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Men in Blazers podcast: Speaking with Fulham/Jaguars owner Shad Khan

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Rog sits down with owner of Fulham and the Jacksonville Jaguars to talk about Fulham’s return to the Premier League, life as a pro sports owner, and his remarkable personal journey, from college student with $500 in his pocket, to self-made billionaire.

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Prospective Wembley buyer Khan has ideas for venue

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Fulham and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan is striking a lot of the right notes when it comes to his desired purchase of Wembley Stadium.

Khan, 67, says he wants to continue to host England matches if he gets the venue, and will also look to have a working retractable roof in order to further insure big events.

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“England must play there,” the American billionaire said. “Otherwise it will be a shell. It would be like an empty suit that doesn’t have soul.”

Khan also has an interesting idea to help smaller events at Wembley:

Another possibility, which has already been looked at by the FA, is the use of “video boards” which would be “automatically lowered on cylinders” to close the top tier of Wembley for certain events to give it a reduced 50,000-seat capacity. “There’s a lot creative stuff that can be done,” Khan said. “We are looking at all of those to get more use and create more revenue.”

It all sounds pretty cool, Shad… but are you bringing your NFL team? The comment section on the last post nearly started fire at the thought.

“I’d been to Wembley by then a couple of times and I told the NFL that the only venue we wanted to be part of was Wembley,” Khan said.

WATCH: Men in Blazers try out NFL kickers for soccer team #MiniFFC

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The Men in Blazers have embarked on a new adventure: teaming up with Mini USA to create their own soccer team, #MiniFFC.

Jacksonville Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee and Cleveland Browns punter Spencer Lanning tried out, and their attempt at the big time was captured in short 30-second videos.

Above, Scobee displays his soccer craft. Dubbing himself the “Unstoppable Goal Machine”, the professional American football player actually brandished some quality skill on the ball.

Below, Lanning takes his shot. The former South Carolina Gamecock, also known as “Fox in the Box”, didn’t disappoint either.

Follow Roger on Twitter, @rogbennett, and Michael, @embassydavies.

“2 + 2 = 5” ProSoccerTalk’s exclusive interview with Fulham owner Shahid Khan

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Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the new top dog at Fulham, is a strict businessman.  At the time of his purchase, he told those in charge at Fulham that they would be free to do their jobs, but if the results weren’t there, he wouldn’t be merciful and kind.

Khan and his epic mustache joined the likes of Randy Lerner, the Glazer family, and Stan Kroenke as American owners in the Premier League.  While he clearly connects his American heritage with the English game, there’s an overwhelming desire to succeed.  The American game is important, but the success of Fulham is now even higher on his list.

It’s clear Khan speaks in the language of business, but he has an incredible passion for not just sports but the fan experience.  He can be seen at Jaguars fan events speaking with eager supporters, and is incredibly accessible to the media.  His ability to market is second to none, and he’s gotten the fanbase in Jacksonville more excited than ever about their NFL team.

Now he’s passing that along to Fulham.  Former owner Mohamed Al Fayed gave everything he had to the club, but he mostly conducted business in private.  Khan respects everything Al Fayed gave to the club, but his approach differs.  The fans are important to him, and it reflects in his actions.

ProSoccerTalk’s Kyle Bonn got to chat with Mr. Khan about his new ownership venture, his feelings on the game in the United States and how he believes the two sports teams he owns will coexist.

With Mohamed Al Fayed having such an integral role in bringing Fulham up to the Premier League, is he going to be sticking around the club in an ambassador or honorary role?

SK: “Well the transition is complete, but he’s a major part of the history of Fulham.  In all likelihood Fulham wouldn’t be around if it wasn’t for him, the investment he made, and the love and passion he had.  So he’s a real part of the club and he can be around as little or as much as he’d like.  Even for the last several years he was really not around the club, but he’d be welcome around whenever he’d like.”

source: ReutersWith your ownership of Fulham as well as the Jaguars, do you have an overall plan to cross-promote these teams, and will they be more separate entities or will they coexist strongly?

SK: “They’re definitely separate entities, and you don’t want to have any confusion about that.  But having said that, we have a number of opportunities to have corporate partners that would like to take part in both.  I had several guests at the Real Betis friendly at Fulham who came over to get a chance to work with or sponsor Fulham and then also be able to do it with the NFL game in London or back in the U.S. with Jacksonville.  So we have a unique space that I think is going to help both teams, but there can’t be any confusion – they are on their own.  Both of them we can use a relationship to develop fan bases.  With Jacksonville in London, we had started last year with the Union Jax fan club, and when Fulham happened they picked up several thousand members that day.  Fulham will definitely be playing friendlies starting next year in Jacksonville; it’s a very soccer crazy atmosphere so they’re delighted to have Fulham coming.  There’s opportunity, but both of them have to exist on their own and improve on their own.”

