failed to advance to the Super Bowl.
“Ultimately, there are some parallels there in the purity of it,” Caputo said. “That first go-around it was just euphoria. People were excited and it was something new. People were riding that wave and didn’t know how long it was going to last … .
“Now, you have a similar level of purity to it almost. But, it’s almost that we’ve waited for so long, so the buildup is actually there this go-round. I speak for myself and a lot of people I know — we’re just not going to miss it because we’ve waited so long,” Caputo said.
Like others, Caputo bought tickets to the Pittsburgh game before he knew the outcome of the Jags-Bills game. His cost was $250 each for eight tickets on StubHub.
“I myself personally have been a little bit surprised and impressed by how many people [from the Jacksonville area] are actually going to Pittsburgh,” Caputo said. “There are multi-generations to this.”
In terms of tickets sales for Jags fans from here on out, it is basically a free for all, said Mo Bolarinwa, service director of marketing for Primesport, the Jaguars’ official travel package company.
She said the company sold out all game tickets on Monday, though the company is still offering hotel reservations at the Renaissance Pittsburgh hotel in the center of the city — at $685 per person for a two-night stay.
Still, there are some late-developing plans to assist fans.
David Mendenhall, a member of the Forever Jaguars! Facebook social media group, is helping to organize a charter bus caravan to travel to Pittsburgh.
“The ticket is up to them, but they can get a ride with us,” Mendenhall said, noting the journey will be straight up to Pittsburgh and straight back to Jacksonville immediately after the game.
All passengers are expected to stick with the bus just before and after the game and to pay for or bring their own food, Mendenhall said. The playoff bus costs about $180 per ticket, will leave Saturday at 8 p.m. from EverBank Field and travel overnight to Pittsburgh.
“We’ll be there right in time for the game,” Mendenhall said. Immediately after the game, the bus will head south. The bus should arrive back in Jacksonville about 9 a.m. Monday.
Passenger capacity per bus is 56. As of Thursday afternooon, one bus had already filled to capacity with reservations and another was on order, Mendenhall said.
“The second one has 15 people. We will fill two and maybe three buses,” Mendenhall said.
If necessary, the group will start another bus. Facebook the page Forever Jaguars! and contact organizers through the online message system.
Roberts said that no matter what happens, his trip will be worth it — even with temperatures supposed to hover around 20 degrees during the game.
“I’m not worried at all about the temperature or climate,” he said. “If have a concern, it might be the hostility of the [Pittsburgh] crowd. But I would go with my group of eight if we were the only Jaguars fans in the entire stands.”
Times-Union staff writer Roger Bull contributed to this report.
Drew Dixon: (904) 359-4098