JACKSONVILLE (Reuters) - The Jacksonville Jaguars have long been in need of a boost and the struggling National Football League team may have finally found it from an unexpected source, Pakistan-born Shahid Khan.
Khan bought control of the Jaguars late last year for a reported $760 million from Wayne Weaver, who led the organization into the NFL in 1995, and has quickly set about making his presence felt, both at the club and the north Florida community.
Unsurprisingly for a man who started out “with a one way ticket and a few hundred bucks” but is now a multi-millionaire auto-parts businessman and member of the elite 32-man club of NFL owners, Khan isn’t lacking in confidence or ideas.
He was born in Lahore and like many of his countrymen, he grew up with the more genteel sport of cricket, but fell in love with American football after moving to the United States.
“You learn to love the sport,” Khan told Reuters in an interview.
“It’s a three dimensional kind of chess . first you come in as a spectator but I’ll never forget watching Walter Payton at the Chicago Bears and no matter how many times he was hit, the guy kept going.”
Inspired by what he saw on the field and what he had achieved in his own life, Khan decided to get involved.
“You watch those games on a Sunday and then during the week, in your own life, you have some sort of obstacle,” he said.
”I reflected back and thought, you can’t give up. It provides some kind of inspiration.
“But it was only about six years ago when I thought, I have developed a love and affection as a fan for the sport and I’d like to be part of it.”
Becoming one of the NFL’s owners was no easy task. Anyone seeking a way into the league not only needs the financial muscle but also the support of the other owners. Khan passed both tests.
“It is exclusive because you have to be accepted, you have to be able to find the opportunity and you have to be able to afford the opportunity,” he said.
“I went to the league six years ago and said ‘I have an interest, how does one get introduced?’ and they said here are some names of owners if you want to go and talk to them.”
Those talks led him to an eventually unfruitful attempt to take control of the St. Louis Rams but he eventually got his opportunity in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars, who have struggled at times to fill their stadium and have just two divisional championships to their name, are viewed by many as one of the weaker franchises in the league and have frequently been mentioned as candidates for relocation.
There were initial fears the sale to Khan might be the prelude to a move away from the city but the new owner moved quickly to reassure everyone of his commitment to the city.
“We had a rally to meet the (new) coach on a Tuesday night at 5.30pm, almost 7,000 people turned up. They are hardcore and they are nuts,” he said.
“This isn’t South Florida or Tampa, this is North Florida-South Georgia which is football crazy. It’s the only game in town, there are no other sports.”
Khan has been embraced by the local community and become a celebrity in his own right.
“He’s done a good job of being public and visible and I think people have responded well to that,” said Tania Ganguili, Jaguars reporter for the Florida Times Union.
Khan has grand ambitions for his team. He not only wants them to excel on the field, he also wants them to become a global brand, that will promote Jacksonville.
“We have to work the territory,” he said.
”There hasn’t been much success on the field . it is the most important thing, especially given this is a young franchise and we don’t have third and fourth generation fans here.
“I think we can add value by being international. I think it needs a home team that is committed there for a few years, who can go engage the fans and the community. It’s also a great way to sell the city globally.”
Editing by Julian Linden