Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke is in it for the long haul, says son and heir Josh
In the second part of his special report on the Arsenal owners, Jeremy Wilson meets Stan Kroenke’s son, Josh, in Denver.By Jeremy Wilson, Denver - 8:00AM BST 01 Oct 2011http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/footba ... -Josh.html
Josh Kroenke has arrived for some photographs to accompany his interview and a cynic could be forgiven for thinking that he is trying just a bit too hard to please his English audience. Accompanied by a real-life British bulldog, one might wonder whether he is making some sort of subliminal point about the spirit that the Kroenke family can inject into an Arsenal team whose character is regularly questioned. Fortunately, it soon emerges that Fletcher, Josh’s pet dog, actually follows him just about everywhere and is a regular visitor to the Pepsi Centre, the Denver base for much of his father’s sporting empire. It certainly adds to the relaxed feel of a family organisation in which Josh, who is only 31, is taking an increasingly influential role.
When Stan completed his full takeover of the St Louis Rams American football team last year, the National Football League’s cross-ownership rule meant that control of both the basketball and ice hockey teams passed to Josh. And, although he repeatedly praises the Arsenal executives and stresses his focus on the job in Denver, he is attracted to the idea of eventually becoming involved in his dad’s Premier League acquisition. “That would be great,” he says. “I don’t pretend to possess the knowledge base that the people over there who are running it do but, from a business stand-point in sports, it’s all similar yet different. I love London. I would love to be involved at some level but I have to understand what I am doing on the most intricate levels before I get involved in something like that."
“My dad’s philosophy is to hire the people you think will do the best job and let them do their job. I’ve had a few conversations with Ivan [Gazidis, the Arsenal chief executive]. He is very smart. It’s fascinating to learn about and I’m sure at some point I’ll be itching to get involved. I just can’t say how yet. For the time being I’m really happy with where I am.”
Given his father’s record of never having sold a share in any of his sports teams, it is clear that the Kroenke family are in it for the long term. After the Hill-Woods and Bracewell-Smiths, perhaps custodianship at Arsenal could yet move down the generations of a new family. “I don’t know if there was anybody in our family who was more excited about Arsenal than I was,” says Josh. “Soccer was one of my first loves growing up. I was 14 when the World Cup was here in 1994. It was a powerful experience. I was playing in soccer tournaments all over the mid-west almost every weekend from the ages of 11 to 15.” Josh eventually focused on basketball and won a scholarship to the University of Missouri before taking a job as an underwriter for Lehman Brothers and then moving into sports management. He is now the governor of both the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche.
Like just about every Kroenke executive, whether at franchises in St Louis or Denver, he speaks repeatedly about stability, the long-term and consistency. It is a culture that is designed to give head coaches an environment in which they can thrive. “Stan is not an owner who has teams as a toy, Stan’s not an owner who has teams just as an investment,” says Steve Spagnuolo, the head coach of the St Louis Rams. “I truly believe that Stan gets involved with these teams because he cares about the teams. He has an emotional tie to it.”
Spagnuolo’s colleague, Kevin Demoff, the chief operating officer of the St Louis Rams, also provides the insight of having previously worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who are, of course, owned by the Glazer family. “I find them both to be really good leaders,” he says. “The Glazers are not public. I was impressed with how engaged they were behind the scenes, their understanding and resolve to win. A few people mistake Stan’s calm nature for not being engaged. He is not silent. He is willing to ask tough questions but also knows when to stay in the background. He has a model that he believes works.”
Arsenal clearly fit that model, yet there is also no hiding the allure of the business opportunity. Stan Kroenke, himself, noted the potential of the Premier League’s overseas broadcast deal when he spoke to Telegraph Sport. “Television is very important,” he said. “Domestically at some point you have pretty much saturated everything, so it is all about international opportunities. The Premier League is better at it than anyone else. It’s exciting.”
Jim Martin, the president and chief executive of Kroenke Sports and Entertainment who was also COO of Fox Sports Net, also emphasises the international aspect. “It is already there as a global product,” he says. “Stan thinks globally. It’s a huge opportunity in Mr Kroenke’s mind, far beyond what we could ever achieve with the teams here. I’m an NFL fan, I love [American] football and think it is the greatest game around. We think of that as the pinnacle. Well, internationally, it’s not. It’s football but it’s not our football. It’s soccer. It [Arsenal] is an opportunity that is beyond the rest of the organisation, at least at this stage.”
The final word, though, should perhaps go to Josh, whose modest outlook and sheer effort seem to have won over colleagues who might have resented his rapid rise up the company. “I know my dad has a certain vision,” he says. “He’s in it for the long haul in everything he does, from his wineries to real estate to his sports investments. He is a competitive person. My dad and I used to square off in the driveway and play basketball and baseball. When I was a little guy he wouldn’t let me win anything. There were some heated battles in a lot of different sports. He wants to win and that won’t be any different at Arsenal.”