Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Jags Owner Blazes New Trail

In Tuesday’s issue of The Hoya, columnist Matt Bell argued that the St. Louis Rams should move to London. If the Rams were to move anywhere, though, it is likely that owner Stan Kroenke would instead choose Los Angeles, as Kroenke has previously tried to buy baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers and appears positioned to move his sports empire to L.A.

However, another NFL owner — Shahid Khan — is fighting a tough battle to succeed in Jacksonville and is indeed looking overseas for an innovative solution.

When Shahid Khan came to America from Pakistan at the age of 16, he had no idea the path his life would take. He initially immigrated to study engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and subsequently worked his way onto Forbes’ list of the 400 wealthiest Americans by using his unrivaled work ethic and determination. After achieving success in business, he turned to a new venture: owning an NFL franchise.

In 2010, Khan attempted to purchase the St. Louis Rams — of all teams — but he was denied whenKroenke refused the move. Last year, he secured the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that never really caught on in its market and was struggling to find an identity after replacing its owner, head coach and quarterback before the 2012 season.

To say that Khan bought his way into a gigantic mess is an understatement. On the day the deal to bring professional football to Jacksonville was announced in 1993, The New York Times headline read “N.F.L. Expansion Surprise.”

The Jaguars have consistently struggled in their small market, with the management forced to cover up 10,000 seats in the stadium with a tarp in 2005 in order to make attendance appear more favorable. Recently, the team signed on to play a regular season game in each of the next four seasons in London, a city with almost eight times the population of Jacksonville.

Through eight games this year, the Jaguars sit at 1-7 and are unsurprisingly toward the bottom of the league in attendance figures. After failed bids for Tim Tebow and Peyton Manning last summer, the Jags were forced to once again start Blaine Gabbert, an utterly forgettable quarterback who is untouched in over 95 percent of ESPN’s fantasy football leagues. Even their star player — running back Maurice Jones-Drew — is starting to see his performance diminish in his seventh season.

Against this backdrop, Khan is looking at creative ways to derive success with his franchise. The young owner has realized the NFL made a mistake in awarding Jacksonville a team in the ’90s when attractive markets like Portland and Los Angeles reamin without a team.

However, Khan knew this when he purchased the team and saw an opportunity amidst the struggles. A shrewd businessman, he undoubtedly recognizes that he either must improve within his current market or move to another.

In the team’s nearly 20-year history, they have failed to find success in northeastern Florida. Another way to increase the Jags success — purchasing highly priced free agents to attract fans — would likely be a financial mistake, as large contracts often fail to pan out. Rather than working within the market to draw in more fans or to splurge on high-priced free agents, Khan is thinking outside the box to create a lasting presence in London with his team’s four-game contract.

Even if the Jaguars eventually stay in Florida, contracting to play overseas for four consecutive seasons has at least opened a new market. Rather than fans saying, “The NFL is back this week,” they may be saying, “The Jags are back,” and they are hopefully even cheering for the team when it plays in Jacksonville as well. For a team that ranks poorly in website visits, adding fans from another country is a great idea.

Khan’s first job when he came to the United States was washing dishes for $1.20 an hour. Now, he sees a great opportunity to spread his fan base across two continents with the Jaguars where many saw only a failed NFL franchise. The transformation from making that tiny wage to operating a professional football team on two continents is certainly a story you’d think only Hollywood could make up.

Considering the logistical nightmares of flying teams not located in New York across the Atlantic, moving an NFL franchise to London would be nearly impossible. If Khan plays his cards right, however, he could still expand his fan base overseas.

The Jags are currently a failure in Jacksonville, but the next few seasons could turn them into a rare success story in sports ownership.

Corey Blaine is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. THE BLEACHER SEATS appears every Friday.

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