Stan Kroenke: Great Businessman, Terrible Owner

Stan Kroenke
LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Arsenal majority shareholder Stan Kroenke before the Emirates FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley Stadium on May 27, 2017 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

“Silent” Stan Kroenke owns a sports empire enviable to any fan. It all began with an investment in the Rams organization in 1995, after they moved from Los Angeles to St. Louis, and spans not just the United States, but abroad as well.

All in all, Stan Kroenke is involved, as an owner or otherwise, with six clubs across five different sports in six different leagues. As a result, he is ranked as one of the wealthiest in athletics.

However, despite the success on paper, he is often reviled by not only pundits but even by fans. So, let’s take a look at the Kroenke Empire, how it came to be and, of course, how well it is being run.

A Brief History of Stan Kroenke’s Sports Empire

Beginnings

Stan Kroenke first entered the world of sports with the then-St. Louis Rams of the National Football League. In 1995, following their relocation to America’s Heartland, he was appointed as Chairman to oversee the transition.

Kroenke later purchased a minority share in the team in 1999, the same year the franchise won their only Super Bowl ring. The magnate then expanded his influence over the world of athletics, purchasing both the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche in April 2000.

This was Silent Stan’s first big-money sports purchase, as he put down $450 million to purchase both clubs, as well as their stadium. Much like his investment in the Rams, Kroenke’s investment soon brought success in Denver.

Just over a year after the deal, the Avalanche raised the Stanley Cup, Hockey’s highest honor and the team’s second ever. During these early days, Kroenke and his cronies seemed to turn everything they touched to gold.

The mogul continued his interest in the Denver-area sports scene, and made another splash four years later. Kroenke bought the Colorado Rapids of the MLS, as well as the Colorado Mammoth, a professional lacrosse team, from Phil Anschutz.

MLS was still a struggling young league in desperate need of owners capable of stabilizing the various franchises. In fact, Phil Anschutz personally founded seven different MLS franchises during his tenure; the LA Galaxy, NY/NJ Metrostars (now NY Red Bulls), Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo, DC United, San Jose Earthquakes as well as the Colorado Rapids.

Also, as part of MLS law, Kroenke had to buy a stake in the league, meaning that at the time the purchase was a real coup for all interested parties. Silent Stan’s bid, however, was never made public, so we’ll have to estimate the final purchase price.

We’ll use other MLS franchise sales, as well as current team values, to estimate the bid. Over the ten year period between 1998 and 2008 six clubs were sold in the league, including the Rapids to Kroenke.

All current club values from Forbes.

LA Galaxy sold for $28 million in 1998, currently worth $315 million.

Metrostars sold for $30 million in 2006, currently worth $245 million.

Chicago Fire sold for $35 million in 2007, currently worth $240 million.

DC United sold for $33 million in 2007, currently worth $230 million.

Houston Dynamo sold 50% of the franchise for between $20-25 million in 2008, currently worth $218 million.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Rapids were sold in 2004, currently worth $135 million.

So, being that the Rapids are one of the least-valuable franchises, it is unlikely the purchase price exceeded the $30 million the Red Bull Corporation paid for Metrostars in 2006, just two years later.

Also, due to inflation and growth of the league, the sale price of the Galaxy was far less than it would have been in 2004. We’ll use the other data to definitively say that since those franchises are more valuable than Colorado, these prices are higher than Kroenke would have paid.

That means that Stan Kroenke likely paid around $25 million for the Rapids organization. We couldn’t find any data about the purchase price or value of the Colorado Mammoth (his lacrosse team).

Across the Atlantic

The patient, out-spoken magnate then played the waiting game for three long years before making his next move. This time, he looked across the Atlantic to one of Europe’s most storied clubs, Arsenal FC.

In April 2007, still within the first year of the move to Emirates Stadium from Highbury, it was announced that Stan Kroenke bought 9.9% of the club from ITV in a deal worth £65 million ($84 million).

