Arsenal’s majority shareholder Stan Kroenke has spoken about about sports ownership, saying clubs must also be “real industries and real businesses.”
Kroenke, who has been nicknamed “Silent Stan” by Arsenal fans because of his failure to publicly address the club’s financial policies, told a sports conference in Boston that owners “must have some sort of reality involved” when it comes to the business side of running a club.
“I think the best owners in sports to me are the guys who sort of watch both sides a bit. Because if you don’t have a good business you can’t afford to go out and get players, unless you just want to rely on other sources of income,” Kroenke said during a one-hour panel discussion during the annual Sloan Sports Analytics Conference.
“Fortunately here in the U.S. for the most part I see some rational thought put into that side so that they become real industries and real businesses. And I think that’s a healthy thing. And the people who benefit the most in my opinion are the players, because players are getting paid in ways that they never dreamed of.”
Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams along with Denver-based NHL, NBA and MLS franchises, said having wealthy owners pouring money into European football teams can sometimes end up hurting the clubs if that injection of cash suddenly disappears.
“Over there it was sort of like, ‘Well we’ve got guys from the Middle East, the oil price is over a hundred bucks [a barrel], they can spend anything they want,” Kroenke said, recalling a conversation with British journalists when he first became involved with Arsenal.
“The problem I saw with all that is that those people can lose interest … I said, what happens when the Middle Eastern family [loses] interest and they decide to go home? I said what would really happen in those situations is that the fans get hurt. Because the players get picked up [by other teams] and paid if they’re good, and the front office gets other jobs.”
He said he was proven right when Malaga’s owner, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani of Qatar, suddenly stopped investing more money in the club and they had to sell their best players — including Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal to Arsenal.
“I didn’t think it would happen that fast,” Kroenke said “We actually got two good players out of it. But the fans were who was left behind.”
Kroenke also discussed Arsenal’s increased use of statistics to analyse players, with the club having purchased Boston-based analytics company StatDNA after he took over as majority shareholder.
“When we acquired the controlling interest in Arsenal back in 2011, we started pushing pretty hard because it seemed to me that there were some people who were a bit more advanced in that area,” he said. “So we were fortunate that we acquired [StatDNA]. They gave us a big lift in the soccer business.”
He compared the approach to the “Moneyball” strategy used in baseball by Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, which he said he has discussed with manager Arsene Wenger.
“Moneyball, I was always interested in that. Billy Beane, one of his heroes happened to be our manager at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger,” Kroenke said. “Arsene has a degree in economics, has always sort of got that analytical thing going on, so we would talk about it … But we’ve always had, and we’re developing within each team, a statistical kind of approach, and an analytical approach.”
Kroenke also rejected the notion that it’s difficult to be an effective owner when his interests are spread over so many different clubs, and on two different continents. He said he thinks all his teams benefit from his ability to learn from each one.
“We’re all here to win. If you win, these businesses get really easy, we’d all agree on that. Are you sacrificing anything by owning multiple teams? I don’t think so,” he said. “Because I feel like when I work on things at Arsenal, I learn things that I can bring back here. I feel like when I work on things here I learn things I can take over there. So these are, I think, really efficient things and wonderful things for me and our organisation.”
One example of those benefits, he said, is the Los Angeles Rams’ plans to come to London over the next three years for regular-season games, while Arsenal will be in Southern California this summer for a preseason tour that includes a game against the MLS All-Stars.
“So that’s all good. That will raise the profile of the Rams and of Arsenal in North America,” he said. “What did I learn specifically [from Arsenal]? I think we are learning lots of different things and approaches. And you learn very quickly what that brand means.”
The American recounted the story of a South African Arsenal fan who flies from Cape Town to London via helicopter on regular business trips, and makes friends along the way by handing out cheap Arsenal football shirts when he stops to refuel.
“It’s just an example of what a brand can mean, and what we all can do in sports,” he said. “When you can extend a brand — Michael Jordan showed it — you get paid a whole lot more when you can extend your brand. Manchester United showed it. Boy they established levels and benchmarks that people thought unattainable, because their brand extension made people want to pay for it.”