After the pandemic-induced sports drought, fans are mighty thirsty for fall college football. Here in northeast Florida, there’s no bigger college football game than the storied Southern rivalry between Florida and Georgia.
Normally each year when the big game between the Dawgs and Gators approaches, downtown Fernandina Beach and elsewhere around this barrier island is bustling with Georgia football fans. They arrive to enjoy local restaurants and bars, hit the beach and stay overnight for a few days at oceanfront condos, villas, and hotels. Or they stay at their second homes that many Georgians own on Amelia Island, FL.
During these pandemic days, however, things will no doubt be different. Just how different the Georgia fan flow will be on Amelia Island and in Jacksonville this year, remains to be seen, since a lot is still in limbo. But it appears stadium capacity limits will mean far fewer fans will travel to northeast Florida for this fall game.
TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
The game is scheduled to be played Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020 at its traditional venue in Jacksonville, FL, with the same kickoff time at 3:30 pm. It appears the Georgia Vs. Florida game will have about 17,000 fans at TIAA Bank Field. This number equates to 25% of total capacity, the current state guidelines for this type of stadium venue. Scott Stricklin, UF’s athletic director, reportedly had indicated this intent about a month ago (the same capacity limit for the NFL Jacksonville Jaguar games), according to The Florida Times-Union.
Tailgating “Strongly Discouraged” At JAX Stadium
According to TIAA Bank Stadium’s website, “parking lots will be physically distanced as cars will be parked in every-other parking spot. Tailgating is strongly discouraged this year.”
** NEWS UPDATE Sept. 3, 2020 ** The University of Florida announced the Gators’ famous stadium on the Gainesville campus, “The Swamp,” will allow football fans at 20% of capacity. “Face coverings (over the nose and mouth) will be required for all fans throughout the entire game. This includes when fans are entering and exiting the stadium. Fans may only remove face coverings while eating or drinking,” according to UF. Instead of 88,548 fans present when “The Swamp” is full, 17,000 fans will be allowed in UF’s stadium for home games during fall 2020. (This happens to be the same stadium occupancy expected for the Florida-Georgia game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.)
No Tailgating On Campus At University of Florida
Also, “public tailgating and gatherings will not be permitted on the UF campus this fall,” and no Gator walks or fan fests will take place. The SEC had indicated previously that “institutions shall determine whether tailgating or other large gatherings of guests (e.g., alumni events, university recruiting events, etc.) are permitted on property owned and/or controlled by the institution in accordance with applicable state and local guidelines, policies and/or regulations.”
The Southeastern Conference’s official 10-game football schedule for fall 2020 was announced August. 17th, see the SEC game grid further below. The games will start a month later than normal due to pandemic delays. The SEC will play their first games of the 2020 season on September 26th.
In the Sunshine State and neighboring Peach State, the Florida-Georgia game is always highly anticipated. But multiply the enthusiasm by ten here in northeast Florida where the game is traditionally played. It’s a huge event weekend that brings a big economic bang, as well.
Will Diehard Fans Show Up Anyway?
Will some diehard fans without Georgia-Florida tickets still come? The sojourn to Amelia Island and Jacksonville is an annual tradition for a lot of families and friend groups. For some it’s like a holiday gathering. The game and festivities are a memory-making event. Some have taken this annual game trip with the same people for decades. While it’s more fun for one side — the fans and team that prevails — it’s an unforgettable experience for everyone, nevertheless.
Will groups decide to take their traditional long weekend getaway anyway? Hang out on the island and in JAX to watch the game on TV or potentially tailgate? Or will the flow of fans this year be just a trickle, rather than the usual tidal wave?
The hard hit travel and hospitality industry could use the economic boost the big game weekend brings. Northeast Florida businesses were anticipating another boost that didn’t materialize the week of August 24th. The Republican National Convention was canceled due to July’s rising COVID-19 positive cases in Florida. Amelia Island resorts and hotels were reportedly playing host to the GOP’s top donors, some events, and several delegations.
SEC 10-Game Official Schedule
As we all know during COVID-19, changes can be fluid. Seems we’ll know more depending on how the SEC season unfolds once play begins September 26th. Will the 2020 Georgia vs. Florida game actually kickoff as scheduled Nov. 7th? Time will tell, but fan fingers are crossed.
Local High Schools Playing Football This Fall
In Fernandina Beach, the public school district’s high school football season kicks off under Friday night lights on September 4, 2020. A local rivalry, the Fernandina Pirates will play on Yulee High School’s field against the Hornets. The school district here in Nassau County is limiting high school football game venue capacity to 50%.
Wishing all the high school and college football players and their families a good, healthy season of play.