It’s certainly not new, but the cries of KROENKE OUT have gotten louder in the last year or so, to the point where there were several banners expressing that sentiment at Arsenal’s last game of the season over the weekend. People seem to be annoyed/angered/enraged (delete as appropriate to your emotional investment) that Stan is doing what Stan does - which is, essentially, nothing.
Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE) first bought Arsenal shares in 2007, and in 2011, KSE, which is basically Stan and his son Josh, became majority shareholder and owner when he bought out Nina Bracewell-Smith and Danny Fiszman’s shares in the club, bringing his stake to 67% of the club. Since 2011, of course, Arsenal have won no Premier League titles and two FA Cups (so far), which is a fact that leads fans to try to find a scapegoat for the club’s lack of success relative to expectations.
The scapegoats are well known, as are the arguments for and against them, so today I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about the criticisms of Kroenke as Arsenal owner. I don’t particularly care, for the purposes of this discussion, what he did to the Rams, because Arsenal aren’t going to move to LA or Vegas any time soon; I’m looking only at Kroenke’s ownership of Arsenal here.
I’m also not going down the road of reopening the moral arguments against Arsenal’s owners here - not that those arguments are not important, but I kinda take it as read that people don’t get to be multibillionaires by being nice, happy-go-lucky people; at a certain point it becomes pointless to talk about Evil Brand A vs. Evil Brand B.
There’s no right or good answer to that “do you prefer A vs. B” question, but that’s the kind of person who plays the sports ownership game at this level nowadays. For the purposes of this piece, then, I am thinking purely in operational terms. The moral question is a really good one, but one that I’ll save for another column because it deserves that kind of depth.
With that said, then, here’s some of the main criticisms of Stan as Arsenal owner:
He’s utterly silent regarding matters of the club. He’s not called “Silent Stan” for nothing - he very rarely speaks about his sports teams, and when he does, it’s in anodyne corporate-speak statements like today’s from KSE, which said:
“KSE UK, Inc notes the recent media speculation concerning its shareholding in Arsenal Holdings PLC and confirms its shares are not, and never have been, for sale. KSE is a committed, long term investor in Arsenal and will remain so.”
Illuminating, isn’t it? And that’s par for the course for Kroenke. He seems OK with just doing things behind the scenes and letting the people he hired do their things too. I can’t honestly say I have a huge problem with Stan’s being silent, for reasons I’ll get into shortly, but the problem that many people have with his silence leads directly to the next item on the list:
There is a lack of leadership or any semblance of a plan at the board level. When the owner (and the board as a whole) never speak, it could seem like they’re just drifting along, content to let things happen as they will, not a care in the world. I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case - Arsenal are a billion dollar business, and businesses of that size don’t run themselves.
The lack of public speaking about plans and direction should not be taken as an indication that there is a lack of plans and direction; Arsenal are under no obligation whatsoever to share the inner workings of their club with the public. But when you play things as close to the vest as Arsenal do, it can definitely create the perception that they have no plan and no strategy. Which is vastly different from them having a plan and a strategy with which you disagree.
The question is, though, how did we get to the point where Arsene Wenger’s future is unsettled just over a month from the end of his contract? How does the board of a billion dollar business not take that particular horse by those particular reins and figure it out, one way or the other? Wenger admitted that his unsettled future harmed the club’s season on the pitch, so how did the board allow that to happen? And how much of that is Kroenke’s fault, and how much the fault of the rest of the board?
Stan is content to sit back and let the money roll in, and doesn’t do what it takes to win a championship. This criticism is 100% true, but only if you ignore the transfer dealings Arsenal have done and all the spending they do on infrastructure. They spent almost £100 million last summer, which is the second summer in the past three at that level of spending. They spend a ton on their training ground, they spend a ton on their youth academy, and they spend at the senior level. I don’t think it’s even remotely fair to say they don’t “do what it takes” - you can quibble about the players that are brought in, sure, but you can’t say that Arsenal aren’t willing to spend money in the pursuit of a championship.
Stan is taking money out of the club. In recent years, Stan has let the money roll in, and he’s also let some of it roll to him - he’s taken a £3 million “strategic and advisory services” payment twice, in 2013-14 and 2014-15 (he didn’t take one last year, and this year’s books aren’t out yet). This has angered a decent-sized chunk of Arsenal’s fanbase, but in the economic strata occupied by Arsenal, £3 million is basically parking money. And it’s Stan’s club, after all, so insert shrug emoji here because this isn’t something I can get too worked up about.
To put it in some perspective, the Glazers are getting £18.3 million in dividends from Manchester United this year, and during their ownership - which, let’s not forget, involved leveraging the crap out of Manchester United and loading it with debt - have never gotten a dividend of less than £15 million. In that light, I’m totally fine with £3 million of not-my-money being paid to not-me.
So, with all that said, here’s a thought experiment for you. Let’s say that, following an FA Cup win on Saturday, Stan says “you know what, this has been fun, but I’m done owning a sports team” and he sells his shares. Let’s not focus on specific people to whom he might sell at this point, though, because that avoidance of specifics is the nature of my question, which is:
WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WANT OUT OF THE OWNER OF YOUR FAVORITE SPORTS TEAMS?
If Stan isn’t your cup of ownership tea, what is? What is it that you look for in sports ownership? It’s not a binary, and there are obviously nuances, but to start: are you more of a fan of the Mark Cuban model, or of Stan Kroenke’s hands off approach?