Arsenal’s ownership group, Kroenke Sports Entertainment (KSE), is led by American billionaire Stan Kroenke. In recent years, his son, Josh Kroenke, is KSE’s public face and point person for all Premier League and Arsenal-related matters.
KSE’s road to full control of Arsenal was a lengthy one:
- KSE first acquired an ownership stake in Arsenal in April 2007, with the purchase of just 10% of the shares.
- By September 2008, after steadily added to its stake, KSE held 29.9% of Arsenal’s shares, just shy of the 29.99% threshold at which an ownership group must make an offer for all remaining shares.
- In April 2011, KSE bought out two more key stakeholders to raise its ownership stake to nearly 63%.
- Finally, in August 2018, after a bit of wrangling, KSE bought the shares in club held by Alisher Usmanov, bringing its stake to over 90%, and making compulsory the purchase of all remaining shares to become sole owner.
Since that takeover in 2018 (and, it must be said, for a time prior to it as well), Arsenal’s on-pitch results have been underwhelming, and the club has struggled to recapture the stability of years’ past. Naturally, this has resulted in pushback against KSE and the Kroenke family. Some of this animosity stems from the departure of Arsene Wenger, the legendary manager who served as the club’s public face and papered over many of the cracks under the surface. Those cracks were plainly visible following Wenger’s exit, with the hiring of manager Unai Emery and turnover in the club’s upper management.
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These days, it seems as though KSE have recognised the mistakes of the past, and undertaken a rebuilding process at Arsenal that’s more reminiscent of what one would expect from a U.S. sports franchise. Rather than contending perennially, as is expected of all huge clubs in European football, Arsenal have taken a step back, as teams in the U.S. do during a downslope in a competitive cycle. After all, the Kroenkes do own the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.
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KSE’s ownership of franchises across different leagues has created an environment for collaboration and an exchange of ideas. For example, the Rams looked to technology and techniques employed in the Premier League begin tracking players’ physical activity in order to avoid fatigue and overworking. It’s probably no coincidence that the Rams have found themselves in the NFL’s bottom-five in player injuries over the past three seasons. But what learnings can Arsenal take from the Rams, Nuggets and Avalanche?
The Kroenke’s U.S.-based sports franchises – each of which has endured some difficult stretches over the past dozen years – has been rebuilt with an eye toward: 1) finding a trusted head coach/operations team with a long-term vision; 2) investment into player development; and then 3) investment into player recruitment.
For the Los Angeles Rams, the first step was hiring head coach Sean McVay and general manager Les Snead. The second step was the development of the young players on the roster – the most notable example here is wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who’s gone from an unheralded third-round draft pick, to arguably the best player in his position in the league. Finally, they invested heavily (both financially and through the sacrifice of virtually all future draft capital) in established stars like quarterback Mathew Stafford, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Von Miller, and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr
THE YOUNGEST HEAD COACH TO WIN A SUPER BOWL: SEAN MCVAY. 🏆 pic.twitter.com/QprNVDuWOb
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) February 14, 2022
With the Denver Nuggets, KSE hired head coach Michael Malone in 2015 and, in 2013, following the departure of arguably the best executive in the NBA, Masai Ujiri, brought on Tim Connelly as general manager (he’s since been promoted to President of Basketball Operations). In the years since, the team achieved one of the great scouting and player development triumphs in recent memory with the drafting of reigning MVP Nikola Jokic in the 2nd round (#41 overall) in 2014. Two years later they drafted future All-Star Jamal Murray with the sixth overall pick, and two years after that drafted Michael Porter Jr., a consensus top-three talent whose lone season in college basketball was almost entirely lost to a back injury, with the #14 overall pick. Porter was allowed to rehabilitate his injury and develop at a measured pace (he sat out his entire rookie season of 2018-19), and has become a star in his own right. It must be said, however, that Porter has lost all but nine games of the current season to a back injury (there’s the ‘high-risk’ portion of ‘high-risk, high-reward’ rearing its head), but the success in his development is undeniable. The team has signed each player to maximum-salary contract extensions, and supplemented its core with a young star in Aaron Gordon, who was acquired via trade last season.
