With Arsenal recording their lowest ever home attendance against Doncaster on Wednesday night, you may or may not be shocked to learn that Stan Kroeke’s other teams are facing similar issues.
Ever since Stan Kroenke became a majority shareholder at Arsenal in 2011, there have always been concerns as to how his previous record of owning sporting teams would predict his management of Arsenal, both financially and competitively. We knew that his teams were never awful, but we also knew that he would never put any of his own money into the club in order to help Arsenal in a bidding war with the likes of oil-rich clubs like Manchester City or Chelsea.
It’s easy to justify this way of running a club. ‘Living within your means’ is not a bad way to illustrate just how unfair a market is when some clubs have access to government funds when they want to buy a marquee player, (I wonder how Neymar feels about playing in Paris at the moment?) you get to spend hundreds of millions of pounds every year whilst at the same time also reserve the right to complain about others spending even more. As long as the club is spending as much of its own money as possible on trying to win football games, then the owner is doing a good job.
When Kroenke took over six years ago, this was the general sentiment. He was a billionaire who had no record of liquidating clubs from the inside for personal gain, and had always kept his counsel to himself whenever one of his teams was under-performing. Yes, he was buying Arsenal for financial reasons rather than a romantic notion of buying the club that was dear to his heart, but they were long-term financial reasons, reasons that wouldn’t impact Arsenal’s ability to compete on the field. He was the proverbial ‘safe pair of hands’.
Today, that isn’t the case.
It’s one thing being an incompetent owner. Incompetency can be overcome when the owner decides to take a back seat and let the experts run the team for him. It’s another thing being a cheap owner. Having an owner who consistently takes money out of the club can be overcome by hiring a commercial department who can make up the shortfall.
The problem Arsenal have is that Stan Kroenke is neither one or the other right now. He’s both.
I did a podcast a few months ago on the potential trouble that Kroenke was heading towards, and you can listen to that here. A summary would be the following:
- He moved his home town NFL team, the St.Louis Rams, to Los Angeles purely for financial gain.
- He’s building a super-stadium that is rocketing in cost.
- He needs two NFL teams to play in that stadium to fill it every week to make the stadium financially viable.
Kroenke, who never takes risks, took a huge one here. He needs Los Angeles to come out in force for a team that they lost in 1995 in order to be confident that his stadium will be a success. Let’s have a look at the attendance for the Rams’ opening home game last Sunday…
That’s the University of Southern California football team, or USC, running onto the field before the game starts. Yes, they have played there since 1923, so they absolutely will have a bond with the local community that neither the Rams nor Chargers have as of yet. But the crowd in the third picture is bigger than the crowd in the first two pictures combined. And whilst the Rams aren’t exactly doing themselves any favours with the quality of their play, the Chargers have one of the best quarterbacks in the game. There should be no reason why they can’t fill a 27,000-seater stadium for their first ever game in a new city. The novelty factor alone should have helped fill it, but it wasn’t to be.
Incompetent decision-making is one thing, but when you accompany cheapness with it, then you’re in trouble. It’s one thing to make the wrong decisions, but when you’re making the wrong decisions because you are too worried about the bottom line of the financial report, then disaster looms. So when the NBA financial records were somewhat leaked this week (You can, and should if you’re a basketball fan, read the entire column by ESPN here), I was curious as to what, if anything, would be revealed about Kroenke’s Denver Nuggets.
There was, and it’s a doozie.
‘The Nuggets’ total expense bill, including player salaries and administrative costs, was the lowest in the league, records show.’
Lowest in the league. In a league that limits the amount you can spend on salaries in the first place, this is extraordinarily cheap. Despite having the third highest scoring team in the league, Denver’s attendance is the lowest in the league. Imagine how disenfranchised a fan base must be when they don’t want to go see Nikola Jokic play like this.
A disillusioned fan base, a stadium struggling to sell out every week, and willingly not spending money to improve a team that can wow fans with its attacking play. Sound familiar?
Yes, this was a League Cup tie against a team from a lower division, and yes, there’s always going to be games where Arsenal don’t sell out due to outside circumstances, but the attendance for the Doncaster was the lowest since the Emirates Stadium opened. It doesn’t matter that it was still almost twice as big as the crowd that went to see Spurs play in Wembley the night before, the important thing is that more and more Arsenal fans are being given more and more reasons to not go and watch their team, and it all stems from the decisions that our majority shareholder is making that suit his own interests instead of the club.
It suited Kroenke rather than the board that Wenger stayed on, it suited Kroenke rather than Wenger that as much money as possible was sought for outgoing transfers instead of just getting rid as quickly as possible to avoid any FFP wage bill issues, and it suits Kroenke that an under-performing commercial department is kept in place rather than replacing or even adding to it or order to keep up with our rivals’ transfer outlay, because he loses less money in the short-term.
When Kroenke took over in 2011, he said he would be a custodian of the club, and always act in the club’s best interests. Clearly, this isn’t the case any more. He may be ‘Silent Stan’, but action always speak louder than words.