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Are we all wrong about Stan Kroenke?
When Stan Kroenke bought his controlling interest in Arsenal in April 2011, the move was greeted with a mild sense of trepidation, hope, and fear. At the very minimum Arsenal supporters felt that at least we know how had a majority stakeholder that could hopefully drive Arsenal into competing under the new paradigm football sees itself under.
Sadly, this blog at the time felt this was never going to be the case and today, the fear that some supporters felt is coming to fruition.
It’s under that knowledge that I opened up Sports Illustrated and read their profile/interview of Stan Kroenke current owner of:
- Arsenal – Premier League
- St. Louis Rams – NFL
- Denver Nuggets – NBA
- Colorado Avalanche – NHL
- Colorado Rapids – MLS
- Colorado Mammoth – National Lacrosse League
- Altitude Sports Entertainment – Regional Sports Network
- The Pepsi Center (home of the Nuggets and Avalanche)
- Dick’s Sporting Goods Stadium (home of the Rapids)
To sum up the whole gist of this article for you, as succinctly as possible of course, Stan Kroenke is the most powerful man in sports that you may not have heard of and he likes it that way. The total net worth of Kroenke based on this and his real estate endeavors puts him at $4 billion – 92 on the Forbes 400 list.
The good thing about the article is that the focus is on Stan personally with the primary backdrop being his ownership of Arsenal. We are led to believe in the article that Stan is quite the sports aficionado and grimaces and cheers with each rise and fall of his teams. We are led through his reactions to watching Arsenal play against QPR wistfully arching his back as play happens and questioning ref calls.
We also learn that Stan is quite fond of the same Nike style puffy parkas that manager Arsene Wenger is. As a matter of fact if his philosophy on sports is to be believed:
“Sports are about these qualities of character: teamwork, perseverance, work ethic. These are universal values and sports, at best, promote these. [Sports] break barriers, they’re embraced around the world, they bring communities together. . . . “
Than it is not unlikely that both Wenger and Stan have more in common than many of us had thought.
But I want to be frank – it’s a fluff piece. Stan hardly ever gives interviews. Hell, he hardly ever has anything to say at all. However, he gave this interview to SI, as he knew he would get just the kind of praise that he would not get from the more discerning, tabloidic European (British) press.
And it’s because of this, that the entire premise of the article is flawed. It assumes that just because Stan has so many interests in sports via KSE that he is therefore the most powerful man in sports? Really? How so?
How has that power manifested itself? Does he engage in systematic changes in the games his teams participate in? Does he use this power to create sporting powerhouses? Er, not that I can tell. In fact if you really look at it, the supposed most powerful man in sports (you’ve never heard of or from) has used that power to mire his teams in mediocrity.
Take for instance the Colorado Avalanche whom Kroenke purchased in 2000. In 2001 they won the Stanley Cup, but the reality is that Stan had little to do with that and was merely along for the ride. No, since his take over, Colorado has fluctuated from above average to below average. They’ve never been outstanding, they’ve been exactly as they are – okay but not often thought of as title contenders.
The Denver Nuggets may be only slightly better than their roommates in Denver. But they’ve never won anything and at best they remain competitive (sound familiar).
No, power in sports is not gained by being merely the wealthiest man with the most toys. Most owners of Sports teams are wealthy and have the trappings to prove it. Power in sports is the molding of wealth and winning. The perfect example of this was George Steinbrenner. Love or hate the former Yankees owner, the man wielded his power and influence to the betterment of his team and produced a dynasty. In other words he invested in his team, they won, he got wealthier and he continued to use both to his advantage. That is power.
Frankly, sports does not have someone of that nature any more. Maybe Jerry Jones, but his Dallas Cowboys are so pathetic now that he barely carries any heft any more.
Maybe Stan got the nod because it was an easy equation. Sure, all his sports entities make money. In the NFL, NBA, and to a lesser extent NHL it’s hard NOT to make money as an owner given all the financial tools and opportunities provided in those leagues. At Arsenal you have a known brand that remains competitive despite itself – so it will make money (for now.) But really? Have the fans and what they want become so inconsequential that even sports writers (who used to be the ones who got us) choose to ignore success and focus on money?
What is further troubling in the article is how Kroenke is praised for his running of his franchises. He runs them without virtually carrying any debt and (in a comment I think bares further scrutiny) “he withdraws virtually no money from them.”
Why do I find this one little innocuous comment interesting? Well, because of Stan’s avoidance of the issue when pressed on it at the recent AGM. And also the simple fact he sees nothing wrong with it –
“Because in the States you would never get this dialogue. ‘He took money out of the club.’ So what? Jerry Buss [the owner of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team] takes money out of the club. A lot of owners in the US do. No one ever says anything about it. What it’s about, in fairness [is] … did the Lakers win anything? Well, yeah. They did. How big’s their revenue? Pretty darn good.” – Stan Kroenke Guardian 2011
We already don’t see “investment” in the club. We see record profits. And given his noncommittal stance on the matter and his previous comments, you could argue the case that as Arsenal remain profitable and commercial income rises, that Stan has no real problem with pulling money out of the club.
And considering where KSE is incorporated (Delaware) there is nothing to restrict him from doing it. KSE as a Delaware incorporated company is allowed by law to pay dividends from profit or surpluses. Additionally, since KSE is in Delaware it has no legal requirement to disclose any information publically. Other states require even privately held companies to make certain information public. But since KSE is in Delaware it does not have to list out how it was able to procure it’s shares of Arsenal stock. This kind of secrecy is troublesome and worrisome.
But I digress. My real concern with the article was the praise lavished on someone who is near invisible to Arsenal supporters. Unlike US sports, ownership in European football is a participratory event. It requires a certain level of engagement. Leaving it to the “football” minds to do only works to an extent. Ownership of an EPL club is active and engaged. It harkens back to the locality of the game and many of the owners still operate in that sense.
Stan was wrong in the Guardian article that US ownership of these teams is a good thing. It was wrong because the American model of detached ownership is not what footie in any of the major countries is about. Even in the current state of the game, ownership needs to be seen. it needs to be seen to give a sense that they give a damn. And even if they are money grubbing blood suckers, they still want what the fans want and that is to win.
It’s cheesy to say “that with great power, comes great responsibility” but given the longevity of these clubs and the stewardship entrusted to current owners, there is a responibility to give the supporters more than just a bottom line on a ledger sheet. No, this isn’t about Stan spending exorbitant amounts ala, Mansour and Abramovich. It’s about active engagement, wise investment, and looking at Arsenal as more than something than a means to line a pocket.
Do that, for Arsenal and even your other sports Stan, then yes – you will certainly be the most powerful man in sports.