Jaguars owner Shahid Khan: ‘Let the NFL work for Jacksonville’
Illinois businessman Shahid Khan bought the Jacksonville Jaguars from Wayne Weaver and his partners in a sale that closed Jan. 4. He paid an estimated $760 million for the National Football League franchise, which was awarded in 1993. Khan owns the Flex-N-Gate auto-parts company.
Khan met with the Daily Record editorial staff Monday afternoon after a morning interview live on WOKV AM/FM, a news partner of the Daily Record. Here is part of the transcript of the Daily Record interview.
Do you plan to keep the Jaguars in Jacksonville?
I’ve been very forthright from day one that I am going to do whatever it takes obviously to make the Jaguars successful in Jacksonville. It’s as simple as that.
What factors will make the Jaguars more successful?
Obviously, reconnecting with the fan base. You’ve got to remember not too long ago the Jaguars were certainly a benchmark in the NFL, so we have to recapture some of that magic and glory from those days. There are very passionate fans here. The rally we had, we had 7,000 people here on a Tuesday night at 5:30, which was amazing.
So, connecting with the fans and expanding the fan base. It could be geographical. I think we have to move out, so we get more people, a bigger area. International is a great opportunity. Having the City of Jacksonville use the marketing power of the NFL. Let the NFL work for Jacksonville overseas. I marvel at what a hidden jewel Jacksonville is — the beautiful weather, the water, the great infrastructure, wonderful people, (you wonder) why it’s not thriving more.
I think exposure internationally where people are making decisions about locating plants and just getting it on their option list I think is very, very important for Jacksonville.
The first exposure I had to the leadership of Jacksonville here after the approval, I told them that is going to be something we are going to strive for. All of the city leaders need to be on the company plane going wherever the plane is going to really share the magic of Jacksonville and try to convert that into opportunity.
You’ve said Europe would be a destination for a game. What makes Europe an attractive destination?
Europe is such a logical jumping-off point for international fans. A good example is the Premier League. They have a significant fan base, especially the top-tier teams outside Europe, which would be the Middle East, the sub-continent of India, Hong Kong, China. The league is fairly progressive in this thought, and we have to keep in mind NFL Europe was not successful, but I think that’s a great place to start. Barcelona is a good one. Germany is another good one. There might be one in Ireland next year.
Wayne Weaver talked about a game in Orlando. Would that be something you’d look at?
Geographically, you want to look at it, but the game-day experience has to be much better than on your couch watching HDTV. If you were in a stadium outside of Jacksonville, it has to be a great experience. We are working diligently between now and the start of the season on upgrading our experience. Bottom line, if you play outside it has to be a good game-day experience and I don’t believe Orlando has that at this point.
In the past, the team hasn’t aggressively pursued those outside markets. Do you plan to, and if so, how?
I think that’s where we can probably learn a lot from baseball. The caravans, the reaching out to the people and listening to the customer. This morning on the radio program, there were three suggestions: A fight song, different ways of selling tickets and shade. I brought them back and will present them and look for some type of action on those items.
How about marketing nationally?
For us, it’s geographically growing out of Jacksonville. That’s No. 1. I think international is the No. 2 component. There are other things we are going to do. From graphics, uniforms which have a certain amount of edge and coolness on them, where people want it just because of the design. That enhances affection for the brand. After that, you’ve got to win and that’s the bottom line. You can only take some of these aspects so far. Winning is very, very important.
Have you made any more decisions about the front-office management, such as CFO Bill Prescott (who is senior vice president of stadium operations), Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Macky Weaver or Senior Vice President of Communications and Media Dan Edwards? Will they remain?
I have gotten to know them. I think they are doing a great job. I think the structure maybe we might change. We might add some other people in areas where we are a little bit weaker, but it’s a work in progress. It’s been a wonderful surprise for me. They have very good people here.
We’ve gotten to know Flex-N-Gate as a brand. Tell us about the other businesses you are involved in, Bio-Alternative and Smart Structures.
Those are relatively small startups. I think they have a lot of potential and that’s why I got engaged with them. They are in the incubation stage.
Your son, Tony, is involved with both businesses?
He has different roles in both businesses. To be active here with the Jaguars, moving forward, we would reassign those responsibilities.
Will Tony have a role in the Jaguars organization?
Yes. We are sorting through what would make sense, not in a crown prince category. Something in a meritocracy, earning your way up.
Will you pursue a position on one of the NFL owners committees?
I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to really pursue. I’m at the stage in life that I want to contribute to the league and contribute for the Jacksonville Jaguars. I want to help wherever it makes sense. This is about how you can help the NFL grow and, more importantly, how you help the Jaguars grow.
Would you have drafted University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow (who is QB for the Denver Broncos)?
Yes. This is an issue, by strange coincidence, I was involved in with Wayne a couple of years ago.
I have a very clear bottom-line answer. Absolutely I would have.
