NFL Jacksonville Jaguars Owner Shahid Khan "could be the new owner of Wembley Stadium within eight weeks," according to Alyson Rudd of the LONDON TIMES. The billionaire, who also owns League Championship side Fulham, tabled a £600M ($835M) cash offer for the stadium, and said that he reached the "logical conclusion" a month ago that the FA should apply itself to its "core mission" of running the game "while he expands and improves the national stadium." Khan: "It [the idea of buying Wembley] popped into my head a while ago. The Jaguars have played there five times now and won the last three so we’ve been looking for when there will be a time when this would make sense. It’s been a process. We’ve had a relationship and as we’ve seen what our needs are and what their [the FA’s] needs are -- this was a logical conclusion a month or so ago." He said that the key principle is "synergy." Buying the stadium "will give him the flexibility to stage more NFL games in London and expand the fan base." The deal "scuppers the notion that the Jaguars will play at the new White Hart Lane" but the agreement between the NFL and Tottenham to host games "should otherwise remain unaffected." Khan said that it "will be a while" before he makes a profit from his new investment "as he plans major refurbishment." He said, "Wembley's new but it’s not that new. There will be some major investments required, it’s coming up to that time to upgrade a lot of the amenities, the scoreboard. If you look at what we did in Jacksonville, those boards were around $60 million. We redid the club lounges for around $20 million. We have to keep it fresh, to keep it a venue that people will keep coming to" (LONDON TIMES, 4/26).
BIG DECISION: In London, Rudd & Ziegler reported the details of the offer, which FA sources said would help revolutionize the provision of grassroots facilities in England, "were presented to the FA board" at a meeting on Thursday. The deal would mean England playing autumn internationals between September and December at other stadiums, "but at least initially the Wembley match calendar would remain as it is now between January and June." The deal would put Khan "in prime position to secure the first overseas franchise for the NFL in London." An FA spokesperson said, "We can confirm that the FA has received an offer to buy Wembley Stadium." The FA would retain the income from the "lucrative" Club Wembley seats, between £30M ($42M) and £40M ($56M) a year. The organization has about £140M ($195M) of debt to be repaid on the stadium (LONDON TIMES, 4/26). In London, Sam Wallace reported the FA board, under Chair Greg Clarke and CEO Martin Glenn, "is understood to be" broadly in favor of the move and will "try to convince fans, the FA Council, and clubs that this is a chance to invest all the money in grassroots football." The negotiations "are at early stages but it is believed that the FA will be able to stage England games and FA Cup finals under a lease fee payable to Khan." The "value of the Club Wembley business in perpetuity has been estimated, for the purposes of the deal," at around £350M ($487M). It currently makes up around 15% of the FA’s annual revenue of around £370M ($515M) (TELEGRAPH, 4/26).
KHAN SPEAKS OUT: In London, Martha Kelner reported Khan stressed that Wembley would remain "home to the England national teams" and that Fulham would "stay at Craven Cottage" in a message to the club's fans. He said, "The Football Association would be able to focus on its core mission of developing players with the best player developers and facilities anywhere in the game, thanks in part to the vast financial benefit that would result from the transaction. I trust many, if not most of you, are also supporters of the England national teams, so I hope you welcome the potential of this becoming a reality. ... To be clear, this venture is 100% independent of my investment in and operation of Fulham Football Club, Motspur Park and Craven Cottage" (GUARDIAN, 4/26). In London, Camilla Hodgson reported NFL Exec VP/Int'l Mark Waller "welcomed the news," which he said would "help us grow the sport" in the U.K. He said, "Having stadium options in London has always been critical to the NFL and, in tandem with our 10-year partnership with Tottenham Hotspur, this new relationship would allow for even greater flexibility in scheduling future NFL games in London" (FINANCIAL TIMES, 4/26).
WORK IN PROGRESS: In London, James Olley reported Khan’s proposed purchase of Wembley Stadium will ensure an increased NFL presence in London, "but the prospect of him moving his Jacksonville Jaguars franchise to the capital is not a formality." The view within the NFL is that while the fanbase is growing in the U.K., "it is still not at a level which could support a full-time franchise." Khan has "put the Jaguars in pole position should that change and is in the driving seat to facilitate that growth," given the NFL has "long bemoaned the absence of major stadium options on this side of the Atlantic." Existing NFL agreements "also make an immediate switch highly unlikely." The collective bargaining deal with the players’ union expires in '20, with the league’s broadcast commitments running until '21. Sources close to Khan "believe that while the Jaguars have developed the franchise significantly by playing in London, the case is not yet conclusive to relocate for an entire 16-game season," eight of which would potentially take place at Wembley (EVENING STANDARD, 4/26). In London, Daniel Orne reported former England Manager Roy Hodgson called Khan's bid for Wembley Stadium "a positive for the game," but described "how crucial it would be to keep national games at the stadium in the future." He said that if the bid "is handled in the best possible way, that it could well benefit the game as a whole." Hodgson: "I think that if the FA have made a deal, it will be for the right reasons. And that money would be spent in the right way to help our football in England. ... I enjoyed Wembley like managers before me and I would be disappointed if that was the end of England at Wembley, but I don’t think that will be the case. If a couple of games are taken around the country, I don’t see that as a negative" (INDEPENDENT, 4/26).
PROCEED WITH CAUTION: In London, Tim Sculthorpe reported U.K. PM Theresa May warned the FA to "think of England fans before committing to selling off Wembley Stadium." Downing Street "insisted the process was at an early stage and ultimately a matter for the FA to resolve." But May's official spokesperson "urged caution." The spokesperson said, "This is a decision for the Football Association. But Wembley is the historic home of English football and holds a very special place in the hearts of fans up and down the country. I'm sure the FA will want to strongly consider the views of these supporters before deciding what to do next" (DAILY MAIL, 4/26).