Stan Kroenke: Is His Silence a Hindrance to Arsenal's Project?

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Stan Kroenke: Is His Silence a Hindrance to Arsenal's Project?
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

It is safe to say that no one but, perhaps, the people closely associated with him knows what Stan Kroenke's real plans for Arsenal are. As the fans continue to wait apprehensively for his true colors to manifest, questions about his motives remain. 

Is he an opportunist who—having not participated in Arsenal's time of austerity—now appears to reap the dividends of the club's decade-long investment?  

What does his presence benefit Arsenal? Does he have any emotional or communal connection with the club, any psychological attachment to it, like he would a sport he grew up appreciating and supporting? 

The little we know of him amounts to his buying the majority of the club's shares in 2011, an investment he apparently awaits to appreciate to then redeem to huge gains, and this breeds the suspicion that this might be a man simply there for the profit and nothing more. 

Kroenke’s decision to sell his Arsenal shareholding boils down to whether he is purely a financial investor interested in a great return on his original investment, or whether he wants to be a long-term owner willing to pour millions of his own money into a British football team just to see them pick up a Champions League trophy.

Ben Harrington, writing for The Telegraph, March 2013

In the face of these questions, there are two positives that speak on Mr. Kroenke's behalf.  

The first is what Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith referred to as the stability of his presence at the club.

 

Accordingly, to have a man with his financial muscle at the club in the face of the huge stadium debt that still dangles on its neck allows the club to carry on with its project of self-reliance in the knowledge that he is a fail-safe option in the event of any emergency that might cause the club to default on its loan obligations. 

Bracewell-Smith, courtesy of Arsenal.com

This, although true, does not require Kroenke, specifically, for it to be so. The fail-safe person could be anybody.

And since Kroenke appeared at the twilight of Arsenal's travails, the fail-safe idea becomes a little less persuasive for the simple reason that he has arrived at a time his financial viability is of little use to the club, a time the club is just emerging from its financial dark woods. 

Yet, the timing of his coming to the club, when the world economy was in turmoil, when money wasn't readily available for anyone, and when it was really possible for Arsenal to have defaulted on its loan obligation, makes the argument for his presence beg for consideration, even if in real fact Arsenal did not really need his help. 

Nevertheless, there's no little comfort in having a man of his viability at the club, both for the club's sake and for its creditors' peace of mind. 

The second positive is the fact that Kroenke's unobtrusive entrepreneurship, aptly defined by the sobriquet "Silent Stan," suits Arsenal's purpose and philosophy, a philosophy averse to a single oligarchical ownership as has been the case of Chelsea this past 10 years and most recently of Manchester City

There is, however, no virtue in this as such if the sole purpose of a football club is the winning of trophies, because this philosophy—this conviction—has prevented Arsenal from taking advantage of Alisher Usmanov's money, a shareholder who seems eager to bring to Arsenal Chelsea's Roman Abramovich-like financial muscle. 

Indeed, a number of Arsenal fans have been dismayed by the club's failure to capitalize on Usmanov's eagerness to use his own money to finance the club's transfers and wages, an immediate financial power that ostensibly would enable Arsenal to neutralize the two Manchester clubs and Chelsea's financial advantage. 

Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Alisher Usmanov

Instead, Arsenal have chosen to side with Kroenke's silent approach, which involves financial reticence and prudence. Whatever virtue there is in this, though, is answered rather negatively by Kroenke's apparent lack of tangible contribution towards the Arsenal project. 

Rather than contribute to the project, he just sits there, as if it were, benefiting from Arsenal's appreciation in value even as the club struggles to remain relevant and viable. In this wise, it doesn't suit him to have Arsenal spend heavily to strengthen its squad. 

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
Arsene Wenger has had little money to work with in the last seven years.

What's more, Mr. Kroenke's lack of contribution is made more stringent by the fact that a great deal of Arsenal's financial turnover in profit in recent seasons has gone into the club's cash reserve, an apparent move to buffer the club's stadium debt. This underscores Kroenke's lack of involvement in the club's struggles to emerge from its stadium burden. 

In other words, since his advent at Arsenal, the club still carries on its struggle on its own, much like it had before his coming. 

He hasn't, for example, encouraged the club to spend a little more to make its chances at winning trophies stronger, and this is the sort of encouragement that would be expected of an engaged proprietor whose presence supposedly provides  financial buffer to the club. 

So, then, why is he there? 

