With news of American businessman Stan Kroenke increasing his shareholding in Arsenal to more than 62 percent it’s made me wonder how much control one person should have of our beloved football teams. Granted, he’s not quite there yet, there are still a few more shares he needs to buy to gain full control, but he’s pretty much home and dry. Football clubs are the linchpins of neighbourhoods, of town and of cities. They unite and divide the country and each football fan has a sense of ownership of their team. But what happens when one man comes in and changes everything? And what happens if they’re foreign?
Back when Abramovich took over at Chelsea Blues fans were divided. Yes the man was loaded but what did he know about football? How dare a Russian come in, splash the cash, get rid of Chelsea managers and backroom staff and some of its tradition, and generally treat the team as a real-life fantasy football game.
Now most of this changed a short while later when Chelsea started winning things. Suddenly Abramovich was a hero, buying a team was no longer ‘not the done thing’ and so-called Chelsea fans crawled out of the woodwork claiming they’d been to every home game since the day they turned five. Chelsea shirts were seen on the streets in Russia and John Terry was seen in even more bedrooms than ever before (although this time on the wall and not in a blonde’s bed).
But all the success Roman has bought the club, it has come at a price. Sacking managers when he sees fit, and dictating who the manager buys, the man’s obsession in winning the Champions’ League is not doing the club, and its long-term future any good. Even Fergie has picked up on it. And that’s where the problem lies. By making one man the king of the club, when he holds the purse strings, can be like pushing the self destruct button. Especially when he gets bored.
Which leads me to Arsenal. What many supporters and observers would now like to see is a clear vision from Kroenke for Arsenal Football Club. Preferably by getting the cheque book out – like our mate Roman. Kroenke clearly has loads of cash so I don’t blame them – but where Kroenke differs is that he’s looking to buy out the club as a business and not just as a plaything. Yes he’s American, yes he probably calls the game soccer and yes he’s not a lifetime Arsenal fan, but this bloke is a business man. A bloody good business man at that.
First indications are interesting. He hasn’t come out promising the Champions’ League, to buy Messi and to buy Spurs and sell all their best players to Arsenal while putting the rest down. Far from it - for me, the most interesting comment was this one: “Mr Kroenke believes that the self-sustaining model which is currently followed is the most effective way to ensure the longevity of Arsenal, whilst maintaining its unique history and traditions.”
I.e. sorry Arsenal fans, cheque book is staying in my pocket. Given it has taken him this long to raise the £511.8m he needs to purchase the remaining 70% he doesn’t already own, that is hardly a surprise. He’s loaded but he doesn’t print the cash.
The statement went on:
“He [Kroenke] intends to use his experience to help Arsenal continue to grow its global brand and fanbase, and to enjoy further success on the pitch.
“It [the takeover] will provide Arsenal with continued stability from an individual who not only understands and greatly respects the history and traditions of Arsenal, but who also has a proven record of successful long-term investment in sport.”
What is clever about this statement, and essential for the long-term future of Arsenal, is to build this fan base and brand. In the UK this is limited, but abroad the world is literally their oyster. Where United and Liverpool have done well in the past is market themselves in places like the Far East to build up a large following, and reap the rewards of what comes with it; sponsorship deals, TV revenues, shirt sales, club trips and pre-season tournaments. But with the Far-East relatively saturated where should they concentrate their attention? Step in Yankee Kroenke. We’ve already seen Arsenal, and recently North-London rivals Spurs, try and move into the lucrative North American market by holding tournaments over there, but this is really where Kroenke gives Arsenal the edge and the American passport.
Through Altitude Sports & Entertainment, the US TV network he owns, Kroenke shows nearly every regular-season game for his teams, the Denver Nuggets, the Colorado Avalanche and the Colorado Rapids. Now he can add Arsenal to the mix. The statement says it has 3.3m subscribers in its 10-state territory. Imagine that. 3.3m subscribers who most likely don’t support a ‘soccer’ team will now have access to at least the highlights of every Arsenal game. And info on where to buy an Arsenal shirt. And a mug. And a poster. And where the next pre-season tournament in the US will be held. Quite the proposition.
Time will tell how the American Arsenal story unfolds, and whether this man can singlehandedly turn this club around and back to winning the trophies that have been eluding them for so long. I personally think this is a good mix. He’s a businessman and the Arsenal board seem pretty switched on. Things won’t change overnight, but maybe, just maybe, he will prove that one man can own a club, win things and actually make a profit.