There are American owners in the Premier League, but you are one of the most accessible to the public.  Do you think that with your new connection, you’re in a position to help spread the excitement of the game of soccer to American sports fans and help grow excitement about the game with those who may not have been previously interested?

SK: “I can only speak for myself, but yes.  We have an opportunity where Fulham and the Jaguars stand on their own, but we also have an opportunity where 2 + 2 = 5.  A unique place where we can offer opportunities at both clubs for the fans because of the relationship.”

Soccer has a much larger following in this country than it ever has before, but it still struggles to cement itself in the average American sports fan’s household.  Do you think it could compete with sports like baseball in the near future or is that a hard sell?

SK: “I think putting a quantifying number on it to compare to baseball, I think I’m in no position to answer that, but I can tell you that soccer is on the upswing.  I see that from the number of people I’ve known for years – we never talked about the Premier League or soccer, and now Fulham happens.  In Jacksonville, I talked to people about how they can get Fulham apparel or when is the friendly, so there’s a huge amount of interest.  So soccer in the U.S. is definitely on the upswing, and NBC is on the ground floor with broadcasting the games, and we’re counting on the fact that what NBC sees in soccer is correct.”

Fulham have a legacy of an American connection.  Some fans refer to it as “Fulhamerica.”  Did this attract you to the club at all and would you consider giving a harder look at American players because of this past?

SK: “I think that’s a part of Fulham’s history which I think is great, but Fulham has a lot more that made it the perfect club for us at the perfect time for us.  The Premier League is very competitive like the NFL, so you want to get the best players.  They (the American players) were great for Fulham, but moving forward we want to get the best players.  Hopefully some of them are Americans, that would be a great connection.”

The style of promotion and relegation is so engrained in the fabric of soccer, except here in America it’s somewhat foreign.  Do you think that concept should be applied here to Major League Soccer or other sports in the United States?

SK: “I don’t think it would work.  There’s something very unique about the concept of promotion and relegation, but in the U.S. it doesn’t make sense.  The sport I know, at least from a business standpoint is the NFL.  What makes it unique and exciting year after year is the competitive balance – the draft, a hard salary cap, scheduling, etc – you can’t have those with promotion and relegation.”

Between the Premier League and the NFL, do you see any similarities between the two, and do you have a favorite?

SK: “They have a lot in common. We’re talking about two leagues at the top of their sport.  Obviously very passionate fan bases, large TV or media revenues, so there’s obviously a lot in common.”

Could you see a Fulham player ever being turned into a kicker for the Jaguars?

SK: *laughing* “You know, that is an interesting idea.  (Jaguars kicker) Josh Scobee was talking to me about it last week.  We talk about it for fun when we have a friendly here next year to try that.  Josh actually used to play soccer with Clint Dempsey, so he shared a lot of similarities.  Moving forward, how you evaluate talent can cross the game.  Nobody really knows how they compare but this would be an interesting way of finding out.”

I didn’t know Josh played soccer with Clint!

SK: “He told me he gave up his hopes of professional soccer once he played with Clint, he thought he couldn’t make it, so he figured he’d better get good at kicking a ball for football.”

Shahid Khan is American, bought Fulham, is probably not the end of English soccer

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Shahid Khan was born in Pakistan, but the Jacksonville Jaguars owner is American. Thanks to a fortune accumulated in the auto parts business, Khan is also a billionaire. And as of Friday, he’s the sixth American owner in the English Premier League.

Mohamed Al Fayed, a man who has bankrolled Fulham’s rise and subsequent stabilization in the Premier League, has sold Fulham FC to Khan, ending his 16-year stewardship of the West London club. Under his watch, Fulham rose from the third division to the Premiership, where the Cottagers have spent the last 12 years. The club has had some close calls with relegation (memorably in 2007-08), but over the last four years, Fulham have never finished lower than 12th, with a record seventh place finish 2008-09 leading to a Europa League final the following season.

