By Nick Harris
13 April 2010
Stan Kroenke, the billionaire American sports franchise owner who is also the single largest shareholder in Arsenal, decided in the early hours of this morning (late Monday, US time) to make a bid for complete ownership of the St Louis Rams NFL franchise, in contravention of widespread belief he would sell his 40 per cent holding, or at least keep it.
In one sense, Kroenke’s bid is entirely in keeping with his long-term policy in sport: he has never sold a single share in any sports franchise he has invested in, to date. He owns an NBA basketball team, an NHL ice hockey franchise, an MLS team and other sports interests and venues in the USA, as well as 29.9 per cent of Arsenal.
On the other hand, in exercising his NFL owner’s right to bid for the 60 per cent of the Rams he doesn’t own, the conservative, low-profile Kroenke, 62, apparently puts himself on collision course with the NFL’s rulers. Complex ownership rules would currently prevent the 100 per ownership of an NFL franchise by Kroenke while he wholly owns other franchises in other sports.
Some US analysts believe Kroenke is ready for a legal battle to change the rules while others believe he may already have the private blessing of the NFL to press ahead, knowing he would be given permission. Nobody in officialdom is commenting yet. Given Kroenke’s quiet, determined and virtually conflict-free ownership pattern in sport, it would seem unlikely he is ready to engage in a messy power struggle.
The 60 per cent of the Rams not owned by Kroenke has been up for sale for a while, with owner Chip Rosenbloom and his sister Lucia Rodriguez looking to offload since inheriting the team since from their mother in 2008. In February they agreed a sale of the 60 per cent to an Illinois tycoon, Shahid Khan, for a sum believed to be $450m (about £300m).
Under NFL ownership rules, that left Kroenke with a decision over whether to hold his own stake, or sell (for about $300m / £195m), or take the third option and launch his own offer the whole franchise.
He’s opted for the latter, against the odds, and against a backdrop of another battle for control elsewhere in his empire. Our story from earlier today about what’s happening at Arsenal is here. On the face of it, a bid for total control of the Rams probably makes a bid for all of Arsenal less likely, for now at least. Our earlier story also explains why Kroenke has no urgent need to rush a buyout at Arsenal, even if he wants total control there.
A statement issued by Kroenke’s KSE group in the early hours today, said: “We are pleased to announce that we have exercised our right to purchase the remaining interest in the St Louis Rams football team under the terms of our Partnership Agreement.
“We have enjoyed our involvement in the National Football League since our original expansion efforts beginning in 1993 and our subsequent 15-year partnership with the Rams.
“We look forward to working with the Rosenbloom family and the NFL. We will respect the league and its processes in our efforts to complete this transaction.” That last sentence suggests either Kroenke will scale down other holdings (history says unlikely) or that some agreement is pending.
Rosenbloom said, via a press release: “We and our advisors will work with the National Football League as we move forward with the objective of completing a transaction for the sale of our interest in the Rams.”
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