Daytona Could Soon Become the NFL’s Version of the Clash at the Coliseum
NASCAR has taken over a football stadium to hold the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum each of the last two years, and now the reverse could happen as one of its premier race tracks could become a makeshift football stadium in the near future.
Daytona International Speedway President Frank Kelleher is scheduled to meet with officials from the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars to discuss the possibility that Daytona could be a temporary home for the football team while their current home TIAA Bank Field undergoes renovations that could take up to two years to complete.
Daytona is one of several locations the Jaguars are reportedly considering
The idea is surprising, for sure, given the other options in the area, such as Camping World Stadium in Orlando and nearby university stadiums at Florida State University and the University of Florida. However, that uniqueness could be a significant factor in what helps Daytona land a deal to host the Jaguars.
Sporting events at facilities that were built for a different intended use have become popular across the past 15 years since the NHL built a hockey rink in the middle of the football field at Highmark Stadium, the home of the Buffalo Bills.
The NHL expanded the idea throughout the years and regularly has multiple games in outdoor facilities each season. Aircraft carriers have hosted college basketball games, and Major League Baseball played games next to the set of the Field of Dreams movie in Iowa the past two years.
NASCAR got in on the idea in 2022 when it created the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition event. The sanctioning body built a 0.25-mile flat track on top of the playing field that is typically the football field for the University of Southern California Trojans.
The event drew around 50,000 fans both years and proved out-of-the-box ideas could work in NASCAR. The sanctioning body has since run its All-Star Race at the refurbished North Wilkesboro Speedway in rural North Carolina and is scheduled to run a street course race in downtown Chicago in two weeks.
The NFL, and specifically the Jaguars, already have extensive experience holding games in locations other than a team’s permanent home stadium. The league has produced more than 30 regular-season games internationally since 2007, and the Jaguars have played in nine of those contests, including at least one in nine straight seasons with the exception of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic-impacted season. The team is also scheduled to play two games in London, England, during the upcoming 2023 season.
Race tracks have previously hosted major football games
Solid plans for when the TIAA Bank Field renovations would begin are still unclear, but this would not be the first time a race track has played host to a major football game. Most recently, Virginia Tech and the University of Tennessee opened their 2016 season with the Battle at Bristol Motor Speedway. The field covered much of the infield at the 0.5-mile track, and 156,990 fans showed up for the spectacle, which Tennessee won, 45-24.
Bristol also hosted an NFL exhibition game in 1961 between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. Approximately 8,500 fans attended that game when the facility’s capacity was only 18,000.
Daytona has even held football games at its venue before, although it was a long time ago. Bethune-Cookman beat Florida A&M at the speedway in 1974 with about 32,000 fans in attendance. The speedway also hosted two high school football games in 1959 when it first opened.
Daytona can now hold 101,500 fans in its massive frontstretch grandstands after the speedway completed a renovation in 2016. That is a significantly larger capacity than TIAA Bank Field’s current capacity of 67,838, but the stands at Daytona would not circle the field the way they do in a purpose-built football stadium. That could leave many fans with a poor view of the field if the action is near the start/finish line, but their seats are closer to Turn 1 or Turn 4.
Still, the atmosphere and novelty of the game(s) would likely be worthwhile the way they are for many of the similar events in other sports. Attendance for Jaguars games would likely suffer if the team played in a standard football stadium in a different city. Why not try something unique to build additional interest in the team?
That mindset has worked for NASCAR when it took the Clash from Daytona and placed it in a football stadium. Maybe a football team can make the opposite work if it takes a game date from a football stadium and moves it to a race track.