Archive for April 12th, 2011

More takeovery thoughts

6 comments April 12th, 2011

Before we get started, here’s a compulsory reading/listening list for anyone who wants to know anything about the takeover:

Those two links will give you all the context you need to understand what is happening to Arsenal Football Club – or, in this instance, what we should probably call Arsenal Holdings PLC.

I don’t know about you but I always thought a ‘takeover’ would feel more exciting.  Perhaps the sense of ennui comes from having seen this one coming from quite so far away.  Stan Kroenke first bought in to Arsenal in April 2007.  In September 2008, he was invited to join the board of the club.  From that moment on, he was the new owner-elect.  Inviting him on to the board, having originally spurned his advances, was seen as a way of safeguarding the clubs future: particularly against the threat of Alisher Usmanov and his Red & White Holdings.

Kroenke’s ascension will be relatively popular primarily because he is regarded as the lesser of two evils.  Usmanov is widely unpopular for a variety of reasons – within the confines of the Arsenal boardroom, the prejudice against him has a more specific cause: his association with one David Dein.

Ever since Dein was frogmarched out of the boardroom and on to the Emirates concourse – for, of all things, supporting a Kroenke-led takeover – his name has been blacklisted at Arsenal.  How ironic that Kroenke now finds himself welcomed in to the fold, with Dein and Usmanov left out in the cold.

So what will change now we’re under American ownership?  As things stand, very little.  The club will most likely become more commercially aggressive, starting this summer: ticket prices will rise and the team will tour to the Far East.  But beyond that, there will be little discernible difference.  The current board will remain, including the bumbletastic Peter Hill-Wood as Chairman.  Arsene Wenger has already received Kroenke’s backing.  The status quo will, in essence, continue.

As things stand, that is.  All of the above could hinge on Alisher Usmanov’s decision over what to do with his 27% stake in the business.  Kroenke is legally obliged to bid for it at a price of £11,750 p/share.  If Usmanov decides to hold on to his lot, Kroenke will only ever be the majority shareholder, with about 35-40% of the company owned by minority parties.  If, however, Usmanov sells up, we’re probably looking at an outright buyout and privatisation of the company.

I don’t think this is necessarily what Kroenke expects, or wants.  In the offer document, KSE state they have no intention to force Arsenal off the stock market. Kroenke has publicly recognised the value of small shareholders in the past.  His obligation to bid for every available share does not mean he wants to hoover them all up.

Whilst Usmanov will ultimately decide their fate, it is the other minority shareholders whose interests you’d like to see protected: the fans; the Arsenal Supporters Trust and all those who invested in the club through the Fanshare scheme. I like the idea of fans having a share and a say in the running of the club, but there is a worrying trend of pro-Usmanov propaganda creeping out over the web.  Apparently Red & White have indicated a willingness to sell some shares back to supporters.  This to me is the hollow promise of a man who knows – and has known since 2008 – that he has no realistic chance of purchasing the football club.  Let’s not let our desire for a degree of fan ownership cloud our judgement in this case.

It will take days, weeks, probably months for this all to play out.  Whatever happens, the events of yesterday only served to underline one thing: that to my mind, who actually owns the shares is what not gives a club its identity.  We were Arsenal before Stan Kroenke had even heard of us.  We were Arsenal when he bought his first shares in the club.  We are still that same Arsenal, even now he owns 62% of a company called Arsenal Holdings PLC.  We will continue to be Arsenal, long after Stan has been bought out by the latest in what will become a long line of ‘custodians’.  Some will be better than others, but we will endure.  We are The Arsenal.  And that is something that no-one can buy.

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