Last week, Alisher Usmanov agreed to sell his stake in Arsenal to Stan Kroenke, making him the single largest shareholder in the club, owning 97% of all outstanding shares. Under British securities law, Kroenke is now permitted to execute a mandatory purchase of all outstanding shares, which will, of course, give him 100% of the club, and allow him to take it private.
A lot of people fear what this means for the club, but that’s a topic for another day. Today, I’d like to talk about the 3% of outstanding shares, who owns them, and what it means. There may still be some single shares in some individual hands, but most of that 3% ownership is in the hands of the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust, the official supporters trust of Arsenal. In the words of Supporters Direct, the umbrella group that acts as the administration for all ST’s, a supporters trust is a group, recognized by the club its supporters back, that works “to help supporters gain influence in the running and ownership of their club”.
The one notable thing that the AST has done in its existence was pretty notable indeed. Arsenal shares typically traded in the £32-35,000 range, so the AST, with the backing of Ivan Gazidis, created a Fan Share scheme in 2010, which enabled us proles to buy fractions of shares in the club, which carried all the rights and privileges that full shareholders enjoyed for as little as a £100 investment. The idea was you’d invest that money regularly, building up your fraction, until ultimately you owned a full share in the club.
The main benefit of this scheme, of course, was that more people would have access to Arsenal’s annual general meeting, and at that meeting, would be able to voice their concerns over the state and direction of the club. The scheme proved popular, but not so much that it still exists; it was wound down in February 2015, with no further investment allowed at that point but with fans still in possession of their fractional shares.
Other than that, the AST doesn’t appear, from the outside, to do much. They’re active on social media, and they have done a good job of reporting what happens at every AGM, but beyond that, they seem to stand for something that doesn’t exist - namely, the concept of billion-dollar business as community trust which needs to be responsive to its community first and its business imperatives second.
That’s a nice, romantic ideal, and sure, it’d be nice if Arsenal asked me what I thought about signings and formations and whatnot, but they don’t, because you know what? I’m nobody. Even when I band together with 20 of my friends and watch a game together at a bar, we’re nobody distinct; we’re part of that group known as “fans”, and we’re basically background noise to the club.
I don’t say that disparagingly; at the most elite level, sports is very much a one-way relationship. I know the deal, and I’m OK with it. If I want community engagement, I’ll follow a small local club - hell, even the Timbers, at the top level of the sport in the US, shop at the same grocery store as me and eat at the same restaurants occasionally (Hi Zarek!). But when I lived in Seattle, I never expected to see Ken Griffey Jr at my neighborhood teriyaki place, because that’s not how super-rich athletes live.
The AST, though, think for some reason that Arsenal should be running itself like it were the 1950’s again, and that Arsenal need to take the input of the fans into account when they do their business. In case you didn’t pick up on this earlier, I can’t disagree with that sentiment strongly enough.
That’s kinda the role AST sees itself in - the guardian of a tradition of supporter involvement in the running of the club that has arguably never existed in the past, at least in the way they’re imagining it, that they want to see continue into the future.
I mean, put that “we demand input and say” thought into literally any other context and it’s utterly ludicrous, right? Imagine going to your doctor, getting a diagnosis, and then demanding that your doc take your alternative diagnosis, one that you figured out from watching a shit-ton of Chicago Hope and a few episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, under advisement as the way forward instead, because you’ve seen it before, and because the course of treatment you saw worked out on TV.
It’s in that spirit that the AST today has announced they’re exploring legal options to resist or decline Kroenke’s compulsory purchase order, because apparently the word “compulsory” didn’t register when they read the letter they got from Stan’s people. The trust themselves admit that it’s a “futile last stand”, but they’re hoping to force KSE to hold one last AGM before going fully private.
Which, yay? I guess? I have no idea what that last AGM would accomplish - it’s clear that Kroenke doesn’t want the input of, well, anyone any more, which is why he’s taking the club private. So even if the AST succeeds, they’re basically doing this for themselves - they want to be the person at the city council meeting who steps up for their three minutes of free speech and rants about how the Illuminati are fluoridating the water supply in order to achieve mind control and pave the way for the black helicopters.
There’s something to be said for accepting defeat with dignity, and AST are basically doing the exact opposite of that. I get that there’s reservations about Kroenke as sole owner, and I get that a lack of visibility is a step back for the club (even if that “visibility” wasn’t really all that great in the first place).
What I don’t get is how the AST pitching a fit now helps any of that. All it’s doing is making them look like cranky toddlers.