Those efforts will live on a Cottager legend, but right now, it was time for Al Fayed to move on. From his statement on the club’s website:

But now is the right time for me to retire and spend time playing football with my grandchildren. I am sad but proud of our achievements. I am very grateful to Fulham’s fans, the most incredible fans in the world. They have given me their support and affection whenever they have seen me at home games. I would never let them down. I have passed the Club to a talented, honest and highly capable man who respects Fulham and its traditions. He is a great sportsman.

From said sportsman:

Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me.  I want to be clear, I do not view myself so much as the owner of Fulham, but a custodian of the club on behalf of its fans.  My priority is to ensure the club and Craven Cottage each have a viable and sustainable Premier League future that fans of present and future generations can be proud of. We will manage the club’s financial and operational affairs with prudence and care, with youth development and community programs as fundamentally important elements of Fulham’s future.

The reference to Craven Cottage is the best thing Khan could have said on Day 1. The venue is synonymous with the club. Any attempt to move away or significantly change the 25,700-seat ground on the Thames would destroy the club’s identity, ruining the very thing Khan’s bought into.

What this means competitively for Fulham and Cottagers is unclear, though Reuters’ reporter Simon Evans does a good job of painting what Khan’s ownership will be like:

New Fulham chief Shahid Khan, thePremier League’s latest foreign owner, is likely to break the mould and be one of the most open and public of billionaires to take control of one of England’s top flight clubs …

 “He is kind of a rock star with the fans,” Alfie Crow, editor of theJaguars’ fan blog ‘Big Cat Country,’ told Reuters.

“He comes out to practice, interacts with the fans and talks to them. He is very much out there and engaged. He has really energised people.”

 Any trepidation Jaguars fans initially had about the team’s new owner quickly dissipated as he won them over with his charm, not to mention a thick handlebar mustache and flowing hair that is a marked change from the staid image of the traditional NFL owner.

Not everybody covering the sale took Evans’s approach. Perhaps predictably, The Guardian’s David Conn used the moment to deride the qualities and motives of U.S. owners, undoubtedly sending shots down the throats of thousands of readers playing the David Conn drinking game:

Football, loved around the world, is here, in the land where it began 150 years ago, selling some of its most “storied” clubs to billionaires from the US, just about the only country which has never been entranced by the game.

As they have arrived, to own Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Sunderland and now Fulham, these shrewd and calculating billionaires have rarely convincingly explained what is driving this gradual US takeover of our soccer. …

This is becoming a critical group now, six clubs of 20, takeovers never planned, barely explained. At the same time more football people are outspokenly lamenting the imbalance between the clubs as global investments and the weakness of the England team, representing a sport still organised country by country. The long-term implications of overseas, predominantly US, mostly financially acquisitive ownership have not been considered; the clubs have just been sold, one by one.

Conn is consistent in his use of Americans as a type of boogeyman symbolizing everything wrong with the non-German soccer world. Many of his arguments are compelling, and those problems may very well exist, but his use of U.S. ownership as a strawman undermines his points, portraying a bias that made his Friday commentary inevitable the moment Fulham posted their announcement.

I doubt Khan is not a member of a cabal of American businessmen intent on striking the last blow of the American Revolution, the one that would ruin a communist sport the U.S. hates more than an empty revolver or a line at the McDonald’s drive-thru. In all likelihood, he’s just a man who wants to own a team in the Premier League, and among the people in the world who have both the means and desire to do so, it’s not that surprising he happens to be American. The U.S. is a huge, rich, sports-mad country with a relatively large class of people with ridiculous levels of disposable income. At some point, this becomes a function of probability, not the bi-product of a plan to destroy “our soccer”.

Sarcasm aside, there is something worth discussing in this “six clubs of 20” dynamic. The simplest assumption is that these people have bought into the Premier League because they covert something in either the business or sport, but in time, is it possible these owners may come together to secure their investment? Will a more American model be imposed on the league? And to what extent would the non-U.S. owners even object to that?

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That’s an interesting discussion to have, but it’s entirely hypothetical. Hypothetical and paranoid, given the lack of evidence supporting the notion. Right now, the only major difference between today’s Premier League and Friday morning’s is Fulham’s owner, somebody who is likely to have resources, views, motives, and reactions that are completely independent of his five American colleagues. Not all Americans are the same, and not every American’s intent on imposing a set of values on the Premier League.

Whether he succeeds or fails, Khan’s time at Fulham is more likely to be defined by his distinctions from Malcolm Glazer, Stan Kroenke, John Henry, Randy Lerner, and Ellis Short. And as Evans describes, Khan is likely to completely different from a typical U.S. owner, a man who could more like to the man he’s replacing than the group into which he’s been lumped.