NFL Football

Jaguars, Fulham owner Khan drops divisive Wembley bid

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

By ROB HARRIS

AP Global Soccer Writer

LONDON (AP) Wembley Stadium is staying in the hands of English soccer.

American sports magnate Shad Khan abandoned a 600 million pound ($790 million) bid for the English Football Association's main asset on Wednesday after recognizing the extent of opposition to the sale.

Khan, who owns the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars and Premier League soccer club Fulham, had seen buying Wembley as a way of raising the prospects of an American football franchise moving to London.

After the takeover fell through a week before a key FA vote, Khan reiterated the Jaguars' commitment to continue playing an annual regular-season game in London, but only as a "home away from home."

The FA was under no financial pressure to sell the 11-year-old stadium but seized on Khan's interest as a chance to fund soccer facilities in communities across England while retaining the use of Wembley for national team matches and domestic cup finals.

Even with English soccer on a high after the men's national team reached its first World Cup semifinal in 28 years in July, the FA leadership failed to build support for selling a stadium with one of the world's most recognizable sporting brands.

The FA disclosed last week that there was more opposition than support after surveying 22,500 people, including club and league officials, referees, adult and youth players, coaches, volunteers and members of the public.

"The intent of my efforts was, and is, to do right by everyone in a manner that strengthens the English game and brings people together, not divides them," Khan said. "Unfortunately, given where we are today, I've concluded that the outcome of a vote next week would be far from sufficient in expressing the broad support favored by the FA chairman to sell Wembley Stadium."

The FA hoped for a speedy sale after going public with Khan's offer in April and only provided significant details of the agreement terms when it became clearer that resistance to a deal was growing on its 127-member council.

One of the most vocal critics was Gary Neville, who played for England and Manchester United before working as assistant coach on the national team for four years. Neville told a British parliamentary hearing into the sale in July it was "ridiculous" that Wembley had to be sold to pay for grassroots infrastructure when England hosts the world's richest soccer competition. The Premier League generates more than 2 billion pounds every season from broadcasters and agents received 211 million pounds last year from the 20 teams for negotiating player transfers and contracts.

"At a recent meeting with Mr. Khan he expressed to us that, without stronger support from within the game, his offer is being seen as more divisive than it was anticipated to be and has decided to withdraw his proposal," FA chief executive Martin Glenn said in a statement. "Wembley Stadium is an iconic venue that is revered around world and it will continue to thrive under the ownership and direction of The FA."

While the FA maintained that "Wembley Stadium will not be sold," Khan has not given up on buying the north London stadium.

"I cannot rule out revisiting the opportunity at another time when perhaps the Football Association family is unified in its views on the opportunity," he said.

Wembley, which opened in its first guise in 1923, has staged NFL games every year since the new stadium under the arch was completed 11 years ago at a cost of 800 million pounds.

Khan's Jaguars are still committed to trips to the British capital, with a deal to play games in London through 2020 at Wembley or the new stadium being built for Premier League club Tottenham, which has a 10-year NFL contract.

"We will continue to emphasize London and the role the U.K. plays in ensuring a promising long-term future for the Jaguars in Downtown Jacksonville," Khan said. "London as the Jaguars' home away from home remains a priority. Downtown Jacksonville with the Jaguars serving as a catalyst in its revitalization remains a priority."

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Updated October 17, 2018

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