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Yanks continue to invest in Premier soccer

By A. James Memmott

December 31, 2009 at 6:56am

Who says Americans don’t like soccer?

Stan Kroenke, the Denver billionaire, is within a handful of shares of launching a takeover bid for Arsenal, the English soccer giant.

If he succeeds, five of the 20 teams in the Premier League, the highest level of soccer in England, would have majority owners from the United States.

soccer ball

This trend began in 2005 when Malcolm Glazer, a Florida real estate billionaire and owner of football’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, took control of Manchester United.

Since then, Randy Lerner, owner of the Cleveland Browns, gained ownership of Aston Villa.

George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who each owned North American professional teams, bought the Liverpool club.

And Ellis Short, a U.S. hedge fund manager, took control of Sunderland.

Kroenke, 62, has been slowly acquiring shares of Arsenal for months.

According to The Independent in London, his recent purchase of 25 shares for about $340,00 has put him within 17 shares of a 30 percent interest in the club.

If he reaches 30 percent, he is required to make a formal offer for all the shares in the club. If he is successful in acquiring more than 50 percent of the shares, he has control of the club.

If not, he cannot make another offer for a year, provided the club does not ask him to do this.

Kroenke brings vast wealth and sports ownership experience to his effort.

The 2009 Forbes listing of the 400 richest Americans estimated Kroenke’s worth at $2.7 billion, that money made in real estate and sports-related ventures.

Through companies he controls, Kroenke is currently the majority owner of the St. Louis Rams in the National Football League, the Colorado Avalanche in the National Hockey League, the Denver Nuggets in the National Basketball Association and the Colorado Rapids in Major League Soccer.

He’s also married to Ann Walton Kroenke, who inherited a fortune from her father, James “Bud” Walton, brother of Walmart founder, Sam Walton.

Forbes estimated her worth at $2.9 billion, ranking her at No. 110 on its list of wealthiest Americans, ahead of her husband at No. 117.

Stan Kroenke is one of two people vying to take control of Arsenal. Alisher Usmanov, a Russian businessman, now has a 26 percent share in the club, which currently is in third place in the Premier League.

The club is saddled by debt acquired to build its new stadium, but soccer teams, especially those at the highest level, are considered good investments because they attract worldwide interest and revenue.

Writing in The New York Times, Rob Hughes noted that some of the big soccer clubs seemed untouched by the recession this year.

Expecting millions from television contracts made in better times, they spent lavishly on players. Real Madrid, a Spanish powerhouse, led the way in paying Manchester United the equivalent of $132 million for just one player, Cristiano Ronaldo.

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