Later that month, after Davey Dein left the club for personal reasons, Silent Stan slipped in and bought even more shares, 2.29% to be exact, giving him 12.19% of the team.

We couldn’t find the price paid for these shares, so let’s do some math to figure it out. If Kroenke bought 9.9% of the club for £65 million, each percent was worth £6,565,656.57 per share, so another 2.27% would have gone for around £15 million ($19,262,428.95).

Mr. Kroenke made his next move in 2009, deepening his investment in the club. In March of that year he bought up 5,000 shares from Danny Fiszman, paying £42.5 million ($54.93 million).

Later, in May, he made more waves by buying the Carr family out of the club; their 4,839 shares sold for £41 million ($52.99 million). In July, Kroenke again put money on the table, buying another 160 shares at £8,500 per share (£1.36 million/$1.76 million).

Almost a year later, the patient mogul again bought a small tranche of shares. In March 2010, Kroenke purchased 1.41% more of the club, at a rate of £9,250 per share (£8,114,652.23/$10,487,619.98), taking him to 29.9% ownership of the club.

With Gooners worldwide watching and waiting for Kroenke to make his final move to buy the club, he turned his attention back to the United States. His long-time investment in the Rams was coming to fruition, as he had the first right of refusal in buying the team after it went up for sale.

Stan Kroenke had to pay $450 million to buy the 60% of the team he didn’t already own, making him the newest (at the time) NFL owner. Buying the team also meant he had to hand over ownership of both the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche due to NFL regulations.

By 2015 both organizations had been passed down to his son, Josh Kroenke, to run with his wife, Ann Walton Kroenke (a Wal-Mart heiress) as the President and Owner (in name anyway), respectively.

However, by then the Kroenke empire had swelled to include 67.05% of Arsenal Football Club.

His long-time rivalry with fellow minority owner Alisher Usmanov had come to a head in April 2011, when Silent Stan took over the club.

He made arrangements with Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith to purchase her 15.9% interest in the club, as well as the remaining shares owned by Danny Fiszman (16.11%). A further 4.64% stake was purchased from various other shareholders, all at a rate of £11,750 ($15,186.05) per share.

Grand total, the American businessman spent £267,929,733.09 ($346,280,424.94) to buy a majority interest in Arsenal in April 2011.

Currently Stank Kroenke’s controls 67.05% of Arsenal FC shares, accounting for 41,721 out of 62,217. Since 2007, he has paid a total of £440,939,739.15 ($569,883,747.07) for these shares.

Hero or Zero?

No doubt the sheer size of the Kroenke sports empire is impressive, but how have his teams developed during his time as an owner? To gauge success we can use two different metrics.

First, as this is an athletics venture, the number of trophies won can be used to measure success. Ask any sports fan and this statistic will invariably be the most important, as that is the reason we all tune in.

Next, as any team is also a business, the metric of team value can be used to measure success. After all, if the club can’t afford to pay its players to win the match, there won’t be a game at all.

Let’s begin with the financial side of sports.

Stan Kroenke earned his moniker (Silent Stan) through careful investments not only in real estate, where he made his fortune, but also in his sports ventures. Every single one of his teams is worth more in 2017 than when he purchased them, in some cases by a country mile.

His first two clubs, the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, cost him $450 million in 2000, a huge sum for anyone. Today, according to Forbes, the Nuggets are worth $890 million (£688.93 million), and the Avalanche $360 million (£278.55 million).

In 2004 his empire grew to include the Colorado Rapids and the Colorado Mammoth. While we don’t know exactly how much either sold for, or in the case of the Mammoth even how much they are worth, we do know approximate values from the calculations above.

The Rapids were likely bought by Kroenke for somewhere between $20-30 million, so let’s assume it is right around $25 million. Even though they are ranked #19 in terms of value in the MLS, the Rapids are still worth $105 million (£81.25 million).

The Mammoth, being a professional lacrosse team and therefore less popular and inevitably less valuable than the others on this list, for our purposes will be counted as part of the estimated $25 million paid for the Rapids, and their current worth as part of the $105 million they are worth today.

