Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan recently offered the English Football Association $860 million to buy Wembley Stadium, England’s most iconic soccer field. That got me thinking.
How come he didn’t try to fleece London taxpayers to finance it, or pitch some personal seat license shake down to fans of the English National soccer team, which calls Wembley home, the way NFL owners do every time they want a new or renovated stadium in the States?
How come Khan can afford to make that kind of offer without taxpayer help outside the U.S., but few of his fellow owners have ever done it that way when threatening to move their franchises from one desperate U.S. city to the next?
You know why? Because the Brits would tell him to piss off, as the colloquial expression goes in England.
If Khan closes the deal, as many believe is likely, how soon do you think before he’s threatening Jacksonville and the NFL with moving the Jaguars to London? Let’s see, there are roughly 8.8 million people living in London and a tenth of that (880,690 in the last census), in Jacksonville. As the great preachers would boom from the pulpit, “How long? Not long!’’
Khan denies this is his end game, and, as owner of the London-based Premiership soccer team Fulham, maybe he has other plans. Surely he does, and at least one of them involves luring the biggest American football spectacle of the year, the Super Bowl, to Khan Field, the place formerly known as Wembley.
Wembley has been the site of annual regular-season NFL games since 2007, and the Jaguars have been its “home’’ team since 2013, the same year Khan bought Fulham. Khan presently has a deal to play games in London through 2020, and he is already claiming the Jags can’t live without them.
“The games the Jaguars play at Wembley are essential to the financial stability of the Jaguars in Jacksonville, which is one of the smallest markets in the NFL,” Khan said when his bid was announced. “If my ownership interests were to include Wembley Stadium, it would protect the Jaguars’ position in London at a time when other NFL teams are understandably becoming more interested in this great city. And the stronger the Jaguars are in London, the more stable and promising the Jaguars’ future will be in Jacksonville.”
Was that simply a statement of economic facts or a trial balloon to get the moving vans (or ships, in this case) moving?
Khan does not have long-term roots in Jacksonville and has long seemed fascinated with the idea of growing the game, and his team’s popularity, overseas. If he owns a stadium in London why not fill it eight times a year with Jags’ fans with accents? Yes, they have accents in Jacksonville, too, but the ones in London make everyone sound like they went to Oxford, not Ocala.
“I’ve enjoyed a rewarding relationship with The Football Association for years and my more recent exchanges and time spent with (chief executive) Martin Glenn have served to further strengthen a connection with the FA that made it natural and ultimately possible for both parties to consider this transaction,” Khan said.
“Should we be fortunate to close on the purchase, it’s important to stress that the spirit and essence of Wembley would be unchanged. Wembley is a special place, beloved in London and known throughout the world.
“For the FA, it would mean Wembley Stadium returning to private ownership, permitting the FA to direct its full attention to its mandate to develop talent and serve the game with the vast resources it would realize from the sale.”
But what would it mean for Jacksonville? Would Khan really be content owning one of the world’s largest and most iconic stadiums and not have either of his teams, the Jags or Fulham, play in it? That make sense to you?
Khan has already admitted he will push to bring the Super Bowl there, which led me to another thought. What’s more un-American? Kneeling in protest as the National Anthem is played or taking the Super Bowl, and perhaps an NFL franchise, over the ocean?
Wait until Donald Trump gets wind of this.
Surely some fans in America would be irate. And if the NFL wanted to keep its normal TV schedule for the Super Bowl it would demand an 11:30 p.m. kickoff time in London. Not too sure how happy that would make British fans or, in case the NFL has forgotten them, the guys actually playing the game. But who cares about them?
Certainly it was not lost on Khan that tickets for this year’s Eagles-Jaguars game October 28 at Wembley sold out in a few hours and ones for a Titans-Chargers game a week earlier already have “very limited single tickets available.” So at least for the moment NFL football is big business in the capital of European football. You think Khan is willing to purchase Wembley without being able to bilk local taxpayers for the upfront money, and he doesn’t want to see his team packing the place eight times a year?
According to a reporter named Liz Fox, who writes about the NFL from a UK perspective, tickets on resale sites in London are already priced so high fans could buy a plane ticket and fly to the United States for a game and still have a few pounds left over. She claims this is a result of “greedy individuals and businesses.’’
What does she think the NFL is? Philanthropy?
Imagine Roger Goodell’s salivary glands when considering the possibility of getting SkyTV, England’s premier network, in on the bidding for NFL game rights? How better to get that ball rolling than to put an NFL outpost in London?
If that’s the long-term play, owning your stadium is a wise opening move. Certainly relocation to London would present a variety of logistical and travel issues, but 8.78 million potential new fans can easily put such concerns to rest because, after all, the only people suffering will be the players, coaches and those 800,000 or so folks in Jacksonville. But, hey, the NFL will just say it’s not our fault. It’s the global economy.
If Khan gets Wembley and a Super Bowl in London, how much longer before he moves his franchise there? And then what?
My guess is in a few years when you see NFL referees on the phone to replay officials, they’ll be dialing a call center in Mumbai.