'Silent Stan' makes noise as a major player in US

Stan Kroenke is a very private man but the success of his sporting franchises speaks for itself, writes Nick Harris
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The Independent Football

Stan Kroenke is about as self-promoting as David Dein is shy and retiring. In other words, not very. The 59-year-old is an intensely private man who rarely speaks in public, and is known in Denver as "Silent Stanley". So as and when the proposed partnership between Arsenal and Kroenke's MLS team, the Colorado Rapids, comes to fruition, it is safe to say he won't be reaching for the mic to announce it himself.

He is, however, a major player in American sport: he owns franchises in the NFL (St Louis Rams), NBA (Denver Nuggets), NHL (Colorado Avalanche), America's indoor football league (Colorado Crush) and the National Lacrosse League (Colorado Mammoth). He also owns Altitude, a sports and entertainment TV channel, and Denver's Pepsi Center.

Property, especially shopping centres and apartment blocks, has been the main source of his $2bn-plus personal fortune. His sports investments have often involved real-estate deals.

Kroenke's wife, Ann, is also wealthy, independently, as an heiress to the Wal-Mart retail empire, the biggest in the world with annual turnover of £160bn. Suffice to say, Kroenke has an eye for a deal and for mutually beneficial alliances, although he and Ann knew each other before either became hugely rich.

Kroenke is by no means ingrained in football. He was named Enos Stanley Kroenke after two famous St Louis Cardinals baseball players, Enos Slaughter and Stan "The Man" Musial, who were revered in Missouri, where he was born and grew up. His major sporting passion is basketball. But he has an excellent track record in developing profitable and successful sports businesses via Kroenke Sports Enterprise. The Rams won the Super Bowl in 2000, and Avalanche won the NHL's Stanley Cup under his stewardship in 2000-01.

Of most relevance to football fans, he is committed to helping the professional game develop into a mainstream American sport.

Kroenke bought the Rapids from the AEG tycoon, Phil Anschutz, in 2003, and promised to develop a dedicated soccer-specific-stadium (SSS), a pledge now brought to fruition. From the start of the MLS 2007 season in April, the Rapids will play at Dick's Sporting Goods Park (DSGP) in the Denver suburb of Commerce City. Since 2002 they have been playing home games at the Denver Broncos' Invesco Field home. DSGP cost $138m to build in a venture funded 50-50 by Kroenke and the city. The stadium will seat 18,500 people initially but the site covers 360 acres and includes 24 pitches, primarily for youth football. The plan is to attract up to 500,000 children to use the facility annually.

Kroenke knows that for his related retail businesses at Commerce City to thrive, the football must bring people in. Hence the investment in the Rapids franchise and infrastructure, and the push to raise the club's profile in the US and beyond. That is why Kroenke and his main strategist, Jeff Plush - the Rapids' vice-president and managing director - are attracted by links with Arsenal, links that might lead to expansion one day on this side of the Atlantic.

FMMInternational, a football-focused consultancy, forecasts an upturn in Anglo-American football ventures, on both sides of the Atlantic. Dan Fletcher, an FMMI director, said: "Recent developments in the US market make it an increasingly attractive expansion market for European clubs." Equally, he added, Americans - like Kroenke - are starting to see the value that English football has to them.

The arrival of David Beckham in America will boost all MLS clubs, Kroenke's more than most. DSGP has been chosen as the venue for this year's MLS All-Stars game, versus Gordon Strachan's Celtic on 19 July.

Beckham will only just have arrived Stateside but Ivan Gazidis, the deputy commissioner of the MLS, has hinted his inclusion will be a no-brainer. "There's two commissioner's picks [for the MLS team]," he said. "I leave you to speculate whether he'll get selected."

Even Silent Stanley should turn up for that.

States of play: Four other Americans interested in the beautiful game

Robert Kraft

Kraft, 65, is the dollar billionaire who owns the NFL's New England Patriots and New England Revolution of the MLS, as well as the 68,000-seat Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, where both franchises are based. Explored the possibility of buying Liverpool, and would only be interested in a major brand.

Dave Checketts

The 50-year-old Checketts is the owner of the St Louis Blues (NHL) and Real Salt Lake (MLS). Last year, the football club announced plans for an alliance with Real Madrid based around youth development in America. Checketts could probably not afford an English club on his own, but might attract partners via his Sports Capital Partners firm.

Hunt Sports Group

Owns two MLS sides, as well as the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and a holding in the NBA's Chicago Bulls. Founder Lamar Hunt died last month, aged 74, but his four children will run his empire, which has long-standing links to football and is looking to expand.

Phil Anschutz

Anschutz, 67, is worth £4bn. His Anschutz Entertainment Group owns three MLS sides, and interests in European ice hockey and Swedish football. AEG has a "strategic alliance" with Chelsea via LA Galaxy.

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