Shahid Khan, owner of both Fulham FC and the Jacksonville Jaguars has made an audacious bid worth a reported 1 billion pounds for the iconic London Stadium seen as the home of British Football.
The car parts tycoon is understood to have struck an outline agreement with FA boss Martin Glenn to transfer Wembley to foreign ownership for the first time.
This move has sent shock waves throughout both sporting communities and comes on the day of the NFL Draft. The proposal has been put before the full board of the FA today. The sale will not threaten Wembley’s status as the England team’s home for all major fixtures. FA bosses plan to invest £500m from the sale into grassroots projects around the country, allowing them to pay for hundreds of new 3G and 4G pitches.
It has been reported by London’s Standard that Mr Glenn, and other senior FA figures at the organisation see the offer from Mr Khan as a “once in a generation” opportunity.
It is believed that the idea for the purchase was first mooted when Mr Glenn and Mr Khan met at the 2017 Superbowl in Houston last February.
Reaction from the NFL
In a statement today, Mark Waller, NFL Executive Vice-President of Events and International said:
We are very happy for Shad Khan and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The potential purchase of Wembley Stadium is a further powerful sign of their commitment to the UK and their vision to help us grow the sport. Having stadium options in London has always been critical to the NFL and, in tandem with our 10-year partnership with Tottenham Hotspur, this new relationship would allow for even greater flexibility in scheduling future NFL games in London.
Meanwhile at Craven Cottage
Mr Khan has issued a statement on the Fulham FC website:
“It was revealed today that I have made an offer to purchase Wembley Stadium from The Football Association. To everyone in the Fulham Family, I wanted you to be among the first to hear the news, directly from me, and share a bit of background.
As you likely know, in addition to the privilege of serving as Chairman of Fulham Football Club, I am also owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the National Football League in the U.S. The Jaguars have played regular season home games at Wembley Stadium in each of the past five NFL seasons and will continue to do so at least through the 2020 season. 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. ”
“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.”
“As important, Wembley Stadium would return to private ownership and The Football Association would be able to focus on its core mission of developing players with the best player developers and facilities anywhere in the game, thanks in part to the vast financial benefit that would result from the transaction. I trust many if not most of you are also supporters of the England national teams, so I hope you welcome the potential of this becoming a reality. Always know Wembley would be home to the England national teams, and that we would strive every day of the year to be the best possible steward for a venue that is iconic and beloved here and throughout the world.
No matter what the outcome of our offer may be, I want to emphatically state to you that none of this will have any effect on my commitment to your Club.
To be clear, this venture is 100 per cent independent of my investment in and operation of Fulham Football Club, Motspur Park and Craven Cottage. No less attention will be paid to developing players and fielding a squad that will win with frequency and always make you proud. It will have no impact on Craven Cottage as the home of FFC. And this is imperative to know, and I encourage you to spread the word – absolutely nothing changes in our plans to redevelop the Riverside Stand.
I hope you will support my effort in this endeavour, and I know you’re with me in wishing our First Team the very best tomorrow night against Sunderland as we take aim at promotion in the final two weekends of the season. I have submitted programme notes for tomorrow’s match that reflect upon our magical campaign and the opportunity ahead, and I’ll have them posted online here at fulhamfc.com in advance of kick-off.
In case you don’t get a chance to read the notes, let me take this opportunity to thank you for all you’ve done to make this a record-breaking season at Fulham Football Club. Come On You Whites!”
Reaction in Parliament
The All-Party Parliamentary American Football Group in the Houses of Parliament reacted to the news positively. Chairman and Member of Parliament for Wellingborough Peter Bone, said:
“I was very pleased to hear the news about Shahid Khan’s bid for Wembley Stadium, as well as his rationale for doing so. If the bid goes ahead, it will free the Football Association of debt associated with the iconic stadium, and return the FA’s focus to playing and developing Association Football. At the same time, it highlights the value of London and the UK to the National Football League and American Football more broadly. For both codes of football, it appears to be a win-win.”
Reaction in Jacksonville
The city is naturally worried, however, Jaguars President Mark Lamping (seen here behind owner Khan) reassured fans that the franchise was committed to the city.
“For the Jaguars, it would deliver another – and very significant – asset and local revenue source that would further strengthen our investment in London, which as everyone knows is crucial to the Jaguars’ continued sustainability in Jacksonville,” Khan said in a statement.
Lamping called Thursday “a really good day for us.”
“This is significant because it does great things as an extension of what Shad is already doing in London, and it does great things to solidify the Jaguars position here in Jacksonville,” he said.
Lamping on Thursday also addressed the Jaguars’ long-term future in Jacksonville, emphasizing that the Jaguars and the City of Jacksonville throughout Khan’s six years as owner have invested heavily in what is now TIAA Bank Field.
