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SPORTS

Shahid Khan buys Fulham, cements London connection
Gary Jordan reports on the Jags owner adding Fulham to his sports portfolio
July 19, 2013

Shahid Khan, owner of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars may have Stateside Jags fans suspicious of a still-unlikely permanent relocation to London, but if he was looking for sports investment in England, he scratched that itch this month with his purchase of English Premiership League club Fulham.

There can be no doubting the business pedigree of Shahid Khan. The self-made billionaire, who after moving from his native homeland of Pakistan in 1968, when he was sixteen, graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a BSc in Industrial Engineering. After working for automotive manufacturing company Flex-N-Gate during his studies, he was hired as an engineer there, and in 1980 bought the company outright after a small loan and $16,000 of his own savings. By 2011, Flex-N-Gate had 12,450 employees and 48 manufacturing plants, with $3 billion in revenue.

Mr.Khan's keen interest in sports led him first to attempt a purchase of the St Louis Rams (where Stan Kroenke instead expanded his stock) and then to Jacksonville, where he agreed to take control of the Jaguars, an under-achieving NFL franchise, on January 4, 2012. The 100% stake was valued at an estimated $760m, and came with an original verbal guarantee that he would not move the franchise. Soon though, he and the NFL announced a deal that would see the Jaguars play one 'home' game at London's Wembley Stadium in each of the next four seasons, starting this October when they entertain the San Francisco 49ers at the home of English football.

London and 'Shad' became more closely connected after another billionaire, Egyptian Mohamed Al-Fayed announced that he was selling his ownership stake in Fulham Football Club. Al-Fayed had owned the club in West London since 1997, when he bought it for £6.25m. Under Al-Fayed, Fulham FC become more stable and is now an established Premiership club. During the official handover on July 13, worth to be between an estimated £150-£200m, he said "It has been a pleasure and privilege to be chairman of Fulham football club for 16 memorable years.”

Shahid Khan is personally treading unfamiliar ground. In the media scrum that ensued on the takeover day he admitted, "There's a great leadership here and I have a lot to learn. But I'll give the team all the support it needs to be successful on the pitch.” He is, however not alone when it comes to foreign owners in the English Premiership. In fact when he looks around the board room at Premier League owners meeting he will see some familiar faces from the country that adopted him. No less than five other clubs in the league are owned by Americans.

John W Henry owns Liverpool FC under his Fenway Sports Group, which also controls of the Boston Red Sox. Erstwhile Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Malcolm Glazer and his First Alied Corporation own the most successful club in British football, Manchester United FC. Former Cleveland Browns owner, Randy Lerner is in sole control of Aston Villa FC, and Ellis Short has the final nod in all things going on at Sunderland FC. And Khan gets more regular showdowns with Stan Kroenke and his Sports Enterprises group, who hold the majority share of Arsenal FC.

The list is strong; some of the most famous names in English football, and indeed the world are now owned by stateside businessmen. The global appeal is clearly there - football is, after all, the world's leading pastime. Both Manchester United and Arsenal have just recently been announced in the top ten in a list of richest sporting clubs in the world.

In Shad Khan's case it surely can't be the money that is the appeal of owning Fulham FC. They are an established club in the Premier League but have not won a major trophy since, well, ...ever. "Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me. I want to be clear, I do not view myself so much as the owner of Fulham, but a custodian of the club on behalf of its fans" he said, "We will manage the club's financial and operational affairs with prudence and care, with youth development and community programmes as fundamentally important elements of Fulham's future."

Of course, Khan will be linked with buying Fulham FC at a time when he is bringing his Jaguars team over to play annual games at Wembley. A lot of people are going to be putting two and two together and coming up with an answer other than the obvious. For now though, Shahid Khan is building his own sporting empire which is sustainable and healthy. "These are true distinct clubs that will operate differently and independently - but there is a huge amount of synergy" explained Khan.

The future of English football is, if nothing else, big money, and maybe for the foreseeable future, the big money men from America will continue to be investing.

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