Stan Kroenke, The Most Powerful Man In Sports

Mustaches don't always work. - Doug Pensinger

Or so says Sports Illustrated, in a profile in last week's issue.

I still subscribe to dead-tree magazines. I maintain that magazines are still good, and only getting better, in the age of the internet; they've got to raise their game to stay relevant, and magazines are a good source for long-form journalism of the type that the internet, for all its benefits, doesn't really encourage as much as it should.

In this week's Sports Illustrated, there was a profile of Stan Kroenke. I can't link to it, because it doesn't exist online except if you're a subscriber to the print edition, but I can certainly quote some relevant passages and offer my opinion of the article, and encourage you to seek it out at a library or at a friend's house or wherever you source your print media, if you still do such a thing.

The piece is a fairly standard bio - it talks about Stan's upbringing and family a bit, then gets into his career as a business dude. His story is fairly typical of the rich business tycoon, except for one thing - Stan seems almost entirely bereft of the ego that we have come to expect from multi-billionaires. He was born in a verrrrrrry small town (Mora, Missouri - as the article says, population 491), and from that upbringing he learned the value of hard work (he walked to and from school 2.5 miles a day every day) and of humility (he doesn't give interviews much, he doesn't tweet, and he's not a socialite gadfly like a lot of ultra-rich people).

He did, however, grow up with a massive love of sports. When he was a kid he played basketball, once scoring 33 points in a high school game, and to this day he's physically active - he can bench press 225 pounds and he still plays basketball. Once he made his pile, mostly in real estate, as a shopping mall developer - which is how he met his wife, Ann Walton, of the Wal-Mart Waltons - he started investing in what he loved, sports.

By now, we all know what he owns other than Arsenal (The Rams, the Nuggets, the Avalanche, the Rapids, the Colorado Mammoth of the National Lacrosse League, the Pepsi Center, Dick's Sporting Goods Park, and a Colorado RSN to show them all), and we know that he's rich; he's 92nd on Forbes' list of World's Wealthiest People. But what you may not know, because he never talks about it, is that he's still as in love with sports as he was as a kid, and he doesn't own his teams because they make him money but because he loves watching them play.

The article opens with Kroenke at the Emirates to watch Arsenal take on QPR; he's engrossed in the game - he glad-hands with the swells in the owner's box before the match starts, but once it does Kroenke "grabs a black Nike ski parka and ventures out onto the exposed terrace, where he can better concentrate on the game". While it would be an exaggeration to say he yells and screams and jumps around like a non-owner fan, the article makes it clear that Stan is very emotionally invested in the sports success of his teams, not just their bottom line, and will do anything he can to make them more successful.

His take on sports is not as typical as most owners', though. In addition to loving the sport, Kroenke is quoted in the article as saying that sports "are about these qualities of character: teamwork, perseverance, work ethic. These are uuniversal values, and sports, at their best, promote these." He is famous (as famous as a reticent behind-the-scenes guy can be) within the teams he owns for not interfering with the day-to-day running of the team; he doesn't want to put his stamp on his teams as much as he wants to make sure they are always in position to succeed.

Most importantly to Arsenal fans, though, Kroenke does not seem to be the kind of owner who owns a team because it's cool and it will make him money. This is obviously just one source, but nothing in this piece makes it sound like Kroenke will be taking dividends from Arsenal any time soon, or that he's in the Premier League ownership game just to make a fat profit off a prestige property. He seems to be in this for the long haul, and as an Arsenal fan who is also in this for the long haul, I'm pretty happy about that.

Considering that sports ownership, particularly in the Premier League these days, seems to be more about owner ego satisfaction first and team development as a byproduct of that, I'm very happy, once again, that Arsenal are in the unflashiest of rich person's hands. Complain all you want about Arsenal's current transfer policy, about their reticence to compete with the petrodollar clubs, and about their inability to hold on to players who are seduced by dump trucks full of cash; I prefer to be happy that Arsenal are being run by a guy who is in this for the long-term success of his team, and stays out of the way while the team does its thing.

The famous banner says IN ARSENE WE TRUST; I would add IN STAN I TRUST to that sentiment.

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