Arsenal put Kroenke in position to take over club

Stan Kroenke is in advanced talks with Arsenal's hierarchy about a deal to put him in pole position to take control. The American billionaire, who owns 12 per cent of the shares, will take a place on the club's board within weeks. Crucially, he will also be given first refusal on a majority of the club's shares for the next four years.

Kroenke will not own a controlling stake in Arsenal just yet. The "friends and family" group of core directors, headed by Danny Fiszman (24.1 per cent owner) and Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith (15.9 per cent) have shown no appetite to sell, immediately at least.

But the deal will put Kroenke in the box seat to buy control later, raising the chances that he will follow in the footsteps of his fellow American Premier League club owners the Glazers (Manchester United), Tom Hicks and George Gillett (Liverpool) and Randy Lerner (Aston Villa).

The Independent can reveal that Arsenal first tried to persuade Kroenke to accept a seat on the board last autumn, hoping to announce it at their October AGM. The board wanted to send a strong message to the Uzbek predator, Alisher Usmanov, that, given a choice of billionaire investors, they preferred Kroenke to Usmanov.

But Kroenke was in no rush, understandably given that Arsenal's chairman, Peter Hill-Wood, had at first been so sniffy about Kroenke's initial purchase of 9.9 per cent of the club.

As recently as April of last year, Hill-Wood said of Kroenke: "Call me old-fashioned, but we don't need his money and we don't want his sort... [Americans] know absolutely sweet FA about our football."

Relations between the board and Kroenke have since warmed, in no small part due to the bridge-building work of the influential Arsenal Supporters' Trust, which has the ear of all the major parties. The AST has been in dialogue with Kroenke for more than a year. Kroenke hosted the AST on a trip to Denver earlier this month, and, in recent correspondence, the AST urged him to seize the opportunity of a board role, as long as it is for the benefit of Arsenal.

Kroenke has talked privately of his "strong commitment" to football, and to Arsenal, long-term. His track record as a sports patron boosts his credentials. He owns or controls teams in America's NFL, NBA and NHL, as well as owning the MLS's Colorado Rapids. He has never sold a share of any team he has invested in. He has spent heavily on a stadium and youth facilities for the Rapids. He sees huge potential for the Gunners to be marketed worldwide, and appreciates Arsenal's excellent reputation.

When Kroenke becomes an Arsenal director he will become party to the privileges of the "lock-down" agreement governing the "friends and family" shares. That will give him first option on buying other "lock-down" shares (the 45 per cent owned by Fiszman and Co) until 2012, as and when they sell. It is highly likely portions of those shares will be sold to Kroenke in that time.

Kroenke's place on the board will send a clear message to Usmanov – who owns a fraction under 25 per cent – that the board will do anything to stop Usmanov getting a controlling stake.

"Stan's seat on the board is weeks away, it's just a case of dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's," an insider said. That view is backed by sources on both sides of the Atlantic.

The news will be a major blow to the ambitions of the former Arsenal vice-chairman, David Dein, to return to the club. Dein sold Usmanov his shares in the club (almost 15 per cent) last August, hoping to return to Arsenal under an Usmanov regime.

But Usmanov has no track record in football and his intentions are unclear. He continues to buy up as many of Arsenal's 62,217 shares as he can. The Independent understands he bought a single share last Friday, four others last Thursday, and seven a week ago on Monday, at prices between £8,500 and £8,800 each.

It seems he is desperate to take his stock just above 25 per cent, at which point he would have a "blocking stake". That would not hinder any day-to-day club activity, but could become a nuisance if the board needs more than 75 per cent of votes to implement special resolutions, for example to restructure debt, or issue new shares.

Kroenke is attracted by a board role about which he has been informed: "Your experience in property development, sports marketing and TV rights will undoubtedly add value to the board."

He will have input on commercial, media and club development matters, and he will also be able to have a say on what kind of executives Arsenal require to replace Dein (who was an excellent "fixer" on all kinds of club business), and Keith Edelman, the recently departed managing director. Arsenal have already appointed City head-hunters to find candidates.

Most significantly, Kroenke will accede to the all-important "lock-down" agreement, which means board members can only sell to each other (or family) until 18 April 2009, and must give first refusal on their shares to each other (in effect, to Kroenke) until 18 October 2012.

Such a "kingmaker" pact in Kroenke's favour could put Usmanov on a civil war footing: he remains firmly on the outside, despite owning a quarter of the club. Preferably for Arsenal, it might force Usmanov out of the picture.

The billionaires with Gunners in their sights

Stan Kroenke

Name: Stan Kroenke.

Nationality: American.

Nickname: Silent Stanley.

Age: 60.

Wealth: $2.1bn (£1.07bn).

Made his money Mainly in real estate. Married to Anne Walton, independently wealthy as a Wal-Mart heiress.

Owns: 12.38 per cent of Arsenal.

Sports ownership pedigree: St Louis Rams (National Football League), Denver Nuggets (National Basketball Association), Colorado Avalanche (National Hockey League), Colorado Rapids (Major League Soccer).

Shady past? Absolutely not. Hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about this private family man who has a good record as a sports club owner.

Allies at Arsenal: The current board, it would now seem, who view him as a safe, steady investor who won't push too hastily for control.

Alisher Usmanov

Nationality: Uzbek.

Nickname: Hard Man of Russia.

Age: 54.

Wealth: $5.5bn (£2.8bn)

Made his money Mining, metals, lumber, investments.

Owns: c24.9 per cent of Arsenal.

Sports ownership pedigree: None. But his Metalloinvest firm has a sponsorship deal with Dinamo Moscow (since Feb 2008).

Shady past? Says that a six-year jail sentence in the 1980s was because he was a "political prisoner". His London defamation lawyers, Schillings, will deal with any inquiries to the contrary.

Allies at Arsenal: "At Arsenal" no longer applies, but David Dein, the ousted former vice-chairman, is his main Arsenal-related advisor. Dein sold Usmanov 14.58 per cent of the club last year, hoping to return to the club in some capacity in anUsmanov buyout.

Who owns Arsenal shares?

Red & White Holdings (Alisher Usmanov) c.24.9%

Danny Fiszman 24.1%

Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith 15.9%

Stan Kroenke 12.38%

Richard Carr 4.375%

Other board associates, family and friends 4.7%

Peter Hill-Wood 0.804%

Lord Harris of Peckham 0.085%

Ken Friar 0.076%

Sir Chips Keswick 0.064%

Keith Edelman 0.040%

Remainder of shares (split between 1,400 individuals) 12.57%

Premier clubs in US hands

ASTON VILLA Randy Lerner took over in Aug 2006. Also owns the NFL's Cleveland Browns.

LIVERPOOL Tom Hicks and George Gillett took over in Feb 2007, but their relationship turned sour.

MANCHESTER UTD Malcolm Glazer gained control in May 2005. Also owns the NFL side Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference