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SBD Global/August 16, 2013/Franchises

New Fulham FC Owner Shahid Khan Aims To Put Premier League Club On Sustainable Path



Former Fulham FC Owner Mohamed Al-Fayed and new Owner Shahid Khan at Craven Cottage.
When Premier League club Fulham FC kicks off its new season against Sunderland on Saturday, it will mark the beginning of the Shahid Khan ownership era and its ambitious goals of making the club "better" and "sustainable." The Pakistan-born U.S. businessman, who also owns the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars, acquired the London-based club just a little more than a month ago from previous Owner Mohamed Al-Fayed. Khan has become the next in a line of foreign owners in the EPL. However, in comparison to Chelsea's Roman Abramovich or Man City's Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who have been known for making use of their deep pockets, Khan has no intentions of buying himself a competitive team. Khan told SBD Global, "You don’t want to fall to the temptation of outlandish promises. The most important thing is they need to get better, and they need to get better in a sustainable way where it’s not a flash in the pan. In the Premier League with relegation and promotion, they had a lot of teams that were at the top that are now in the second or third tier of English football. Our goal is we want to get better, and we want to get sustainable. Fulham is not surviving upon the generosity of some benefactor. We want to end up putting them on a sustainable path." Part of this sustainable plan is not only investing in the squad, but also increasing revenue through upgrading the club's Craven Cottage stadium. Investments in premium seats and high-end hospitality will result in higher revenue. The generated money in return can then be reinvested in the team. Khan: "We want to [create] a cycle that will take [Fulham] to the next level."

FINANCIAL FAIR PLAY: As an NFL owner, Khan knows the benefits and drawbacks of cost-control measures such as UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules, which will take effect during the '13-14 season and forces clubs to break even. Asked about FFP, Khan said, "I think having some kind of controls are probably good for everybody. It encourages putting the clubs on a sustainable path, so that’s why you want the investment where you have more supporters at the venue." To get more fans attending games, it is important to improve the gameday experience at Craven Cottage. Khan, who made his fortune in auto parts, is known to be a hands-on team owner, however he knows there is a thin line between being engaged and micromanaging. He said, "There’s a definite line there. A key lesson I’ve had in life is how do you scale up, how do you grow. I started one guy in a garage and just on the auto parts side we are having 53 global manufacturing complexes. I think we have about 17,000 employees this year now. The secret is you got to have the best people, you got to empower them, you got to provide them with the right resources and then hold them accountable. The same four-step process applies to just about any enterprise, and Fulham is just like that."

LONDON CALLING: Khan's decision to buy the West London club, which finished 12th in the EPL last season, was anything but planned. Khan: "I didn’t go out saying, ‘Hey I want a Premier League club,’ but we were in London last year, got exposed to the London market. Over the years I’ve been to London many, many times, and I’ve been to football games over there. So I have some of the background and then when the opportunity came up, which was very recently, maybe six weeks or so before closing. Fulham was just perfect for many, many reasons, and I was just lucky to have the opportunity." The purchase of the club will also benefit his NFL franchise. The Jacksonville Jaguars will play four regular season games in London over the next four years. Asked if Fulham will make appearances in the U.S. in return, Khan said, "You can plan on that. We definitely want to have friendlies in the Jacksonville area starting next year." It is not just beneficial on the premise of creating a fan base on both sides of the Atlantic for both teams, but also in regards to sponsorships. Khan: "For me a key element here is getting more corporate partners for both. Jacksonville and Fulham stand on their own, but we have some areas we can cooperate like corporate partners or sponsorships. That is an area where both clubs can benefit and that would be something very unique."
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