TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Naples resident Shahid "Shad" Khan, armed with a new $1.25 million contract from Florida's tourism agency Visit Florida to sponsor his London-based Fulham Football Club, wants to bring more people to Florida and to grow soccer in the Sunshine State.
"Our goal is to turn Jacksonville into a soccer center," Khan said Thursday while addressing the Governor's Conference on Tourism at the Hilton Orlando.
Just don't expect soccer to become as big as anything the NFL offers, he added.
"Let's be real, nothing matches up to the NFL," said Khan, who also owns the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Khan said he expects one day Fulham will play a match at EverBank Field in Jacksonville. He noted the Jaguars' annual trip to London had built that team's brand outside the U.S.
The United Kingdom, with nearly 1.7 million tourists to Florida last year, is the largest overseas source of travelers to the Sunshine State.
As for the prospects of the Jaguars, who open the 2016 season at home on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, Khan is hoping for similar earlier success as his Fulham club, which is in second place in the English Football League Championship division.
"If you believe the national media, this is the time I want to believe them, they say we're going to have a great year. Who am I to argue?" Khan said.
Actually, many sports prognosticators are putting the team's potential record for 2016 around .500, which would still be an uptick. Since Khan purchased the club in 2012, the Jags haven't won more than five games in a season, 5-11 last year.