EPL: Debt, Rebellion and the American Takeover

Sean DowlingContributor IIIApril 20, 2011

EPL: Debt, Rebellion and the American Takeover

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    Last week Stan Kroenke an American billionaire, increased his ownership in Arsenal Football Club to 62.9 percent. Kroenke is the latest member in a growing trend in the Barclays English Premier League of American ownership.

    Now Kroenke is the fifth American owner in the EPL and now Americans represent one-quarter of the league's clubs. 

    Kroenke has said that his new increased ownership wasn't financed with debt, and that smaller share-holders will still be allowed to hold onto their stake. It remains to be seen whether he will do better at the helm of Arsenal than his American sports franchises: the St. Louis Rams, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Rapids and the Denver Nuggets.

    With the current landscape in American sports, it's not surprising wealthy American entrepreneurs are anxious to purchase some stake in "the world's game." However, as a football fan, I'm skeptical of the American ownership.

    The major professional sports leagues in the United States are presently in serious turmoil. The NFL is currently in a labor dispute and are literally in the midst of a lock out and litigation. The NBA is headed for an inevitable lockout next season with similar issues to the NFL. In addition to that, the NHL has also never truly recovered from their strike in 2004-5, in which the entire season was lost and poor television contracts ensued.

    American influence in board rooms and the front office of some of the world's biggest football clubs offers serious potential for economic instability and problems.

    Even though the structure of the English football and the major sports leagues and franchises of the US are different, this could serve as the catalyst for major change in the EPL if this trend continues. 

    The following is a brief synopsis of the American ownership in the EPL and their current financial status.

    Statistics and money values are listed in Euros from The Financial Times (according to each clubs' financial accounts 2010)

Aston Villa

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Average Attendance: 37,000

    Pre-Tax Profit: €-37.6m

    Net Debt: €109.5m

    Wage Bill: €80.0m


    Randy Lerner has been Owner and Chairmen of Aston Villa since 2006. He starting following the English top flight while studying at Cambridge in the early '80s. 

    Lerner also owns the NFL franchise the Cleveland Browns. Lerner is one of the least publicized Amercian owners and has the Villains currently sitting mid-table at 10th.


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    Average Attendance: 60,000

    Pre-Tax Profit: €56.0m

    Net Debt: €135.6m

    Wage Bill: €110.7m


    Arsenal is the most recent English club to be taken over as Stan Kroenke has increased his ownership in the club. Kroenke is sure to endure the the hardships from the English press and fans being majority owner of Arsenal just like his American counterparts in Manchester and Liverpool.

    One thing is sure, Arsenal fans and the board will not tolerate mediocrity from Kroenke as some of his American franchises have floundered as of late.


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    Average Attendance: 39,900

    Pre-Tax Profit: €-26.2m

    Net Debt: €57.3m

    Wage Bill: €53.7m


    Sunderland represent one of the most stable financial models in English football among United States ownership.

    Ellis Short (pictured on the right) is another Missouri businessman like Kroenke. In 2008 he became outright owner by purchasing the club. Prior to that he had only owned 30 percent.

    According to sources, Ellis' controlling interest in the club played a pivotal role in the departure of Roy Keane from the club. Ellis rarely makes public appearances and interviews and remains out of the spotlight, even though he has lived in London for the last 15 years.

    The Black Cats are currently in 15th in the EPL flirting with relegation to the Championship.



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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    Average Attendance: 42,200

    Pre-Tax Profit: €-54.9m

    Net Debt: €351.4m

    Wage Bill: €131.7m


    Tom Hicks and George Gillette recently sold Liverpool Football Club to another Boston Massachusetts businessman John Henry.

    Hicks and Gillette were the subject of much criticism after using debt to finance their purchases for the club, leaving fans furious.

    Henry is no stranger to owning a massive team with passionate sports fans as he has owned the Boston Red Sox since 2002. Henry has taken on massive debt and much speculation about renovation of Anfield or perhaps a new stadium.

    It remains to be seen if Henry can lead Liverpool to their first Premier league title since 1990.


Manchester United

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Average Attendance: 75,000

    Pre-Tax Profit: €-79.6m

    Net Debt: €357.9m

    Wage Bill: €131.7m


    "Green and gold till the club is sold!" Is the famous mantra that encapsulates Old Trafford in protest of the American ownership of the Glazer Family. The infamous family has accumulated massive debt since taking full ownership of the club in 2005.

    Much of the protests result in the club being debt free for so many years, until the Glazers' took over. The loyal fans want ownership to return to them, to prevent irrational spending and most importantly debt.

    "The Red Knights" are a group of wealthy Manchester United supporters looking to wrestle the club from the clutches of the American owners, so far to no avail, as the Glazers' are reluctant to sell.

More Debt, Less Silverware

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    There are many reasons to purchase a major football club: a new endeavor, money and notoriety. Besides Manchester United, no other American owners have had serious success with silverware in the EPL. 

    The Glazers however, have won; but have created rebellion and turmoil amongst supporters for one of the biggest clubs in the world.

    With the global economic downturn and massive debt being accumulated by the biggest clubs in Europe, inevitably these clubs will have to be bailed out by someone or governing body.

    This financial structure will have to change if major clubs, (not just those owned by Americans) will continue to exist as a going concern.

Potential Risks

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    Oli Scarff/Getty Images

    Labor disputes, lock outs, replacement players. These are extreme examples, but nonetheless result from American ownership.

    The major sports leagues of the United States are structured differently from football leagues and clubs in Europe, however these potential issues could arise if the growing trend of American ownership continues in the Barclays English Premier League.

    As an American football fan, I'd prefer to see this foreign ownership in England stop. The American ownership is transparent—it is only related to making money and not winning, and bringing glory to the biggest clubs in the world.