SBD/July 15, 2013/Franchises

Shahid Khan Says He "Won't Be Involved Day To Day" After Fulham FC Purchase

Khan (r) plans on expanding Fulham's stadium capacity from 26,000 to 30,000
Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan on Friday bought EPL club Fulham FC, ending former Owner Mohamed Al Fayed's 16-year stint "bankrolling the Cottagers," according to Ben Rumsby of the London TELEGRAPH. The sale was "said to have netted Fayed in the region" of $226-301M (all figures U.S.). Khan said, "Fulham is the perfect club at the perfect time for me" (London TELEGRAPH, 7/13). Khan said of Fulham, "It’s a very special place. ... It’s the passing of the baton, taking it to the next level." He added, "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 said of proposed changes to the club's Craven Cottage stadium, "There has been a plan to do the riverside development. Our goal would be to redevelop it" (LONDON TIMES, 7/14). In London, Martin Thorpe wrote Al Fayed has "won such a place in the hearts of the fans during his long reign that they trust him implicitly to choose the right successor to build sympathetically on his legacy." Khan "will have done his homework" on this purchase. He "said nothing" during his introductory press conference Saturday to "compromise a smooth reception." Khan: "I love football, or soccer." Khan "plans to stop off in Costa Rica this week to speak to Fulham's manager, Martin Jol, on the club's pre-season tour," so as to "learn his 'plan' for the coming season" (London INDEPENDENT, 7/14).

DELEGATING POWER: Khan said that he does "not intend to micro-manage the Premier League club but pledged his full financial support to bring success on the pitch." He said that he "envisaged a 'sustainable, successful future' for the club." REUTERS' Mike Collett noted Khan "gave away little about his specific plans." Khan: "I don't intend to be involved day to day." Khan said that he "plans to modernise the stadium and increase its capacity from around 26,000 to 30,000" (REUTERS, 7/13). Khan said that buying the club "preserves Fulham's debt-free status and hopes the association with the Jaguars will help to attract sponsors to the Cottagers." He said, "Certainly Jacksonville coming to London, that helps getting sponsors, but I'd love for Fulham to come to Jacksonville." The AP's Rob Harris noted Jaguars President Mark Lamping "has become director at Fulham" (AP, 7/13). In Jacksonville, Mark Woods wrote of Khan buying Fulham, "Some saw it as the first step in a Jaguar move to London. I don’t. I see this being another step in a transatlantic relationship that can be good for Jacksonville sports, business, tourism, etc." (JACKSONVILLE.com, 7/13).

AMERICAN INVASION: The GUARDIAN's David Conn wrote Khan did not "offer a clear explanation of why he is buying Fulham." The sport is now "selling some of its most 'storied' clubs to billionaires from the US, just about the only country which has never been entranced by the game." These "shrewd and calculating billionaires have rarely convincingly explained what is driving this gradual US takeover of our soccer." This is "becoming a critical group now," with six EPL clubs out of 20 having U.S. owners or investors, and "takeovers never planned, barely explained." The "long-term implications of overseas, predominantly US, mostly financially acquisitive ownership have not been considered; the clubs have just been sold, one by one." Conn: "No other European country is selling its football clubs like this" (GUARDIAN.co.uk, 7/12). In N.Y., Rob Hughes writes Al Fayed is like EPL club Chelsea Owner Roman Abramovich in that he "turned an acquisition into an obsession." Calling it love "might be pushing things, but this old game does grip those who get involved." Al Fayed was "more outgoing" than many current foreign owners in the EPL, and he "leaves a club in better shape than he found it." Fulham fans "wait to see how Khan picks up the baton of ownership" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/15). In London, Jim White wrote Khan "seemed genuinely fond of the club," and the "affection was reciprocated in the stands." What Al Fayed "proved at Fulham over the years was that the Beatles were wrong: in football you really can buy love" (London TELEGRAPH, 7/14).

DETHRONE THE KING OF POP? The AP's Harris wrote the "trickiest questions" Khan had to face at the introductory press conference "were not about the cash available for new players, or goals for the upcoming season," but rather about the club's Michael Jackson statue outside Craven Cottage. Khan searched for a "diplomatic response" when asked about it. He said, "I’ve been an owner less than a day. We have to preserve and respect history, but we have to move forward. I’ll reflect on it and listen to the fans, then decide." Al Fayed said, "Michael Jackson will stay -- it’s part of the deal." He jokingly added to Khan, "Are you listening to me about Michael Jackson? You promise now? Otherwise ... I will take your moustache off" (AP, 7/13). 
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