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Columbia's Kroenke adds Arsenal to sports team holdings

Monday, April 11, 2011 | 7:38 p.m. CDT

LONDON — American sports tycoon Stan Kroenke vowed Monday to turn Arsenal back into trophy winners after securing a controlling stake that clears the way for him to become the fifth U.S. owner of a Premier League club.

Kroenke, a Columbia resident, also owns the St. Louis Rams of the NFL, the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL and the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer. According to the "Forbes 400" list, Kroenke, a real estate developer, is the 130th richest American with a net worth of $2.7 billion.

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Kroenke said he would bring "new success" to the Arsenal, a club in the midst of a six-year title drought. He did not accompany the pledge with a commitment to spending heavily on new players.

Kroenke's stake in Arsenal will rise from 29.9 percent to 62.89 percent after agreeing to buy shares from fellow directors including Danny Fiszman and Nina Bracewell-Smith. The deal values the club at 731 million pounds ($1.2 billion).

By going over the 30 percent threshold, the 63-year-old Kroenke is obliged to mount a full takeover bid by making a mandatory cash offer for the remaining shares.

"We are excited about the opportunity to increase our involvement with and commitment to Arsenal," Kroenke said in a statement to London's PLUS Markets. "Arsenal is 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."

Success has been lacking at Arsenal since the London club won the FA Cup in 2005 and Premier League a year earlier. The 13-time English champions are seven points behind Manchester United with seven matches remaining of the current title race but with a game in hand over the leaders.

"It's the end of an era but it's also the beginning of an era," Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis said. "I don't think we will see dramatic changes. At the same, I do think that Mr. Kroenke brings experience in the sports arena. He's got tremendous experience in the United States and also experience now over here in England."

Manchester United fell under American ownership in 2005 when Malcolm Glazer took charge, and he has been followed by compatriots John Henry at Liverpool, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa and Ellis Short at Sunderland. Chelsea, Manchester City, Fulham, Blackburn and Birmingham are also owned by foreigners.

Leveraged takeovers at Liverpool by Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., who were forced to sell the club to Henry's ownership group last year, and the Glazer family at Manchester United enraged fans by loading their teams with new debt.

Kroenke insisted on Monday that his takeover "will not be funded by way of any debt finance."

Kroenke has also pledged to "support and adhere to the self-sustaining business model" at Arsenal, which has a tradition of being well-run, avoiding big transfer fees and relying on talent developed through its youth teams.

Wenger has had time to get to know Kroenke, who has been steadily increasing his holding in Arsenal since buying a 9.99 percent stake in April 2007 and joining the board of directors within 18 months.

"I have worked with Stan Kroenke at board meetings over the past couple of years, and I believe he has the best interests of Arsenal at heart," Wenger said. "He understands the club's heritage and traditions and our ambition to run the club in a way which protects our long-term future."

Kroenke was invited onto the Arsenal board, unlike Alisher Usmanov, a Russian who owns more than 27 percent of the club through investment vehicle Red and White Holdings.

Usmanov could reject Kroenke's offer of 11,750 pounds ($19,200) for each of the remaining shares in Arsenal after failing with a counter bid on Sunday night for Bracewell-Smith's holding.

Bracewell-Smith and Fiszman had already agreed to sell their 16 percent stakes to Kroenke.

"I am confident of Arsenal's continued success both on and off the pitch and believe that Stan Kroenke will continue to develop the club in a manner true to its heritage for the players and the fans," said Bracewell-Smith, whose family has been associated with the board for more than 70 years.

Despite initially being wary of Kroenke's intentions in 2007, Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood insisted Monday that Kroenke "will be a safe custodian" of the club's future.

"Mr. Kroenke, although relatively new to Arsenal, has shown himself to be a man who values and respects the history and traditions of this very special club that we cherish," said Hill-Wood, who is the third generation of his family to serve as chairman and will make 4.7 million pounds by selling his shares.

Kroenke wants Hill-Wood and the rest of the current board of directors to remain in place and plans to keep Arsenal listed on London's PLUS Markets.

Little is known about the 63-year-old Kroenke's plans for Arsenal, with the man dubbed "Silent Stan" previously declining to speak at the club's annual general meeting.

"He's a strong silent type, and I think that's not necessarily the worst thing when it comes to sports team owners," MLS commissioner Don Garber, who has talked to Kroenke about his plans for Arsenal, has said in the past. "He's very loyal. He's a very quiet and a strategic thinker. He doesn't make rash decisions."


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