Kroenke takes majority control at Arsenal but ‘business as usual’ at Emirates

By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

11 April 2011

Updated at 10.30am

American billionaire Stan Kroenke has taken his stake in Arsenal to almost 63 per cent by doing deals to buy the shares of Danny Fiszman and Lady Nina Bracewell Smith in a move that will cost him £234m for that stock but is unlikely to lead to any imminent changes in the way the club is run.

Details of the deals were confirmed on Monday morning in a statement from his Kroenke Sports Enterprises firm, but a source close to the owners expects ‘business as usual’ for the foreseeable future.

The purchases have been agreed now for one main reason: Arsenal director Fiszman, 66, is gravely ill with throat cancer and wants to sort out his financial affairs as a matter of the utmost urgency in order to make future provision for his children, who don’t want to maintain the family link to the club when he is no longer around.

Kroenke now has effective control of the 10,025 shares owned by Fiszman (16.11 per cent) and the 9,893 shares owned by Lady Nina (15.9 per cent) for around £11,750 each, as well as around one per cent of other stock in the hands of ‘family and friends’ of the Arsenal board. Those transactions value the club at around £731m.

Kroenke has effectively had the box seat in control terms at Arsenal, if not a majority stake, since as far back as summer 2008.

Kroenke said today he was ‘excited about the opportunity to increase our involvement with and commitment to Arsenal … a fantastic club with a special history and tradition and a wonderful manager in Arsene Wenger. We intend to build on this rich heritage and take the club to new success.’

The purchase means Kroenke’s own holding has surged past the 29.99 per cent he owned before, triggering a mandatory offer for all the remaining shares he does not own.

However the next biggest stakeholder is the Uzbek billionaire, Alisher Usmanov, who owns 27 per cent of the club, and the early whispers from those aware of his thinking is that he has been taken by surprise by Kroenke’s move but is unlikely to sell his stake to the American for now.

With a fortune estimated by Forbes at more than £10bn, Usmanov’s 27 per cent of Arsenal (worth £193m at today’s market rates) is small beer, so liquidating that cash is not of much interest to him per se. Rather, he is expected to ‘let the dust settle’ on the Kroenke stockpiling, and hope that at some point in the not too distant future he can have a cordial relationship with ‘Silent Stan’ and some role at the club, perhaps even with a seat on the board as a minority owner.

It isn’t known what Kroenke’s view of that would be, but Kroenke is not expected to be overly aggressive is chasing the shares he doesn’t own, and neither is any shareholder obliged to sell to him unless he reaches a 90 per cent ownership threshold, which won’t happen without Usmanov anyway.

The upshot is that Kroenke will own more of the club, but nothing much else is expected to change. The 11 per cent of shares not owned now by Kroenke and Usmanov are mostly in the hands of small investors and / or fan shareholders, many of whom are aligned to the influential Arsenal Supporters Trust, which has had close and cordial links to Kroenke since he first became involved in the club.

The AST also established the Arsenal Fanshare scheme, which has the full support of Kroenke, and has already seen 1,800 fans invest more than £500,000 in shares in the club. Tim Payton of the AST has told sportingintelligence that he “hopes and believes” Kroenke will stay true to the plurality of ownership at the club, at least in terms of supporter involvement. (Tim Payton often has the Arsenal inside line on Twitter. Especially today (Mon 11 April, so check him for updates. Tim has spoken to Ivan Gazidis, who ‘reiterated the importance he places upon fans involvement & our shared commitment to custodianship’).

Kroenke first established links to Arsenal more than four years, as revealed here at the time. With interests in the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLS as well as arenas, communications and ticketing, he is one of the world’s major cross-sports owner-tycoons.

Kroenke, 63, who is married to a WalMart heiress who is a billionaire in her own right, also has an excellent (and almost wholly non-controversial) track record in ownership.

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