LONDON - After news leaked that Shad Khan had made an offer to buy Wembley Stadium from the English Football Association, the Jaguars owner moved quickly to squelch concerns that his bid means he plans to move Jacksonville's NFL team to London.
For years the Jaguars have been rumored to be a team that could relocate to London at some point. Thursday's news caused a stir with some fans in Jacksonville.
"No I can't understand why that was a bombshell," said Khan while meeting with local media hours before the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. "I have business deals and investments all over the world. So I don't understand. Every time there's a transaction there's more visibility and you guys [media] start connecting dots that shouldn't be connected."
In a statement to fans of London's Fulham soccer club, which Khan also owns, the Jaguars owner emphasized that the offer to buy Wembley is an effort to protect his team's interests in London, not relocate the team.
"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 wrote. "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."
Khan also released a statement through the Jaguars, emphasizing that his offer to buy Wembley "changes nothing" for his plans to revitalize Jacksonville's downtown with an entertainment district.
"If anything, today’s news is the embodiment of the ethos we adopted several years ago of being proud, bold and committed," Khan wrote.
On Thursday night Khan also explained the thinking behind making the Jaguars even more popular in London.
"We're the smallest franchise if the NFL, we have very unique demographics and we have more non-Jaguars fans than Jaguars fans in Jacksonville, that's a fact of life," said Khan on Thursday night. "So instead of complaining about it we want to be proactive and do something about it. We want to be a cutting edge franchise that can win a lot of games."
The Jaguars have played one home game a year in Wembley Stadium for six years now and many fans thought Khan's effort to buy the stadium might be the first step in permanently moving the Jaguars there.
"We view our London game as supplemental to what we do here in Jacksonville," Jaguars President Mark Lamping said. "Jacksonville drives the Jaguars, not London. London is a strategic part of our plan."
Lamping said it's not surprising that fans would hear the news of the London stadium purchase bid and feel apprehensive.
"I absolutely can understand it because fans in this market were subjected to a number of years where there were constant threats of the team relocating," Lamping said. "What I would remind people -- all of that predated Shad Khan's purchase of the franchise."
Lamping said fans can rest easy because the Jaguars have invested too much in Jacksonville to pick up and move. And they plan to invest more.
He pointed to last week’s announcement of plans for a nearly $2.5 billion investment in downtown with a proposed entertainment development in Lot J, adding that Khan's effort to purchase Wembley does not change those plans at all.
"Our behavior 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. "We would ask that fans continue to judge us on our actions, not based on what their worst fears might be."
Lamping said Khan has been discussing the possibility of purchasing the stadium for more than a year, and the purchase bid is in the neighborhood of 600 million British pounds -- or about $835 million.
"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, so from that perspective, it's a really good day for us," Lamping said.
He said the next step is due diligence in both the finances and the physical condition of the stadium.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted his support of the move, saying it would increase the profitability of the Jaguars' London game overnight.
1. Shad @Jaguars previously shared their interest in Wembley with me. No surprise here. It is consistent with the business model they have shared with fans which is financial stability. Among other things, This will increase the profitability of the London game over night. — Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) April 26, 2018
Curry said the move will be good for the team, Jaguars fans, the city and downtown.
"The international branding of Jacksonville is real," Curry wrote. "The financial future of our team is getting stronger."
The FA said its board was informed of Khan's offer at a meeting Thursday.
Wembley first opened as English soccer's national stadium in 1923 and reopened after being rebuilt in 2007.
A buyout of Wembley by Khan would likely mean more NFL games being played at Wembley.
In a statement on the potential purchase of Wembley, the NFL says "we are very happy for Shad Khan and the Jacksonville Jaguars."
Khan has owned Fulham since 2013, the same year the Jaguars started playing annual regular-season NFL games in London.
This potential move also makes the Jaguars even more popular outside of Jacksonville.
"Six years ago we were 31 out of 32 teams overseas. Today depending on the poll we're anywhere between two and five. That means we have an identity and people want to watch our games. They want to wear our colors and build our brand. We're now doing something that we couldn't do before. It was impossible."
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