Two years ago, I was engaged with the St. Louis Rams and they had the No. 1 draft pick. I talked to Wayne during that time and had shared with him, ‘you should be drafting him’ and I gave him my case for that, which was an athlete like Tim Tebow from Jacksonville comes once a generation. He is going to really connect the Jaguars to Jacksonville and they should do it.
Wayne gave me very logical, very clinical answers on reasons why he wouldn’t do it. I went back to the Rams, their player personnel folks, I said, you’ve got to tell me, if you were Jacksonville, would you be drafting Tim Tebow? They said absolutely not. It was like they were reading from the same script Wayne had read from.
I said, there comes a time where emotion trumps rationality and this, if I was an owner, would be one of those moments for me.
It is a very divisive, polarizing kind of an issue, Tim Tebow.
It’s amazing, I was in Denver that game with San Diego when they were way behind and they finally put him in. I was there with the owners. I saw the whole drama and how the stadium changed and the great success he had.
He could have gone down in flames and I could be sitting here telling you I would have drafted him.
I don’t want it to come off as just a callous remark about second guessing. It’s not that at all.
Where will you be on NFL Draft day? New York?
I don’t want to be in the city (New York City). This is very, very important. I’ll be here. You have to have the game plan pretty much planned out. Things never go exactly to plan.
Will you make any calls?
Certainly I have a viewpoint. I don’t want to get on Tebow too much, but that would have been a once-in-a-generation call for me. As a privilege as an owner, once in a lifetime you do that. That’s the exception. As a rule, you’ve got to get the information on the table and most of the time, from what I have seen in business, the right decision emerges. Very rarely, it doesn’t.
Any once-in-a-generation players in this year’s draft?
Not that I know of.
How will the game-day experience be improved?
Filling the stadium is vital because it gives energy to the fans but more important gives the home-field advantage for the players. If you have that, that’s a wonderful game-day experience. You could be sitting on your couch with six friends or in the stadium with 67,000 friends
The sound system can be a lot better, that is something we are going to fix.
The wireless, so 60,000 people can get on it at the same time, texting, sending photographs, social media. That should be a lot better.
It goes from there.
There have been concerns and complaints about the east side of the stadium and the sun coming in from the west.
I have never heard that until today on the radio. The game I was here Sept. 10, we played Denver and I ended up standing next to Tebow for a while and what a big guy he is. He didn’t have a good game.
But it was hot that day. I thought people are maybe acclimated to it. You go to Chicago for a Bears game, people are sitting on six inches of snow and we don’t think much of that.
But it never dawned on me until this morning on the radio show. So I think it’s something we have to look at. If we can improve it, we definitely want to do that.
You’ve mentioned short-term improvements for EverBank Field. What are some long-term improvements?
I think the long term is, how about getting the tarps off those seats? That would be the No. 1 long-term objective I would have.
Has anything surprised you about Jacksonville since you bought the team?
Yeah, the comment about the fans and the season tickets. That totally shocked me. Maybe it didn’t translate to Twitter. I could have said half a dozen things and you could turn them around. How it’s said and the intent is just as important as the literal.
(Khan said after new coach Mike Mularkey’s introductory news conference that “a fan is somebody who’s a season-ticket holder for the Jaguars.” He was responding to a question about Mularkey’s hire and whether it would create a splash with fans.)
Will you be spending a lot of time in Jacksonville?
I have been. Certainly since Jan. 4 I have been in Jacksonville all except for maybe 4-5 days.
Have you decided where to live here?
I have not bought a home and I haven’t decided because the more I see, the more confused I get, which is a wonderful thing.
Would you stay on your yacht, the Kismet?
That is one option.
It’s been reported that you have the boat on the market, listed for about $112 million, to help cover the purchase of the Jaguars?
That check has cleared. (The boat being for sale) is totally unrelated to the Jaguars.
You’ve been busy with the team. Clubs and groups are asking you to speak to their members and at meetings. Do you have time?
I’ve had invitations. As a matter of fact, I am going to fly directly from Japan to Jacksonville Feb. 24 (to speak to the JAXUSA Partnership meeting). I just want to make sure that I have something meaningful. I want to limit the disappointment for people. You’ve got to have something meaningful to say.
People want to hear your plans for the team and the city.
I think I am sharing them with you so everybody is going to know.
What is it like to be the biggest celebrity in Jacksonville?
An NFL team – sizewise, revenuewise, employeewise – is about like one of the 50 plants we have now making auto parts. Nobody cares that you have 50 of those.
It’s the power of the NFL. The NFL is so huge, especially here in Jacksonville.
I think the fans are football crazy, which is a wonderful thing. We have to develop a second generation of fans, a third generation of fans. Ideally, if we can find 10,000 more, then we’re done.
Did you have a chance to watch the Republican debate Thursday at UNF?
No, I was on a plane heading to Jacksonville that night.
Do you have a favorite candidate?
We held a fundraiser for Mitt Romney the next morning here at the stadium that was fairly successful.
Who is winning the Super Bowl on Sunday?
The better team is going to win.