“I would ask fans to judge us on our actions, not on what possibly their fears might be,” Lamping said. “Shad does business all over the world. When Shad bought the Four Seasons hotel in Toronto, some people were saying, ‘Oh, here it comes … the Jaguars are moving to Toronto.’ Obviously nothing like that occurred. Our behaviour here in Jacksonville has been the exact opposite of what you would expect [from] an owner if he was planning to leave the market.”
Lamping said he understands fans being anxious over Thursday’s news “because fans in this market were subjected to a number of years where there were constant threats of the team relocating.”
“What I would remind people: all of that predated Shad Khan’s purchase of the franchise,” Lamping added.
The Jaguars and Jacksonville since Khan purchased the team in January 2012 have executed numerous upgrades to TIAA Bank Field and the surrounding areas, including in-stadium videoboards; renovating the US Assure Clubs, north end zone deck, the team’s locker room and training facility; and building Daily’s Place Amphitheatre and the Flex Field adjacent to the South End Zone.
The team and city last week during the team’s annual State of the Franchise event announced a partnership with international developer Cordish Companies to further develop the areas adjacent to the South end zone and Daily’s Place.
“We’ve made millions and millions of dollars of investments in city-owned facilities, and we just announced a project which could represent as much as $2.5 billion in investment in downtown Jacksonville,” Lamping said. “Those plans remain unchanged and, in fact, are probably strengthened as a result of this, and we would ask that fans continue to judge us on our actions and not on what their worst fears might be.”
Lamping on Thursday called the Wembley purchase “very consistent” with the team’s ongoing strategy, adding that it would strengthen the Jaguars financially by:
*Enhancing the profitability of the Jaguars’ annual game at Wembley. The Jaguars have played a home game at Wembley each season since 2013, and the game accounted for 11 percent of the team’s local revenue last year. Khan and Lamping long publicly have said the London game is critical to the team’s financial and competitive stability. Lamping said the Jaguars previously have not had access to Wembley revenue streams such as food and beverage, and suite revenue. The Jaguars also make what Lamping called a “sizable” rent payment to Wembley to serve as the home team. “Shad owning [Wembley] opens up those revenue streams” and “we no longer will be paying rent, so as far as Jaguars games are concerned … a significant increase in profitability,” Lamping said.
*Bringing in revenue from Wembley’s non-NFL events, with Lamping saying approximately 28 of 30 events held at Wembley each year are non-NFL events. “The profitability from the remaining 28 will be profit that we will be able to secure, again creating additional revenue streams to strengthen us in Jacksonville,” Lamping said.
Lamping said the importance of the London game to the Jaguars’ stability in Jacksonville prompted the team to take steps to ensure future games there. He had discussed this importance at last week’s State of the Franchise event, noting that,
“A lot of [NFL] teams see in London what we see in London and we have to protect our position.”
“As we went through scenarios that could create issues for us and our ability to capitalise on that in the future, one of the things we thought about was, ‘What happens if The FA decides to sell the stadium and if it goes into the hands of someone who may have no interest in the NFL or may not have the scheduling flexibility that The FA currently has with the national team?’’’ Lamping said. “We always saw that as a risk, and as we began to understand and have really honest and straightforward conversations with The FA regarding what their needs and desires and issues might be, and they began to understand ours, we reached a common ground pretty quickly.”
Lamping said approval for the purchase could occur within eight weeks, adding that the purchase price for the Jaguars is around 600 million pounds, with the FA to retain revenue from the stadium’s club seats (Club Seats are the middle tier at Wembley, seen at the top of the above picture. These seats are often sold with lucrative hospitality packages). The club seats revenue will account for about another 300 million, Lamping said.
The Future for London Games
So what does this mean for the NFL in London? Well firstly let us get the facts straight. The NFL has committed to hosting games at the new White Hart Lane Stadium for a number of years. Wembley also has a commitment to host NFL games in many future years. Mr Khan owning Wembley doesn’t specifically change the location of NFL games going forward but it would make discussions interesting as fixtures not featuring the Jags would be in potential competition.
What about a franchise in the UK? the biggest hurdle to this is still the NFL’s renegotiation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the players association and not about a home field. The announcement of this proposed deal on the day of the Draft is likely to be a strategic move to bury the news in the US.
Whilst many may see this as another step towards a London Franchise it could well just be the Jaguars blocking off another NFL team from buying the site and making their own move on the territory the Jaguars have successfully secured with their investment to date.
Wembley in Mourning
Wembley Stadium is seen in this picture in Red, White and Blue in memory of those lost in the Paris attacks. It may well see more Red, White and Blue, this time representing Stars and Stripes. UK soccer fans will no doubt be in mourning for Wembley tonight.