Last week’s unsubstantiated, wacky report out of one of the London newspapers about Shad Khan buying Tottenham and moving the Jaguars to London literally made me laugh. Partially because I know just enough about the London papers to know they’re willing to print just about anything, true or not, and partially because the sum total of discussions I’ve had with Shad in the last four years point in the exact opposite direction.
Remember Shad’s comment about a homeless guy in Detroit having more “mojo” than business people in Jacksonville? In getting to know Shad’s personality, his way of speaking if you will, that was more of a nudge than a complaint. Shad’s humor is pretty dry, and quick and if you’re not paying attention, sometimes you can think he’s not joking.
Standing on the end line of Craven Cottage two years ago, Khan wistfully looked over the pitch and asked me, “Can you imagine an NFL team on THIS field?” Our discussion wound through locker rooms, seating, field condition, attendance and other particulars but it was pretty clear to me, Shad will have the Jaguars on that surface at some point. Either an open scrimmage or a practice or something.
In that report, the most laughable thing was that Shad would sell Fulham and buy Tottenham. Shad LOVES Fulham. He’s said numerous times, “It’s not just buying a soccer club in London, it’s buying the right club.” He’s proud of Fulham’s reputation, the fact that they have a neutral stand. He loves the neighborhood and how Craven Cottage fits into its surroundings. And recently he’s been given approval by the city of London to rebuild the Riverside stand at the Cottage, a cantilevered style that the city is allowing him buy or use footage out over the Thames to build. Jaguars president Mark Lamping is a director of Fulham FC and is helping oversee the building project. And if you know anything about Shad, he’d never sell the team after the lack of success on the field. Fulham was relegated last season. He won’t stand for that. Plus his original investment has been cut about in half because of the TV rights in the EPL versus every other league. He’s not selling Fulham.
There are now rumblings that Khan doesn’t want to play in Tottenham’s new stadium in 2018. No surprise there. The NFL has committed to two games in the new stadium starting that year, but recently they’ve played three games a year in London. And their plan is to have eight games in the city by 2021. The NFL can’t figure out how to put a team in London and make it competitive. With travel time and scheduling, right now it’s not possible. That’s why Khan has promoted the Jaguars as “London’s team.” Last year he told me they were studying extending the contract to play there (2015 is the 3rd of four years in the current deal) and no doubt they’ll announce a new deal while they’re in London this October. (Ryan O’Halloran of the TU reported it will be against Green Bay)
Plus, Shad is not a “downsize” kind of guy. Tottenham’s stadium will hold 61,000; Wembley’s capacity is 90,000 and is the national stadium. That’s Shad’s style. Let’s not play down the street, let’s play in the national stadium.
And as one NFL Owner told the Sports Business Journal, “Shad owns Fulham.” Khan is very competitive, very loyal and no doubt would look askance at Tottenham with a dubious eye regarding putting his football team in a potential competitors stadium. Shad is also “brand proud.” Fulham is his team.
Those close to Khan are repeatedly amazed by his stamina and his determination to get things done. If you saw his proposal for the Shipyards project, you know he doesn’t do anything “small.” While some developers where thinking about a glorified strip mall on the property, Khan is envisioning something along the lines of the Sydney Opera House. Iconic. Landmark. Identifiable.
I asked him if during the planning process for the Shipyards he had to tell the designers, “bigger?” He gave a wry smile and said, “several times.”
Khan understands the lasting impact he can have on North Florida, perhaps for generations. He’s a firm believer that cities only flourish with a solid downtown core. He’d like to start at the Stadium and the Shipyards and move west, helping renovate and reinvigorate the city. He had a passing interest in buying the Suns to centralize what was going on at the sports complex. Perhaps with new owner Ken Babby and alliance will form.
And with new civic leadership, things might move quicker than expected.
I’ve said all along Shad Khan will try to drag Jacksonville into the 21st century. Hopefully, we’ll go along.