The Jacksonville Jaguars will be sold to Shahid Khan, the owner of auto-parts maker Flex-N-Gate Corp. who failed in a bid last year to buy the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams.
The Jaguars, who have a 3-8 record this season and fired coach Jack Del Rio today, are the only team in the four major U.S. professional sports to play in Jacksonville. Khan plans to keep the franchise in the northeast Florida city rather than relocate, owner Wayne Weaver said at a news conference.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” said the 76-year-old Weaver, who called the sale an exit strategy. “I’ll miss it because it’s been a big part of our lives for 18 years. But it’s the right time and it’s for the right reasons.”
The Jaguars have an estimated value of $725 million, the lowest in the NFL, according to Forbes. They rank 26th among the NFL’s 32 teams in attendance this season.
Khan, a native of Pakistan whose company is based in Urbana, Illinois, agreed in February 2010 to buy a controlling interest in the Rams before billionaire Stan Kroenke exercised an option to purchase the 60 percent of the club he didn’t own.
“He said he really wanted to buy a team and do it here in Jacksonville,” Weaver said. “This gentleman is absolutely the American story. He’s passionate about football and he’s going to buy a home here in Jacksonville.”
Weaver, the owner of shoe retailer Shoe Carnival Inc. (SCVL) and chairman of wholesale distributor Liz Claiborne Shoes, bought the Jaguars for $208 million in 1993, two years before they started play as an expansion team. Weaver said he refused to take several calls from interested buyers in California, where the city of Los Angeles remains without an NFL franchise.
“It was wasting my time and their time,” Weaver said without identifying the interested parties. “We had no interest. We’re a Jacksonville franchise and we plan to stay a Jacksonville franchise.”
Khan left Pakistan in 1967 at the age of 16 to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and began working for Flex-N-Gate three years later while still an engineering student. Khan left the company in 1978 to begin a business that designed and manufactured lightweight metal bumper systems, with no seams to corrode or rust.
Today, almost two-thirds of all North American-built pick- up trucks and sports utility vehicles have bumper systems based on Khan’s designs, according to figures released by the Jaguars today. Khan bought Flex-N-Gate in 1980 and the company now has more than 10,000 employees at 48 manufacturing plants with annual sales exceeding $3 billion.
‘Dream Come True’
“Owning a team in the National Football League has long been my personal and professional goal,” said Khan, whose purchase could be formally completed in January. “Becoming the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars would be a dream come true for me and my family but, above all, would be a privilege.”
The team made the playoffs in four of its first five seasons and has been to the postseason twice since. Jacksonville last finished with a winning record in 2007 and has had a series of home games “blacked out,” which means they can’t be televised locally if tickets aren’t sold out 72 hours before kickoff at EverBank Field.
“We’ve got a lot of tickets to sell before these last few games,” Weaver said. “I would hope the community would respond and support us in a positive way. We’re still a small market and growing.”
The Jaguars cut starting quarterback David Garrard in September five days before their first regular-season game, a move that saved the team $9 million.
Del Rio was fired as coach today after going 68-71 since taking over in 2003. Weaver also said that General Manager Gene Smith was given a three-year contract extension.
“We feel good about the changes we’ve made,” Weaver said. “Maybe we can light a spark, but we’re a franchise that’s not far away from being a competitive football team at the highest level. We’re committed to get there.”
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