The biggest news over the weekend was 41 year old Jens Lehmann’s return and the commanding difference he made in goal. It was supposed to be a quiet segue into a week of preparation before the all important Liverpool match.
But today, Stan Kroenke or “Silent Stan” made waves completing a virtual takeover of Arsenal excepting for Alisher Usmanov’s 27% share. Unlike other takeover’s this was done from the inside with Kroenke steadily adding to his share since 2007 leaving him a hair trigger away from the 30% needed for an automatic bid. The more relevant question is how has he secured this financing and more worryingly, will he do a “Glazer” and use the clubs assets to finance debt? Nothing prevents him from using the club’s multi-billion pound dividends or its cash reserve to pay down debt.
He did not offer an answer to his source of funds other than an assurance: “The offer will not be funded by way of any debt finance …. for which the payment of interest on, repayment of or security for any liability [contingent or otherwise] will depend on the business of Arsenal.”
The takeover took place with an implication of trust in Kroenke’s integrity. Nina Bracewell-Smith and Danny Fiszman, two of Arsenal’s oldest hands agreed to sell off their shares. It is hard to imagine them being a party to this agreement without the reassurance the US billionaire was using his own assets to secure the £731m needed for full control. In addition, he’s been a board member since 2009 unlike Usmanov.
Kroenke is Walmart’s scion (he’s married to James Walton’s daughter). His personal fortune is assessed at $2.6b (130 on the Forbes 400 rich list) with wife, Ann coming at 99th with a $3.4b with estimate.
Over the years, he’s transformed his initial real estate and retail success to building a thriving sports empire. He became a full owner of the NFL’s St Louis Rams (valuation $929b) , the 2000 Super Bowl champions after transferring his ownership of the Denver Nuggets, a regular NBA playoff contender and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, two time Stanley Cup champions to his son. Last year, his soccer team, the Colorado Rapids won their first MLS title. He also owns an Arena football team and a lacrosse team.
His sports company Kroenke Sports Enterprise (KSE) also owns Pepsi Center, home of the Nuggets and Avalanche) and is a co-owner of Dick Sporting Goods Park, the Rapids soccer specific stadium. In recent years, he has branched out into sports merchandising and TV media.
This is a businessman with considerable assets diversified over a myriad of successful professional teams. He also has considerable clout in the real estate and retail sector by his personal association with the Walmart family. There is a history of long term investing, prudent decision making, and a passion for improving his teams. An unobtrusive persona maybe his biggest virtue as there is rarely a mention of his interfering with the players, administrators, and coaching staff.
Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal’s CEO was also quick to point out that Kroenke who he knew in his MLS days would not interfere in Arsenal’s daily business.
” So I don’t think we will see dramatic changes. At the same, I do think that Mr Kroenke brings experience in the sports arena. He’s got tremendous experience in the United States and also experience now over here in England.”
The gut feeling is that Kroenke will not use Arsenal to load his personal debt like the Glazers and Tom Hicks, both took over Man Utd and Liverpool in highly leveraged buyouts without ever gaining the fans trust. And he has reposed faith in Arsene Wenger. So far the Arsenal Supporter’s Trust has not commented on these significant developments but one suspects it will not be an unfavourable assessment of the situation when they finally do. It appears a good marriage between self made man with an eye for detail and a penchant for maximizing opportunities with a conservative spending club with a self sustaining business model in prime condition to negotiate FIFA’s financial fair play rules.
Kroenke in his own words:
“All of my mentors told me to find something I loved to do and try to be the best at it. Personal recognition isn’t something I have thought much about – I think if you work hard and are honest, then good things will happen.”
The only thing one has a quibble with is the timing. With Arsenal’s title hopes delicately poised and dependent on their remaining performances, this could prove an ill afforded distraction as momentous as this one. On a related note, there is every indication Arsenal may start touring the USA in their pre-season and tap into an audience hungry for a taste of soccer different from say that of Man Utd and Chelsea.