Detailing the who and why of Kroenke

BY Jamie Trecker • April 11, 2011

American Stan Kroenke's blockbuster move to acquire full control of Arsenal has raised many questions about the future of the venerable club, the changing nature of global club football, and the possible effects on the American game. We answer them:

Who is Stan Kroenke?

Kroenke is a multi-billionaire property developer with ties by marriage to the Wal-Mart family. He is known to be a skilled negotiator and made the bulk of his family's fortune in the development of shopping malls. The Kroenke's are worth a combined $6 billion, according to Forbes' latest valuation; however, many of his assets appear to be illiquid as they are locked into real estate holdings. (Because Kroneke Sports Enterprises is organized in Delaware, his finances are particularly opaque.)

Kroenke owns an impressive sports portfolio as well, with ownership of the NHL's Colorado Avalanche, the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NFL's St. Louis Rams and MLS' Colorado Rapids. He has held a stake in Arsenal since 2007 and a majority stake since 2010. He also owns a regional sports broadcast network.

Why now?

The health of director Danny Fiszman forced the issue. Fiszman, beloved by Arsenal fans, is said to be seriously ill from cancer, and his heirs are unwilling to take over his role at the club. Nina Bracewell-Smith's shares had previously been on offer.

Will Kroenke open the purse strings at a club known for conservative spending?

Arsenal's board has long been criticized as hidebound and unwilling to make bold moves. That might change as soon as June. Kroenke has shown a willingness to pull the trigger on big deals:


    In other words, Kroenke - despite his reticence to speak to the media - has shown himself to be a savvy businessman and sports owner. He is widely respected by his peers.

    What do American owners mean for Premier League teams?

    No more or less than any other foreign owner. Eleven of the 20 EPL teams are now in international hands. (West Ham is controlled by Englishmen David Sullivan and David Gold, but an Icelandic bank, CB Holdings, is actually the largest individual shareholder.) And, as a point of fact, Arsenal prior to today's announcement, was majority-owned by an American and a Russian.

    But there's a great deal of hand-wringing in England about the fact that all of the so-called 'Big Four” clubs are now in foreign hands, and it's easy to see why. English pride has been smarting ever since the Glazer family bought Manchester United in a heavily leveraged buyout. There is nostalgia for the time when club owners were magnanimous locals, "custodians" of these "people's clubs." This is of course, fiction - team owners were just as bare-knuckled in the 1970s - but it's a powerful myth. Americans should not underestimate the psychic damage England is still experiencing post-Empire, and the fact that the former colonists are buying up English icons hurts.

    The truth is, the game has changed. The clubs' decisions to public list on stock exchanges made takeovers possible. The tremendous global successes of the league have put the clubs on the radar of every wannabe mogul. And the fact is, the fans now demand the best in entertainment from the Premier League. Players cost a lot of money, and the only folks who can afford those salaries are billionaires.

    It's worth noting that some fan groups have embraced their foreign owners - Manchester City and Chelsea come to mind - seeing them as able to pay the freight. It's also worth noting that the Glazer's leveraged buyout of United, and spectacular fiasco that was Tom Hicks and George Gillett's ownership of Liverpool has indeed damaged American credibility. Kroenke says his takeover will be debt-free. Fans are hopeful that's correct.

    What might American owners push for?

    Long-term, American owners - especially those from NFL backgrounds - are likely to seek fundamental changes in how the game is played and staged. Ideally, they would lessen the influence of both FIFA and the FA in favor of a cartel-run group a la the NFL.

    Relegation and promotion is the first thing any sensible owner would try to get rid of, as it helps lesser teams at no benefit to the big guns while denying cost certainty. An expanded Champions League - or an NFL-style fixed 'Superleague” - has to be on the agenda. And don't be surprised to see the current transfer system attacked and dismantled in favor of an MLS or NFL style draft. Staging Premier League games in America? It's coming, no matter how loud the fans in England howl.

    In 10 years, it would not be a shock to see today's Premier League as a thing of the past, and the biggest clubs in Europe competing head to head, week-in, week-out. Would that be good for soccer? Not for small clubs, no. But for global sport, it certainly would be spectacle.

    What does this mean for American soccer?

    It is but the latest sign that the American game has missed the boat. Kroenke already owns an MLS team and could have, if he wished, plunked down millions to stock the Rapids with talent. He didn't, and it's easy to see why. By every measure, the Premier League is becoming the brand of soccer in America.

    MLS is approaching a major reckoning. If it cannot convince fans that it is able to deliver a high quality product and punch with the big boys, it is doomed to minor-league status. In the USA, that's the kiss of death.

    Don't expect more Americans to be signed to Arsenal's youth team. Do expect the Prem to continue to cannibalize the U.S. market.
     

    Jamie Trecker is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the UEFA Champions League and the Barclay's Premier League.


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