LONDON, United Kingdom, Aug 8 – American businessman and entrepreneur Stan Kroenke is unlikely to be upset by the outpouring of heated opposition from Arsenal fans following his takeover of historic Premier League club.
The hard-nosed multi-billionaire from Columbia, Missouri, who joined the American invasion of English football over a decade ago, has absorbed a steady volume of abuse since he first bought into the club in 2007.
The level of opposition rose significantly this week however as the 71-year-old, who collects sports franchises like trophies, bought out the club by purchasing the 30% holding of long-time rival minority shareholder Alisher Usmanov for £550 million ($712 million).
Adding to his 67% stake, the gambit took Kroenke well over the 90% mark that triggers a mandatory buyout of the remainder of the shares, shutting out die-hard fans.
Usmanov bade farewell to the club with a cryptic message saying Arsenal, without a league title since 2004, “could be the best club in the world,” but presumably not in the hands of the American, who has been the target of his constant sniping.
Eleven years earlier, Kroenke’s arrival at the north London club was greeted by a blunter message from then chairman Peter Hill-Wood.
“Call me old-fashioned but we don’t need Kroenke’s money and we don’t want his sort,” said the Old Etonian dismissively after the entrepreneur brought 11.24% of the club.
“Our objective is to keep Arsenal English, albeit with a lot of foreign players.”
– Pots of cash –
Hill-Wood predicted at the time that American interest was all about profit and not about football.
“We are all being seduced that the Americans will ride into town with pots of cash for new players,” said Hill-Wood, whose father Denis had filled the same role.
“It simply isn’t the case. They only see an opportunity to make money. They know absolutely nothing about our football and we don’t want these types involved.”
Hill-Wood’s suspicions reflected genuine concern among English football lovers about the bottom-line agenda of big American groups.
But the dollars kept pouring in to the Premier League and aside from Arsenal and Manchester United — both listed on the stock exchange — Liverpool and Fulham are also in American hands while at Crystal Palace two Americans owning 36% of the club.
However, supporters insist that Kroenke, JJ Henry of Liverpool, and Fulham’s Shahid Khan — who has put in a £600 million bid for Wembley Stadium — are not fly-by-night opportunists seeking a quick profit.
They join a multi-national roster of entrepreneurs hungry to invest in the world’s highest-profile football league.
Premier League owners include Thais — who experienced one of the unlikelier successes in Leicester City winning the 2016 title — Russians, Malaysians, Chinese, the United Arab Emirates and Italians, with just six of the 20 clubs wholly in English hands and Tottenham Hotspur the only one of the big six in that group.
The Americans bring to the Premier League a wealth of experience with Kroenke’s Sports and Entertainment group running top basketball, ice hockey, and American football franchises.
But Kroenke’s purchase has been roundly condemned by many sports fans and the Arsenal Supporter’s Club (AST) called it “a dreadful day”, with David Kershaw, an independent shareholder, saying the days when fans could hold Kroenke to account had disappeared.
“Although only a tiny minority, we played a significant role in trying to ensure the club honoured its values, which they go on about all the time,” he told The Daily Mail.
“It felt like the last bastion of transparency. Emotionally, it felt as if we had some control over the old values at Arsenal. And they hated it.”
However, not all fans reacted with dismay.
“A much-maligned owner, who by choice is silent, buys up the remaining shares of Arsenal,” wrote blogger Peter Wood in the Daily Mail. “The fan frenzy is about feeling, which is fine, but the fear is grounded in what-ifs.”
Those what ifs Wood noted, included Kroenke borrowing to buy the shares.
“A move that locks fans out of legal discourse and allows the owner to load the club with £600million of debt to pay for the shares -— but that would be the worst-case scenario.”