Did anyone in Britain stop buying Adele’s records in 2012 when she bought a £6 million mansion in Surrey OR in 2015 when she reportedly bought a £5.7 million luxury home in Malibu, California? Did she stop being a Britain’s national treasure because she spent her own money to purchase an expensive asset? Was it even an issue?
Compare and contrast the almost negligible response to Adele’s largesse to the reaction among certain Arsenal fans when news recently emerged that majority owner Stan Kroenke had the audacity to use some of his own personal fortune to acquire a Texas mega-ranch listed for $725 million. In fact while the American media (Bloomberg Business) tied the purchase to his ownership of the Rams, an American football club that Kroenke is controversially in the process of moving from one city to another, our malcontents inevitably saw some perfidious connection between his acquisition of the largest contiguous ranch in the US to his majority ownership of the football club.
Yet the same Bloomberg publication went out of its way to assure the public that Kroenke was worth a fortune, estimated at $6.2 billion, pointing out that “along with the Rams, he also owns the National Basketball Association’s Denver Nuggets, the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche, Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids, and two-thirds of the English Premier League’s Arsenal soccer club.”
But there was no such restraint from those Arsenal fans who are always willing to stir mindless mischief. Fresh after the news that Kroenke had added to his portfolio of assets, Arsenal twitter was afire. One tweep posted:
Imagine have an owner who put money into the club, instead of just taking money out.
Our PA colleague Andrew Nicoll, in his own inimitable style, sought to impart the facts of life to the incredulous fan:
He is naive this lad, imagines owning football club is charitable endeavour – his heart in the right place I’m sure
I must admit to dipping my toe into the thread but not for long since A5 was doing just fine. However for the rest of the week I kept asking myself the question what exactly has Kroenke done with this transaction to harm Arsenal Football Club. Did he take money from the club? Did he leverage his ownership of the club’s shares to make the deal?
The answer to both questions by any reasonable standard is a resounding no. But it didn’t prevent a continuing stream of invectives on twitter against Kroenke. This was exemplified last Saturday when our Pedantic George was being pilloried by the multitude of trolls he seems to attract for giving a negative response to the accusations that Kroenke was stealing from the club. BTW, George was at his civilized best I am pleased to say, despite some pathetic attempts to paint him as some apologist for a mean billionaire starving the club of needed investment.
So what are the facts. It is well known that since Stan became the principal stakeholder of the club in 2011 by purchasing the shares of Danny Fiszman and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, his policy has been to let the club grow organically, to generate its own surpluses to pay down its debts and grow the football side of the business. No dividends have been taken, unlike what was once mooted by ownership rival Alisher Usmanov. The only money taken by a ownership-related party are payments of exactly £3m to Kroenke Sports and Entertainment LLC, disclosed in the 2014-15 Arsenal accounts, as being similar to the amount paid in 2013-14 – for “strategic and advisory services”.
Apparently the Arsenal Supporters Trust is guilty of the same naivety that Andrew Nicoll reproached the tweep above. They tried to characterize this payment as being irregular despite being fully disclosed. Would they prefer being in the position of Man United supporters who can only make futile objections to the club paying a dividend which coincidentally benefits the six Glazer siblings to the tune of £15 million per year. Yet it is all legal and above board in the best traditions of English capitalism. In fact if the payment to KSE was a shady transaction one can be sure that the minority shareholders, Messers Usmanov and Moshiri, would have long prevailed on Her Majesty’s best legal minds for redress.
What is well known, however, there is a section in the fanbase who would like for Kroenke to be a benefactor throwing money around left, right and center rather than a hard-boiled businessman making sure his investment appreciates in value without overspending.
I decided to poke around the data and to see whether there is any suggestion that his style of ownership is somehow harming the club.
Mucking around, the first thing that struck me is how widespread foreign ownership has become in England. Despite all the sound and fury that accompanied the Glazers’s takeover of Manchester United in 2005, Randy Lerner’s purchase of Aston Villa in 2006 and the acquisition of Liverpool in 2007 by Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the trend has continued unabated. Ten years later, according to a recent piece by the Daily Mail , in the Premier League and Championship combined, there are 27 clubs of 44 (that’s 61 per cent) with a foreign owner or co-owner, Of those clubs, 24 are controlled by foreign owners, who collectively paid £2.765bn for those clubs, now worth an estimated £5.788bn. Clearly these owners justifiably assessed they could make a return on their investment and have succeeded. Those objecting are chasing a train that has long left the station.
Is Stan’s stewardship comparable to the rest of billionaire owners in the Premier League? The data below, which I derived from Wikipedia, is compelling, if not conclusive.
Of the top nine billionaire owners of Premier League in the table above, only two (Mike Ashley and the Coates Family) could be considered English, Joe Lewis is excluded as neither he nor most of his fortune resides in England according to most reports. The Southampton and Leicester owners were excluded because their clubs only rejoined the Premier league within the past three years.
The table suggests that that most of these foreign billionaire owners have been able to consolidate their club’s position at the top of the Premier league. In the past five years City Chelsea, United and Arsenal have averaged league positions of 2nd, 3rd and 4th respectively. In fact Stan could successfully argue that since 2011 he has overseen a constant improvement in the competitive capacity of Arsenal without having to spend his own money. In contrast City and Chelsea face the prospect next summer of the owners having to pour more money to reinforce their teams based on their disappointing 2015-16 season to date. Even the Glazers at United must take pause despite record earnings of over £700 million in their most recent fiscal year. They spent over £250 million in the past two years to recover from their post Ferguson decline and already seem destined to not make this year’s top-4 thus failing to qualify for the champion’s league. In this inflationary era they could easily spend in excess of £100 million on their squad next summer to get back to the top European level.
Returning to Kroenke, he must have estimated prior to investing an estimated £400 million (this figure was bandied about in 2011 but am unable to verify) to acquire majority ownership of the club:
- I have the best football manager in the world who doesn’t need to overspend to build a great football team.
- I invested in a club with a newly built stadium whose debt is manageable and almost paid off.
- I just simply need to stay the course and I will easily double even triple the value of my investment as the club becomes more successful.
As Ivan Gazidis clearly enunciated in a recent Annual General Meeting the Board’s mission, and by definition Kroenke’s long term goal, is to raise the club to the level of Bayern Munich. While our simple-minded fans may think otherwise, I doubt the businessmen who run competing clubs are taking Arsenal’s ambitions lightly.
In the meantime the Arsenal Supporters Trust and the malcontents flail around like Don Quixote, attacking the Board for transfer spending and issues way outside their purview. Who is going to stand against rising ticket prices and against out-of-control tv companies who change match times at a whim with disregard for traveling fans?
If Adele can afford her mansions, why can’t Stan buy as many ranches as he wants? Aren’t they making a fortune at our expense providing the best possible entertainment money can buy? Railing against Stan may be emotionally satisfying, like a teenager kicking up a tantrum, but at the end of the day how many fans will stop supporting Arsenal because the club is the best run in all of England and playing the best football?
Am I missing something? Someone pray tell.