Takeover gains pace at Arsenal with 9.9% sale
· American Kroenke buys stake in club from ITV
· £65m outlay values Gunners at huge premium
Matt Scott and Katie Allen
Friday April 6, 2007
The American billionaire Stan Kroenke is expected to attend Arsenal's London derby with West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow after he purchased ITV's 9.9% stake in last season's Champions League finalists.
It will be interpreted as the next step in a deal that makes Kroenke's takeover of the London club a near certainty, putting all of the Premiership's "big four" in foreign hands. Certainly Kroenke means business: though his buyout was dressed up as taking on some ancillary commercial arrangements, it required a £65m commitment that valued the club at a staggering 50% premium.
"Because of our long-time involvement in major sports, we greatly admire Arsenal, its rich history and traditions," said Kroenke. "Arsenal is one of the most respected sports clubs in the world, and we've been very impressed with the commitment of its supporters."
After Malcolm Glazer's swoop on Manchester United and the more recent takeover of Liverpool by the American tycoons George Gillett and Tom Hicks, there has been intense speculation about Arsenal's future. The next shareholder likely to fall after ITV is Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, who owns around 16%.
The Arsenal Supporters' Trust welcomed Kroenke's arrival, which brought to an end the uncertainty surrounding ITV's dormant 10%, while keeping an open mind about his future intentions. "The trust is not automatically opposed to a takeover; we will judge it on its merits and the long-term benefit it brings to Arsenal," said a spokesman for the AST.
"However we are opposed to a takeover based purely on the extraction of profits from the club. The AST hopes Kroenke learns from the Glazers' takeover of United and enters into early and full dialogue with the Trust on his plans."
That is bound to require investment in the team, which despite the promise of the club's young first-team squad and their first-ever European-Cup-final appearance last season, has been limited by the recent construction of the Emirates Stadium.
Arsène Wenger, the manager, has previously expressed doubts about the Gunners falling into foreign ownership but could be persuaded to accept it if money is made available to complete the purchase of Samuel Eto'o from Barcelona.
Arsenal sources maintain any all-out bid would have to be at a significant premium, probably valuing the club at upwards of £700m, because there is plenty of room for growth in the business. Meanwhile, the value of the new Emirates stadium and the near-double matchday-revenue boost it gave the club, has yet to be reflected in its market valuation, neither has the lucrative new television deal with Sky that comes on stream from next season.
But if Kroenke is to generate a genuinely worthwhile business plan for Arsenal he may have to copy Chelsea's cancellation of commercial contracts. The Premiership champions paid more than £25m to annul their shirt deal with Umbro for a more valuable agreement with Adidas. Arsenal's own sponsorship arrangements are not commensurate with their status.
The funds will help ITV cover the broadcaster's £275m bill for the rights to the FA Cup and England home internationals agreed last week with the Football Association.
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