Silent Stan: The common link in a sea of misery
By John Riordan
Arsenal’s spending but Stan Kroenke says he’s in for the long haul
“Gazidis on the philosophy...
We are not reliant on anyone else for success. That is the model our fans believe in. We stand on our own two feet and take pride in our achievements.
Stan Kroenke: Famous for being low key, a quirk that can cause him problems.
Arsenal supporters won’t enjoy the irony but the Bradford problem isn’t theirs alone to wallow in.
They may have endured another tough week but they should look on the bright side: at least they’re not depending on the NFL’s St Louis Rams to make their world a more manageable place.
Tomorrow in the Missouri city more synonymous with baseball, the Sam Bradford-led Rams could have their season ended by the Minnesota Vikings if they lose and results elsewhere destroy their play-off hopes for an eighth season in-a-row.
That would mean no football of significance until next September for a following that enjoyed the ultimate success just over a decade ago and thought wrongly they had secured the next big thing when Bradford signed for record money in 2010.
Maybe Gooners wouldn’t see it this way but at least they’re not being deflated by the failure of the Denver Nuggets to live up to pre-NBA season promise having lost more times than they’ve won going into last night’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Least enticing of all would be the prospect of pinning their hopes on the Colorado Avalanche. Theirs is the ultimate misfortune: this National Hockey League season in the US is probably over before it will ever get a chance to begin as players remain locked out by team owners in a seemingly insurmountable dispute over a new deal.
It might be tough going to Bradford on a Tuesday night to watch your team get humiliated but at least you have the option of going to Bradford to watch your team.
Stan Kroenke is the common denominator in all of this misery.
The recent Sports Illustrated profile of the sports mogul who owns all four teams depicted a man who will be perturbed by all this chaos. It’s not just money he has invested, it’s emotion too. But he keeps that passion under wraps as much as possible. He’s famous for being low key but that quirk of his has sometimes worked against him to the extent that fans of all four teams have wondered what it is exactly that he is ultimately hoping to achieve.
“I’m definitely not in this for recognition,” Kroenke told the magazine. “Sports are about these qualities of character: teamwork, perseverance, work ethic... I can keep going if you want.”
It was a nice bit of deflection from the resolutely hands-off commander-in-chief. Managers and coaches dream of a sugar daddy who avoids talking tactics. You’d imagine that Kroenke sees how Dallas Cowboys owner and self-hired General Manager Jerry Jones operates and cringes.
“He’s not a guy telling the coach whom to play,” Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis has said of him. “He’s not a self-promoter.”
Players from his American teams have pointed out that he’s never to be found in their inner sanctum and when they do see him, the conversations rarely involve the game itself.
“He had a great personality, he was very versatile, he could talk to you about anything,” former Nuggets centre Marcus Camby told SI.
But it’s in their pockets that players feel his presence the most, for good and maybe not as good as they’d like. The man who made a million or two before marrying into billions is a proponent of driving labour costs down in his four major sports.
“The NFL has a salary cap, and look [how] it’s flourished more than any league,” Kroenke said. “There’s a consistent quality product that people view in their communities as having a chance to compete and win every year. That’s valuable.”
It sounds trite to say it but his background suggests he has a deeper idea of the meaning of valuable than the average Joe. As a boy, he had a five-mile round trip to his “one-room schoolhouse” two hours southeast of Kansas City, Missouri. He played sports but academics got him a college scholarship and subsequently a clothing business which he sold at a profit. As he delved further into the business world, he met Ann Walton, a fellow Missourian and daughter of the burgeoning Walmart empire. Although he would always insist that by the time his THF Raalty company was worth $2b in the early 1990s, it was all his own work and any helping hand along the way from his wife’s family was minimal and earned.
The SI profile describes a man who enjoys the trappings of his wealth but doesn’t flaunt them unnecessarily. Which is partly why he vehemently played down any notion that Arsenal and company are toys for him to enjoy along the way.
“That’s not a viable long-term kind of thing,” he said in response. “It’s bad for the fans. You want to win, and that’s most important, but I wouldn’t do it just for a social hobby.”
Gazidis is not just his main representative at Arsenal because of their shared nationality, it is also their shared belief that the club should be self-sustaining. A FourFourTwo interview with Gazidis due to appear in next month’s edition will arrive during a highly significant time period as a reported £40m appears on the table for new players.
“If you do any analysis of performance against spending over the past 15 years, Arsenal is the one club which has outperformed its spend every single year over that period,” Gazidis told the magazine.
“That does not happen by accident. There are some real fundamentals at this club which I think our fans believe in — we stand on our own two feet and take pride in our achievements. We are not reliant on anyone else for success. That is the model our fans believe in, and for good reason.”
Although he confirmed for supporters groups this week that major funds will be available to Arsene Wenger, he told the magazine that simply throwing cash at the problem is not the answer.
“I am not sure what the alternative strategy is, it has not really ever been spelled out,” he said. “I assume the alternative strategy is to spend more than the nation state of Abu Dhabi, more than anyone else, and I am not even sure I would describe that as a strategy.”
Meanwhile in Colorado, the misery continues. The rising hockey star Ryan O’Reilly, a 21-year old who scored at will last season, was never locked down by the Avalanche before the players were locked out and now he has signed a multi-year deal in Europe with Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Who knows if he’ll choose to return to the Rockies when the inevitable return to the NHL is triggered by a contract clause.
The Rams are having their own run of bad luck with bringing in young talent — or not, as the case may be. Current quarterback Bradford is an anomaly in the overall relative frugality of the Kroenke holdings. Bradford is also a player who has become something of a watershed for over-inflated contracts.
He was the number one pick in the 2010 draft and the Rams subsequently tied him down to a deal that would give the former Oklahoma University player at least €40m over six years and possibly as much as €70m, the largest ever for a rookie.
Needless to say it hasn’t gone according to plan. To make matters worse, last year’s draft grabbed headlines for the talented quarterbacks who entered into it.
Content with Bradford (or rather stuck with him), the Rams management decided to offer their number two pick for a hefty price.
The Washington Redskins jumped at it and the rest is Robert Griffin III, one of this season’s best players and a potential NFL star for the next decade.
You win some, you lose some. It just so happens that Kroenke must also contend with a fanbase in London which feels like it’s losing faster than anyone else. No amount of goodwill could ever have avoided the frosty reception which greeted his words at October’s AGM.
“I have never put debt on the club, I have never said that any money wasn’t available,” he told shareholders. “My one regret with Arsenal was that I didn’t get involved earlier.... I am ambitious for the club. We have an exciting future, and our goal is to win trophies.”
There is one less trophy available to them this season but whatever happens in January and beyond, the Arsenal majority shareholder will remain there for the long haul.
“You don’t invest in businesses you think are moving backward,” Kroenke told SI. “I believe in the future of sports, and I believe in the future of this sport.”
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