September 30, 2014

Jacksonville Business Portrait

First down: High hopes for Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan

The business community in Jacksonville hopes Kahn can deliver more than just a better football team.

Lilly Rockwell | 5/29/2012

Honeymoon phase

Jacksonville Jaguars
Khan met his wife, Ann, at a college bar. They have been married for 31 years and have two children. [Photo: Getty Images/Scott Cunningham]

Amid a media barrage, Khan got a warm reception from Jaguars fans and civic leaders. At a game after the sale was announced, fans wore paper versions of Khan’s signature handlebar mustache.

The honeymoon has largely continued since then, the only grumbles coming after some fans felt Khan didn’t move aggressively enough to acquire former Denver Bronco quarterback and former Jacksonville resident Tim Tebow, who — at Tebow’s preference — was traded to the New York Jets. A University of North Florida poll in early April found that registered voters in Duval County gave Khan a 78% positive approval rating.

Plenty of challenges remain.

The Jaguars will continue to face the challenges of teams in cities with smaller economic and corporate infrastructures.

Along with hiring Mularkey, Khan has hired a new president, Mark Lamping, formerly CEO of MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and launched a program to sell discounted tickets for kids. “We are a young team, 18 years old. We don’t have the multigenerational effect,” Khan says. “We are doing everything to connect the next generations.”

On the field, the Jaguars are sticking with last year’s draft pick, former University of Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who struggled in his rookie NFL season. With Khan’s endorsement, the Jaguars are also taking an unorthodox approach to recruiting players, specifically looking for happily married players under the theory it would make them better performers. Newly signed running back Laurent Robinson and backup quarterback Chad Henne both signed multimillion-dollar contracts after bringing their wives to the interview. The team also earned generally favorable reviews for its draft picks, trading up two spots in its first selection to nab sought-after Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon.

Lamping tries to temper some of the enthusiasm about the new owner’s influence over the team. “You can’t expect overnight to have your brand increase its profile, no matter what type of business you’re in,” Lamping says. “This is a long-term process,” he says.

So far, Khan continues to hit all the right notes. At the JaxUSA luncheon speech, Khan follows his “where-is-Jacksonville?” story by saying he’s is “in training to become Jacksonville’s No. 1 salesperson.” He assures the crowd he wants to “win on and off the field,” that the success of the team and Jacksonville are intertwined. “Jacksonville has to be thriving or the Jaguars are not thriving,” Khan says.

The luncheon crowd treated him like a rock star — a woman even appears to hand him a bouquet of red roses. “There was a little fear at first just because no one knew Shad,” says Jerry Mallot, president of the JaxUSA economic development agency that hosted the luncheon — all anyone knew was that a guy from Pakistan with a big handlebar moustache was buying the Jaguars. For Mallot, Khan’s speech is a signal he’s accepting the role the city’s leaders have in mind. “Our hopes and expectations have been realized,” says Mallot.

Khan says those expectations need to come with some patience. Will he bring Flex-N-Gate jobs to Jacksonville? The company, which had to lay off some workers during the peak of the recession, is now “quite stable,” he says, but any decision to move jobs “will have to make business sense. What drives these decisions is to be able to make a profit.”

Khan says he understands the impulse to see him as a champion for the city, but he doesn’t want to overpromise and underdeliver. “Certainly the Jaguars or myself are not the one-man solution to every issue,” he says. “But we want to do our part and help.”

Tags: Northeast

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