This last week has born witness to a kind of storm, an explosion among the Arsenal faithful. Part of it was down to our ugly home loss to Watford, which resulted in Arsenal crashing out of the only competition the Club stood a realistic chance of winning this season. But part of the outrage (maybe even the greater part), was down to the comments our majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, made at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference. The supporters were incensed by most of these, which, in its turn, gave rise to a lot of theories. I’ll stop on some of the more popular ones below, but for now I deem it prudent to dissect the quotes in question.
“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”.
I’m perfectly fine with this bit, to be honest. Though ideally I’d like us to have an owner who is emotionally invested in the subject of his ownership (like Abramovich, for example, who attends the overwhelming majority of Chelsea’s home games), I’m okay with a business-like approach. You can look at the situation more objectively this way.
Kroenke’s decision not to get involved in matters he doesn’t understand is also hardly a downside. Again, ideally you’d want him to understand how the system functions, or sit down and get the hang of it, but if he doesn’t (or doesn’t want to, in the 2nd case), leaving the football stuff to experienced people who DO know how it works is a wise step.
Moreover, I don’t think it’s a common trait for the owners to know the nuts and bolts of the thing they own. It’s not a must for them certainly, otherwise a lot of corporations would have crumbled a long time ago.
“Over there [in the Premier League] it was sort of like ‘well, we’ve got guys from the Middle East, the oil price is over $100, they can spend anything they want’.
“But the problem I saw with all of that; those people can lose interest. It doesn’t mean that they will, but I sort of threw that out there: ‘What happens when the Middle Eastern family, this thing’s costing a lot of money and they decide to go home?’ I said what really happens in those situations is the fans get hurt because the players get picked up and paid if they’re good, the front office gets other jobs.”
Another huge plus, which is, even better, in harmony with how the Club has historically chosen to operate. We have a self-sufficient model, self-sustainable, we don’t depend on anyone’s investments, Kroenke’s included. He may pack up and leave tomorrow and this won’t affect Arsenal Football Club financially at all. The fact Kroenke understands this and approves of it can only be viewed as incredibly fortunate. Beyond the interest of making us successful (read: profitable) so that he’d get his share of this profit, Kroenke hardly has any interest in the whole venture.
There is, however, a small but important bit about the whole “profitable” thing. A bit which can, in my opinion, be the undoing of everything good in Kroenke’s approach. I’ll get to it later, for now let’s finish with the quotes.
“What did I learn specifically [from England]? You learn very quickly what that brand means.
We have a gentleman who comes to Arsenal games, he flies his helicopter from South Africa, Cape Town to London quite often. It’s just an example of what a brand can mean, and what we can do in sports.
We’re all working on that and that’s the big opportunity. Michael Jordan showed it – you can get paid a whole lot more if you can extend your brand. Manchester United showed it. They established benchmarks that people had thought heretofore unattainable, but their brand extension made people want to pay for it.”
This particular part really boiled the piss of our fanbase. The initial reaction (which was also my initial reaction) was a knee-jerk one.
Thing is, Kroenke said something we, as people emotionally invested in Arsenal, just can’t understand. He basically said he doesn’t care about anything barring making us a brand, which returns us to the “profit” part. Stan didn’t talk of how he wants to win trophies or play beautiful football, he talked about how he wants to make Arsenal even more recognisable so that his own profits could soar.
But I don’t think there’s much wrong with the brand part, no more at least than with “I’m not interested in being involved in the Club’s dealings” part. I’ve said above that being emotionally invested can be a plus, but if it’s not there, then it’s not the end of the world.
Yes, to Stan we are a column of numbers on a sheet of paper, a brand which should be promoted to make these numbers even more impressive, however I can live with that, as long as it doesn’t in any way harm our chances to attract players or win silverware.
That’s one point that worries me. I asked myself a simple question: if I were in it for the money, are there any bells and whistles attached to winning the title, say? Is there a financial incentive strong enough for me to invest any of my own money, or to make the board/manager spend more money already at their disposal?
Winning the Champions League will get you a fixed amount of money in the region of 50-55 million starting this season + a share of the market pool money. Market pool money is money earned from TV rights, and varies hugely from one country to another. For example, Barcelona earned 61 million in total last season, but Juventus earned 89 million, despite losing in the final! That’s because they got 59 million pool money, compared to Barca’s 25 million.
Sounds a good enough incentive to invest so that your team could challenge? Not exactly. Winning the Champions League remains an insurmountable task. It will require a lot of money to be spent and it will remain a very unstable source of income still. Besides, you are only guaranteed something in the region of 20 million IF you get to the group stages and then qualify for the last 16 (like we do now). The other 30-35 million will be acquired gradually for progressing further, but not evenly. The bulk of it comes from making the final and then winning it (around 25 million). As for the pool money, well, to get this 50 mil an English team can possibly get you’ll have to pray other teams from England get knocked out as early as possible, otherwise they’ll be eating into your pool. (All the information courtesy of this highly informative article).
And the league? You can, after all, put together a team strong enough to challenge every season and the investment involved won’t be so big. Problem is, only a couple of million separate the winner from, say, 4th place. Last year Chelsea got only £3.5 million more than Arsenal did.
The gap between 4th and 5th is slightly bigger, not to mention 5th-placed team doesn’t get to play in the Champions League and lose all the money they could have earned had they finished higher. But even Aston Villa, who finished 17th got 66 million, only 35 less than Chelsea. I’m not saying Premier League survival should be the goal for a team of our stature. What I am saying though, it’s that it’s much less expensive for the owner to just keep your team inside the top 4. Winning the league will likely require a substantial investment, which, albeit smaller than the one required to win the Champions League, is still nowhere near 3.5 million which separate 1st and 4th. What’s the point of investing tens of millions of your hard-earned cash when simply finishing in the top 4 guarantees you basically the same income?
See, that’s where the “emotionally invested” bit comes in. Because if you really want your team to win, you’ll spend this money or make the board/manager spend the money already available. All for the simple opportunity to be called the best team in England and wear the shirts with some golden bits ingrained. For as I hope I’ve sufficiently demonstrated, winning the league is not worth writing home about from a financial point of view.
The last word
With an owner like Kroenke, one who doesn’t care much about winning as long as his wallet doesn’t get thinner and one who definitely doesn’t care enough to invest his own money, it’s up for the board and the manager to raise the bar. Spend the money on players. Improve facilities. Hire new personnel.
We are, after all, self-sustainable. Every year there’s a story about a war chest. Every year our financial results have the the accountants drooling. The problem, it seems, is not the owner. He exists in a kind of bubble, separately from us. The reasons for our recent failures are a bit closer home. And I hope dearly the Club has the courage to act on these. Because Silent Stan definitely will not.
I know I initially wanted to include my take on some theories floating around, but this article is already too long. I’ll entertain you with all the psychology stuff in my next article (jeez, where’s Omar when you need him? He’s really adept at human psychology, much more, indeed. than I am).
Keep your eyes peeled for the follow-up and keep your chins up. As much as possible.