SPORTSTALK

London Calling

Two football teams are better than one for creating 
a global brand

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A few years ago, when Wayne Weaver owned the Jaguars and the only thing that changed from year to year were the names of the players on the police blotter, there wasn't much to say about the Jaguars ownership from the business side.

Recall all of the media hype about blackouts, moving to Los Angeles and other topics that seem more dated with each passing week. Now the Jaguars have an owner with the gumption to put his investment in the center of the global stage. And really, it's about time someone figured it out.

Given the league investment in its franchises in the Northeast Corridor, one cannot give Shad Khan enough credit for realizing that the best way to trump that bias is to establish his small-market Southern franchise as a global entity. To that end, with the purchase of Fulham soccer team in the English Premier League, he's established himself as a sovereign figure in sports, one with the capital, moxie and vision to be among the most important sports team owners of his generation.

Check out Khan's words. They should sound familiar to Jags fans — in tone and spirit, they're reminiscent of what he said when he bought the Jaguars. It's just been a couple of years, but the cleansing power of Khan's frankness and clarity make the former regime seem like a dim memory.

"Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me," Khan said in a statement. "My priority is to ensure the club and Craven Cottage each has a viable and sustainable Premier League future that fans of present and future generations can be proud of. We will manage the club's financial and operational affairs with prudence and care, with youth development and community programs as fundamentally important elements of Fulham's future."

London readers of Folio Weekly — and I assume there are some — can take those words to the bank. They're more solid than the pound sterling. And what's clear, especially in retrospect, is that Khan saw and sees American football as a "mature" market, and in that context, his diversification makes sense.

"[American] Football is about as popular as it can be in the U.S. The upside, the expansion and growth, lies overseas," Khan told Forbes earlier this year. "Eventually, I think all 32 clubs, their goal is to grow the game overseas, and London is the logical place to do it."

He expects his purchases of the Jaguars and Fulham to complement each other, to afford each component a strength and vitality that otherwise it might not have had. Neither team has ever had real, big-time success. Can an owner like Khan change that? He's betting he can, as former Fulham owner Mohamed Al Fayed can attest.

"I am now delighted to be passing this great and historic club into the care and stewardship of an outstanding man who has already achieved much in his life and will, I am sure, take Fulham on to even greater things," Al Fayed said in a statement. "I have passed the club to a talented, honest and highly capable man who respects Fulham and its traditions. He is a great sportsman."

So the question arises now: What's next? Will a franchise be moving?

Just to be clear, I don't believe Fulham will be moving to Jacksonville, though the soccer community is building here to where it could be supported. I do, however, think that we'll be seeing friendlies here sooner than later. Americans understand soccer much better than they did a couple of decades ago, and we're ready for world-class Premier League action.

What will those who fret about the Jags going to London say now?

"The Jaguars committing one of their home games to Wembley for four years points to the Jacksonville club eventually becoming a London NFL franchise," London's Daily Mail speculated.

Doubtful. It's brand extension. It's fans in England buying Luke Joeckel jerseys. It's Jaguars coverage on Sky TV and the BBC.

Jaguars fans need to take stock of how good they have it with current ownership. Some complain that the otherwise parsimonious Mayor Alvin Brown administration is willing to go in with Khan on the scoreboard upgrades. They'd rather see the money spent on schools or libraries. They're not seeing the big picture: An NFL Sunday is an infomercial for our amazing city and its invaluable assets. Khan's investment in London can be framed in that context as a way of taking his commitment to us to the "next level" — a global level. 

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