In 1995, Silent Stan bought his minority share in the St. Louis Rams franchise for $60 million. When he became majority owner in 2010, he paid $450 million for the requisite shares, bringing his total investment to $510 million (£394.61 million). Today Forbes values the Los Angeles Rams at $2.9 billion (£2.24 million).

Dark Days at the Emirates

That, of course, brings us to Arsenal. Stan Kroenke doled out $569,883,747.07 (£440,939,739.15) between April 2007 and today for his 67.05% stake. Today Forbes lists Arsenal as the sixth most valuable soccer club in the world, worth $1.932 billion (£1.511 billion).

Let’s tally up how much Kroenke spent to gain his empire, and how much it is worth today.

Paid

$569,883,747.07 (Arsenal) + $510,000,000 (Rams) + $450,000,000 (Avalanche & Nuggets) + $25,000,000 (estimated for Rapids & Mammoth) =

$1,554,883,747.07 (£1,194,928,159.62)

Current Value

$1,932,000,000 (Arsenal) + $2,900,000,000 (Rams) + $890,000,000 (Nuggets) + $360,000,000 (Avalanche) + $105,000,000 (Rapids) =

$6,187,000,000 (£4,754,709,500.00)

That’s a difference of $4,632,116,252.93 (£3,559,781,340.38)

There is really no denying the fact that Stan Kroenke is one hell of a businessman. Not only has each and every one of his sports franchises increased in worth, but his investments have nearly quadrupled in value.

What about on field success? The rise of the ‘Wenger Out’ movement in North London, fan protests against moving the Rams, and the fact that the Colorado Rapids currently sit dead last in the MLS standings suggest a dearth of triumphs.

Let’s take a look at the numbers.

He has owned a majority of shares at Arsenal for six seasons now, the Rams also for six (as sole owner), the Avalanche and Nuggets for 15 each (until he gave them to his wife and son to run), and the Rapids and Mammoth for 13 seasons each. Totaled up that is 68 seasons in all sports that Kroenke has been an owner.

In all those seasons, his teams have won their respective league on 3 different occasions; the 2000-01 Avalanche, the 2006 Mammoth and the 2010 Rapids. As far as total trophies go, that number doubles as Arsenal have won three FA Cups with Kroenke at the helm.

3 leagues in 68 seasons = 4.4%

6 trophies in 68 seasons = 8.8%

Kroenke of course spent time in a few of these organizations filling a role other than that of an owner. What if we added these seasons to our numbers?

From 2007 until 2011 Silent Stan served on the Arsenal board, so we’ll add four seasons with no trophies to the list. He was Chairman of the Rams organization for 15 years from 1995 until his takeover in 2010, yielding one Super Bowl win. We’ll also add in the four seasons played between the Avalanche and Nuggets since Ann Walton Kroenke became owner and Josh Kroenke President, as they are part of the Kroenke family and by extension the family empire.

So the total is now 91 total seasons, 4 leagues and 7 trophies.

4 leagues in 91 seasons = 4.4%

7 trophies in 91 seasons = 7.6%

While these numbers are low, they are currently being considered without comparison, so let’s add some data from other EPL owners.

Last season’s Champions Chelsea are owned by Russian Oil Oligarch Roman Abramovich, who bought the team in 2003. They have completed 13 Premier League campaigns under Abramovich, winning 5 Leagues, 4 FA Cups, 2 League Cup, 1 Europa League and 1 Champions League, for a total of 13 major trophies.

5 leagues in 13 seasons = 38%

13 trophies in 13 seasons = 100%

Let’s shift our focus to Old Trafford, where the Glazers have owned Manchester United since 2005. In 11 Premier League seasons they have amassed 5 Leagues, 1 FA Cup, 4 League Cups, 1 Europa League and 1 Champions League, totaling 12 major trophies.

5 leagues in 11 seasons = 45%

12 trophies in 11 seasons = 109%

Finally let’s move across Manchester to the light blue side, which has been under Sheikh Mansour’s rule since 2008. In 9 seasons the Citizens have won 2 Leagues, 1 FA Cup and 2 League Cups.