The American would stand to make a profit on his investment of close to £400m but he is a hugely wealthy man already, with a fortune of $2.6bn, and he is not driven, primarily, by the quest to amass even more money. He remains convinced that the club's self-sustaining model is the correct way forward, and the strategy will be boosted when the Premier League's new multi-billion pound TV deal kicks in next season, together with the renegotiated shirt sponsorship arrangement with Emirates Airlines, which is worth £150m over five years.

David Hytner, writing for The Guardian, March 2012

When Mr. Kroenke declared that he chose to come to Arsenal because he agrees with the club's philosophy of self-reliance, it doesn't require much imagination to see that this is because it makes business sense: You make no personal sacrifice (beside your seed money in the shares you bought), but reap massive rewards from what the club has suffered to build. 

At the very heart of this issue is Kroenke's involvement vis-á-vis Arsenal's culture and philosophy of self-reliance and how it affects both. In purely business terms, Mr. Kroenke does not need to do anything as long as the club's value continues to appreciate. The current relationship, in other words, benefits Kroenke more than it does Arsenal. 

This, though, reveals a sliver of silliness even from a purely business ground. Everyone knows that ascending to the very pinnacle of the sport in terms of the on-the-field dominance affects the club's global popularity, which in turn returns in huge financial rewards.  

In other words, a little more investment to sharpen the club's on-the-field chances yields more money in terms of latent value and immediate cash. For example, Chelsea upstaged Arsenal this season as the second most valuable English club because it earned about £46 million more in winning the Champion League.  

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Chelsea triumphed last season in the Champions League.

Also, the club that wins the Premiership title receives more money and earns more prime-time TV coverage, an exposure that bolsters its popularity, putting it on a more solid footing for sponsorship deals. 

Consequently then, Kroenke's silent approach does not make much business sense. It doesn't help his holdings appreciate more rapidly at a time when Manchester United are aggressively cornering sponsorship deals and selling themselves as a global brand. 

But it is not all negative with Mr. Kroenke. The main thing he has emphasized since his coming to Arsenal is the marketing aspect of the club. This is what he has tasked Ivan Gazidis and Tom Fox with, and we are now just beginning to see the fruit of this approach. 

My dad’s philosophy is to hire the people you think will do the best job and let them do their job. I’ve had a few conversations with Ivan [Gazidis, the Arsenal chief executive]. He is very smart. It’s fascinating to learn about and I’m sure at some point I’ll be itching to get involved. I just can’t say how yet. For the time being I’m really happy with where I am.

Josh Kroenke, speaking to The Telegraph, October 2011

The club recently renewed its partnership with the Emirate Airlines in terms very handsome to the club's immediate needs, and just this week, there has been a report of a lucrative kit deal with Puma. In addition, the club has been aggressive in pursuing commercial partnerships in Africa and Asia. 

But despite all this, Manchester United are still miles ahead in this department, and it is not difficult to see why. They are the winning brand, and Arsenal are merely the fourth seat in the order of preeminence. 

The interest of the Glazers, who own Manchester United, might not be more than financial, but they are doing all they can to make their brand more attractive and more profitable.

The main way to do this is to make sure that the club continues to win trophies, the reason why they shelled out £24 million for Robin van Persie, who practically has won them their 20th title through the goals he has scored for the club this season. 

Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Van Persie as a Devil.

In contrast, Kroenke did not see it fit to encourage the club to take the risk of keeping Van Perise. Instead, he and the club favored the ready cash from the player's sale, and in so doing, perhaps, missed the chance of ending the club's trophy drought and elevating its brand, an outcome that surely would be worth more than £24 million. 

To make matters worse, the club chose to sell one of its more influential players from last season, perhaps allured, yet again, by ready cash, and this has contributed to the club's struggles this season. 

The point here is that unless Kroenke begins to resist the smell of ready cash and invest more tangibly in the club's endeavor, the progress that the fans want to see the club make cannot materialize. 

We’ve never put any debt on this club for acquisition, never in any meeting said that money was not available to spend. We have a record of reinvestment in our other clubs, and it’s there for everyone else to see.

Kroenke, speaking to Arsenal Supporters Club, October 2012

The rumor that the manager has a substantial amount of money to spend on transfer and wages come summer is nothing new. Such rumor has surfaced and resurfaced in the last few seasons only to prove false when the time for spending arrives. 

The current situation is different though. Since there now seems to be real money to spend, Kroenke's true color will at last be revealed. 

Is he an opportunist unwilling to make sacrifices for the growth of the club, or is he a real supporter of the club who will encourage the club and the manager to use the presently available monies to build a new team, a team strong enough to challenge the best of the best? 

The opportunity is there for the club to rise to the top. The question, though, is whether or not Arsenal—and specifically Mr.Kroenke—will take it.

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