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Still, concern over frugal spending erupted last month at Arsenal's AGM (annual general meeting), a cross between a shareholders' meeting and a team message board come to life. Fans gathered in a conference room at Emirates Stadium to air their grievances. The team executives, including Gazidis, Wenger and Kroenke, sat up front and were peppered with complaints about everything from Arsenal's failure to retain Dutch star Robin Van Persie to the price of fish and chips at concession stands (roughly $22).
Finally Kroenke spoke. "I have never put debt on the club, I have never said that any money wasn't available," he said. "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." Awkward doesn't begin to express the depth of unease in the room.
Owning a Premier League team means often coming in for more criticism and public scrutiny than one does as an owner in the U.S. On the other hand the Premiership's unfettered economic model offers opportunities that don't yet exist for U.S. franchises. Teams can sell corporate logos on their jerseys. (FLY EMIRATES is splayed on the front of Arsenal's kit.) Teams can tour internationally in the off-season. For $2.50, fans can buy a one-day pass from the team's website to watch premium highlights. On the same website, the Gunnersgaming tab enables fans to place bets on a game. "You don't invest in businesses you think are moving backward," Kroenke says unapologetically. "I believe in the future of sports, and I believe in the future of this sport."
On Oct. 27 NBC Universal announced that it was paying $250 million to air Premier League games in the U.S. over the next three seasons, more than triple the value of the previous U.S. television rights deal.
Arsenal beats QPR 1--0, and 24 hours later Kroenke is in another luxury suite watching another of his teams. The Rams have come to London to play the Patriots at Wembley Stadium. Before kickoff Kroenke makes his way past the hors d'oeuvres table and through the sliding doors and finds a seat on the aisle, next to Josh.
When St. Louis scores on its first possession, Stan high-fives a dozen or so team execs and personal friends who have joined him on the trip. When the Rams are then outscored 45--0, Kroenke is disappointed but not despondent, looking solemn but not exactly hurling crockery. At one point the Rams are flagged for pass interference, and Kroenke dashes into the suite to watch the replay on a large TV. "Good call, fair call," he mutters as he returns. He steps in again to have dinner with Josh.
In the third quarter Stan is asked about this irony: Sports' ultimate mogul is named for Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial and grew up listening to Cardinals games on the radio with his grandfather, but he owns no baseball team. There have been consistent pleas for him to buy the Rockies, but Kroenke has demurred. Earlier this year he tendered a bid to buy the Dodgers but lost out to Guggenheim Partners, which paid $2.15 billion, not only a sports-franchise record but nearly double the previous high mark, the $1.1 billion Steve Ross paid for the Dolphins in 2009. (A cynic might point out that the bidding war for the Dodgers did nothing to hurt the valuations of Kroenke's existing properties.) When is he buying a baseball team and hitting for the ownership cycle, as it were? Kroenke isn't biting. "Sometimes opportunities present themselves," he says. "If there are things we think we can do, we do them. But it has to make sense."
Kroenke's bid for the Dodgers did not go unnoticed in St. Louis, where the Rams are locked in a dispute with the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission over the state and lease of the team's stadium, the Edward Jones Dome. Under the lease's "first-tier standards," if the stadium is not among the NFL's top eight venues—and, incontestably, it is not—the Rams can relocate after the 2014 season. The Rams made a renovation proposal that would cost an estimated $700 million. The CVC's proposal comes to less than $200 million. An arbitrator will hear the matter in January, but if the Rams are free to leave, a return to their old home in L.A. is the obvious move.
Both sides have agreed not to speak publicly about the matter. Two years ago Kroenke put it this way to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "I'm born and raised in Missouri. I've been a Missourian for 60 years. People in our state know me. People know I can be trusted. People know I am an honorable guy." Multiple friends expressed doubt that he would move the team—especially if he didn't own its stadium in a new city.
Kroenke's friends, employees and confidants had warned that the man is relentlessly optimistic and doesn't "go negative." Don't look for him to speak ill of anyone, including former players, they said. Don't expect him to complain about luxury taxes or commissioners or the players' union—or Arsenal's insatiable fans. "You'll like him," said one friend. "But if you're expecting anything controversial, you got the wrong guy."