2 leagues in 9 seasons = 22%

5 trophies in 9 seasons = 56%

This metric shows Kroenke’s empire being left in the dust compared to the EPL’s other billionaire owners. The real estate mogul, comparatively speaking, isn’t even on the same planet as the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United.

So, as good as Silent Stan is with his dollars and cents, he doesn’t seem to be very good at winning trophies. However, it is a bit unfair to compare soccer to other sports, so lets’s look at just the data from his time at Arsenal, including his time on the board before assuming ownership.

0 leagues in 9 seasons = 0%

3 trophies in 9 seasons = 34%

Even when leaving out his American sports ventures, Stan Kroenke is just not cut from the same cloth as other owners.

Also, just for fun, let’s find out how much each of those shiny FA Cups costed Kroenke.

$569,883,747.07 (paid for club) / 3 FA Cups = $189,961,249.02 (£145,985,219.87)

So, he paid almost $200 million for each trophy. Someone needs to tell Stan silver isn’t quite that expensive!

Why is he Here?

The immortal question that no one, save for the Silent One himself, can answer. Personally, I can think of two good reasons to buy a sports team; glory and money.

Glory doesn’t seem to appeal to Mr. Kroenke; just look at the section above. An owner who puts glory, or winning trophies, as priority number one will always be welcomed by fans, as this is their priority as well.

However, his actions, and even at times his words, prove that glory is no factor for Stan. During his time as owner we have seen Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie all get sold when the team just couldn’t handle losing them.

Also, three FA Cups for a team that is the sixth most valuable in the sport worldwide is just unacceptable. Add that to the abysmal EPL campaigns (best finish was second, ten points behind the leaders), and there is just no argument to be made; Kroenke doesn’t care about winning.

In fact, just over one year ago, Silent Stan made waves when he said this,

“For me, being an individual owner, I have to have some sort of reality involved. If you want to win championships then you would never get involved. I think the best owners in sports are the guys that sort of watch both sides a bit. If you don’t have a good business then you can’t really afford to go out and get the best players unless you just want to rely on other sources of income.”

That isn’t quite tantamount to saying ‘I don’t care if my team wins a single game’, but it isn’t exactly not. It’s also very hard to swallow from a man whose NFL team famously threw an entire season to get the number one draft pick, saving big on free agent signings in the off-season.

Obviously, Kroenke is terrific at making money, as was mentioned before he has essentially quadrupled his investment in his sports empire. However, when we look at the bid he rejected from Alisher Usmanov earlier this year, it starts to look as if cash doesn’t motivate Stan either.

As stated before he spent almost $570 million buying Arsenal, and rejected Usmanov’s bid of $1.68 billion for his 67.05% stake. Currently that 67.05% is worth $1.3 billion (based on current Forbes valuation), so Kroenke would get a sweet deal either way you look at it.

On the one hand he would triple his investment, and could go out and re-invest in other lucrative ventures, and on the other he would be getting more money than his shares are worth for not lifting a finger.

Obviously, he wouldn’t gain any future profits from the Gunners in that scenario, so I suppose he must really be raking in the cash to reject such a massive offer. After all a businessman as skilled as Stan Kroenke would easily be able to reinvest that capital, and further grow their portfolio. Therefore, this particular venture must be far more lucrative than most others.

Conclusion

Owners tend to be polarizing figures, and Silent Stan is no exception. For most of his peers, such as Roman Abramovich, the controversy normally comes from audacious bids for young talent, or from spectacular results on the field.

Kroenke, however, makes waves through his deafening silence, and apparent apathy towards his club.

As a businessman he is unheralded in his ability to make money, yet as a club owner he is unrivaled in his unsuccessful yet stable handling of affairs. With only a 4.4% chance in a given season that his team will finish as the league’s best, regardless of sport, Silent Stan is quiet both in the boardroom and on the pitch.

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