New owner Khan wants Jags to become international
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - The NFL's newest owner has a long-term vision for the small-market Jacksonville Jaguars.
And it includes a broad-based audience.
Shahid Khan wants the team to expand its fan base, even if it means playing overseas.
Khan, born in Pakistan, visited Jacksonville on Friday for the first time since buying the franchise for $760 million. He spoke to coaches, front-office personnel and just about everyone else in the football facility, and got a big kick out of the team mascot donning an oversized mustache in honor of the new owner.
Khan said all the right things: He reaffirmed his commitment to keeping the team in Jacksonville; talked about bringing a championship to the city; and even asked employees for input on how to improve the long-term viability of the franchise.
But the most interesting aspect of his introductory news conference was his desire to create an international fan base.
"The NFL is going to be developing an international fan base. Why shouldn't it be the Jaguars?'' Khan said. "In all honesty, internationally, they don't know the difference between the Jaguars and the Steelers.''
Khan said the reason outgoing owner Wayne Weaver had been reluctant to play in London was because of "moveophobia,'' the fear that fans would take it as a sign the franchise was in jeopardy of relocating. Khan is so confident things will work in Jacksonville that he has no concerns about playing overseas.
"I'm very open,'' he said. "I think it would serve Jacksonville well to play a game or two overseas, to get the name Jacksonville out. If you look at some of the international premier league teams, they have a huge fan following overseas in the Middle East, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, etc.
"I think the NFL, in the long run, will probably be doing something like that. Why shouldn't we be one of the flag carriers?''
Although the Jaguars haven't blacked out a game since 2009, they have struggled to fill EverBank Field the last two seasons, often needing to find creative ways to sell tickets to keep games on local television.
Playing in London or elsewhere would lower season-ticket prices and possibly improve the chances of enticing new fans in a tough economy.
Nonetheless, Khan reiterated what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said two years ago: Jacksonville can't be a viable franchise with 40,000 or 50,000 fans in the stadium.
"They can't support an NFL team with 40, 50,000,'' Khan said. "We're gonna do everything to get them. You gotta fill the stands. A football team doesn't work. It's not just the money. You need the enthusiasm, the fan support, you need the energy. You need the energy for the players.''
It could help that there's a buzz around the franchise for the first time in years. With Khan's deep pockets and general manager Gene Smith searching for a new coach, the Jaguars feel they're poised to end the staleness that set in with longtime coach Jack Del Rio, who was fired last month.
Khan said money is not a factor when it comes to replacing Del Rio.
"Cheapness and the NFL don't go together,'' he said. "This is not a cheap league. Our goal is not to get the expensive wrong coach or try to find a cheap good coach. We want the right guy that's going to win for us. Frankly, some guy that I like and trust and you pay them whatever it takes.
"That doesn't mean you overpay or underpay them. You have to pay them a fare wage. But we're not looking for a bargain person. We're looking for the right person and paying them whatever's appropriate.''
Interim coach Mel Tucker remains a candidate, though the Jaguars (4-10) have been blown out twice in three games, Khan said. He added that he doesn't want an "egomaniac'' coaching the team and indicated he might not hire a team president.
"This is a huge commitment for me time-wise, emotionally, money, whatever,'' Khan said. "I'm going to do whatever it takes. ... The worst thing for me is to have too many layers; you don't get the true picture. I don't need somebody banging heads for me. I can do that. I want to get it unvarnished, simple as that.
"One thing I'm certain of is we're not going to have a structure of some superpower egomaniac. That doesn't work for me. That's not going to work here. If somebody thought that is a solution for here, they're gonna be disappointed.''