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Khan Wembley deal would move
On the morning Shahid Khan increased his profile in the London sports scene, he sat in the headquarters of the Jacksonville Jaguars and laughed into the phone. It was a great roaring laugh that lingered even as he began to speak.
“If you know the NFL,
you know you don’t choose them they choose you,” the
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Jaguars and Fulham owner told the Guardian
He was speaking about the elite society of 32 NFL team owners who form one of the most exclusive clubs in sport, overseeing a $14bn operation. Their selectivity in who they allow to buy a franchise is legendary, as evidenced by their famous refusal of
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Donald Trump’s bid to buy the Buffalo Bills. Each owner must add something to their group – many of whom are part of families that have owned their teams for years. Khan’s, it seems, is in the dual lives he has planted in the US and UK.
For more than a decade the NFL has been serious about expanding globally, fearing that while it is the most lucrative league in the world its popularity does not stretch much beyond the US. Several league executives and team owners have told the Guardian in recent years they are committed to seeing whether a franchise could be placed in London full‑time.
Given that Khan – who was raised in Pakistan and the US and spends considerable time in London – also owns a precarious NFL franchise with limited resources, he has been viewed as an obvious link to make the NFL’s aspirations come true. The fact he has embraced London, committing the Jags to an annual game at Wembley, has only raised that perception.
The announcement of his £500m-plus proposal to buy Wembley stadium immediately sounded alarm bells that he may be looking to move the Jaguars to London, which has
become a regular host of NFL games.
While he did not make a promise to keep them in Jacksonville,
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he was quick to say “it is too early” to determine whether an NFL team would work in London full-time. He then added “this is a step to stabilise the Jaguars” in Jacksonville. He said he hopes to have them play a second game each season at Wembley and believes doing so will be key to the team’s success in Florida, which is home to two other NFL franchises. “How do we grow?” the 67-year-old asked. “Most football fans in north-west Florida are not Jaguar fans because they are from somewhere else. We have to work hard to find football fans.”
London, he believes, offers an opportunity to grow that base. He added that the team’s international profile has grown, especially since the Jags ended years of losing with a run that left them just short of this year’s Super Bowl. He said the team is “one of the five most recognisable” NFL franchises overseas and their merchandise outsold the other 31 teams internationally in November and December. He said these gains offset the limits of Jacksonville, which is the NFL’s seventh-smallest market.
Khan has been speaking with the FA for more than a year, ever since worries arose around the Jaguars that a sale of Wembley to a group uninterested in the NFL may take away the one obvious spot for the league to play most of its London games. As talks expanded, team officials realised the potential of keeping the revenue from food and beverage sales of not only Jaguars games at Wembley but also from all events. They also liked the idea of no longer paying rent at the stadium.
But his interest in London makes Jacksonville fans nervous he intends to move the team. He was something of a mystery when he bought the Jags in 2012. He had not been a major player in US sports. Forbes Magazine has labelled him the NFL’s fourth-richest owner – with an estimated worth of anywhere between $5bn and $7bn, grown through his ownership of the car-parts company Flex-N-Gate – a firm for which he worked as a student at the University of Illinois.
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