Finally, we have the Colorado Avalanche. This is the Kroenke property that’s most similar to Arsenal. Once perennial contenders, starting in 2008 the Avalanche endured a nine-year run in which they qualified for the NHL playoffs just twice. Toward the end of that stretch, in 2015, current general manager (and one-time legendary Avalnche player) Joe Sakic hired head coach Joe Bednar, who, to that point, had no NHL head coaching experience.
The already-struggling team bottomed out in the 2016-17, posting a 48-point total that was not only worst in the NHL, but some 21 points adrift of the league’s next-worst team. However, the Avalanche fully committed to a rebuild, shipped out key veterans (sound familiar, Arsenal fans?), namely the team’s star player, Matt Duchene, and accumulating youth players and draft picks as a foundation for the rebuild. They’ve since built on that foundation, and begun adding players around the edges of their bright young core. At the time of writing, the Avalanche boast not only the best record in the NHL – which includes an awesome 22-game unbeaten streak – but also two top 20 prospects. They’re built for the present and future.
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For Arsenal, the hope is that first part of the three-pronged strategy was initiated in December 2019, with the hirings of Mikel Arteta as manager and Edu Gaspar in Football Operations. Meanwhile, the management structure has been streamlined with the departures of Ivan Gazidis (September 2018) and Raul Sanlehhi (summer 2020), and Vinai Venkatesham was named sole CEO of the club, after having served as “co-CEO” alongside Gazidis.
Secondly, Arsenal committed to developing key talents out of their Hale End youth academy. The most notable graduate of the academy thus far Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, while promising youngsters, like Gabriel Martinelli, continue to develop in the U-20 ranks. In the meantime, the club has begun to acquire young, high-potential senior players, like Gabriel Magalhaes, while clearing out high-priced older players (Mesut Özil, Willian and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, for examples) who fit neither Arteta’s vision nor the timeline of the rebuild project.
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Finally, Arsenal have shown intent for bringing in highly talented players that do fit the project. The summer of 2021 saw a spending spree of over £100 million that brought in the likes of Aaron Ramsdale, Takehiro Tomiyasu, and Ben White – each of whom has become a foundational pillar of the team. Arsenal seemingly intend to keep up that targeted spending as, in January, the club was linked with a reported move for then-Fiorentina striker Dusah Vlahovic (who ultimately chose his boyhood club and Champions League fixture Juventus) and Real Sociedad striker Alexander Isak. If this trend holds, Arsenal should be a major player in the summer 2022 transfer market, with quality midfielder and a balanced number nine on their shopping list.
Asked about next summer’s transfer window, Arteta told reporters at his pre-Watford press conference: “More important [than last summer]. I think now is the moment we have to go to a different level.
“We have been able to get the squad balance in a much better shape. Financially, we are in a much more stable position with the money we have spent on certain players touching the pitch for a certain amount of minutes. That balance is much better spread out across the squad.
“And now is the moment to raise the quality.”
The process is at different stages with each franchise, but each seems to be working toward the same overarching goal: creating a sustainable, long-term winner. The Rams just won the Super Bowl and are to retool for a title defense (though some manner of rebuild is likely in the cards for 2-3 years from now). The Nuggets, meanwhile, have also been contenders in recent years – injuries to Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. have set the team back this season, but the presence of Jokic and a solid supporting cast have them playoff-bound once again. And the Avalanche, as we just discussed, are currently the best team in the NHL and set up to contend for years to come. Arsenal supporters will hope that the Gunners are similarly are on the rise, with a top-four finish potentially in sight, despite fielding the Premier League’s youngest starting XI.
Though not everything always goes perfectly to plan, there’s a clear plan – a methodical and patient one – in place for Arsenal that’s yielded considerable sustainable success at KSE’s other sports franchises.
Dr. Rajpal Brar, DPT, (@3cbperformance) is a physiotherapist, movement expert, fitness trainer, sports scientist and mindfulness coach. He runs the LA and online based physiotherapy and athletic performance clinic 3CB Performance, and you can subscribe to his Youtube channel (which posts analyses of Lionel Messi and more).