News Matches

Daniel Ek, Stan Kroenke and the £1.8 billion battle for control of Arsenal

15:00 GMT+3 28/04/2021
Stan Kroenke Daniel Ek Arsenal GFX
The founder and CEO of Spotify is set to launch a takeover bid for the Gunners in the coming days, but will he be successful?

It couldn’t happen. Could it?

That is the question that has been asked time and time again at Arsenal this week, as Swedish billionaire Daniel Ek prepares his takeover bid for the club.

The Spotify owner has yet to make his move and officially submit an offer to current owner Stan Kroenke, but one – totalling around £1.8 billion ($2.5bn) – is expected in the coming days.

And then it all comes down to the 73-year-old sitting over in the United States. 

Having seen his Super League dreams come crashing down around him, and with thousands of fans taking to the streets in London last week to protest against his ownership, could Kroenke be tempted to cash in? 

The majority of fans will be hoping he will, but at Arsenal the feeling has always been that Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) will once again stand firm, just as they did when Alisher Usmanov made his move four years ago.

And that's a feeling that was backed up by the strong statement issued by KSE on Tuesday night, one that reaffirmed their long-term plans for Arsenal in response to the reports of Ek’s interest in the club and his potential link-up with Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira.

It was a statement that reiterated the stance laid out by Josh Kroenke, the 40-year-old son of Arsenal owner Stan, while speaking at a fans’ forum last Wednesday.

“We have no intention of selling,” said Josh. “I believe we are fit to carry on in our position as custodians of Arsenal.”

But that firm stance is about to be put to the test by a man who thrust himself into the limelight at Arsenal ahead of the game against Everton last Friday night.

Daniel Ek may be the founder and CEO of one of world’s most successful companies in Spotify, but few within football had even heard of the 38-year-old before he took to Twitter at the end of last week to state his desire to buy the north London club.

“As a kid growing up, I’ve cheered for Arsenal as long as I can remember,” he said on social media. “If KSE would like to sell Arsenal, I’d be happy to throw my hat in the ring.”

The timing was impeccable. With the protests against Kroenke raging outside the stadium, Ek’s Tweet was clearly timed to generate maximum impact. And it did just that.

“It was like an Elon Musk-type of move,” Sven Carlsson, the co-author of The Spotify Play – a book which documents how Ek and Spotify revolutionised the music industry – told Goal.

“But that’s not like Daniel. His company has been very opportunistic in terms of PR and building hype for its services. That’s something that they are really good at, but Daniel himself is not that kind of guy, he doesn’t pull public stunts.”

Carlsson, whose book will soon be transformed into Netflix series, added: “Daniel is more of a public figure here in Sweden than he is in the UK, but he’s still not that big a celebrity. People don’t in general know who he is. 

”They’ve heard the name and they obviously know the company, but they wouldn’t know his face. He doesn’t really seek the media spotlight, which is sometimes the motivation or buying a football club. But I doubt that’s why he is doing this.

“I don’t think he wants to raise his public profile. Everything he’s done throughout his career suggests that he doesn’t.”

So, why does Ek want to buy Arsenal? Especially now, at a time when finances in the game are at breaking point amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Well, he supports the team for a start. 

It’s a passion that was born out of watching Anders Limpar, the Swedish winger who made a huge impact in north London following his arrival in 1990, helping George Graham’s side to the first division title the following year.

And it’s since developed into a love affair, with stories rife of Ek watching Gunners games while sitting through Spotify board meetings.

“Daniel wants to express himself,” Carlsson explained. “He’s got a load of pretty elaborate property projects in the Stockholm area and he’s investing into a lot of European tech companies, but other than that, he’s not known for vanity investments.

“Arsenal might not be that, but it’s certainly something personal and emotional to him. I don’t think he is doing this as a purely financial thing, as that would be unlike him. I think he feels strongly about this and that’s why he’s exploring it.”

For the majority of Arsenal fans, that is exactly what they want to hear.

At a time when the popularity of the Kronekes is at an all-time low, the groundswell of opinion now is that change is needed and that anyone would be better than the KSE.

Even high-profile former players like Ian Wright have called for Kroenke to sell up, with fan groups such as the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) reporting huge numbers of new members following the collapse of the European Super League plans.

But whilst the AST have cautiously welcomed Ek’s interest in the club, they remain adamant that the key change that is needed at ownership level is a willingness to have fan representation in the boardroom.

“Our message to any owner or potential owner is the same,” said a statement from the AST. “Fans have to be a given greater say in the running of their clubs and the opportunity to hold an ownership stake.”

There have been suggestions this week that Ek and his consortium of Arsenal invincibles would be willing to give fans a say in how the club is run, with The Telegraph reporting that the billionaire is also open to the ‘golden share’ idea – something that would give fans the power to vote on and even block constitutional proposals or legacy decisions.

But for now, that all remains some way off. The only way fan representation at board level would become reality at Arsenal is if Kroenke can be convinced to sell.

And those who know the American remain convinced he will have no issue standing firm in the face of any criticism that comes his way in the coming weeks and months, no matter how fierce.

“Arsenal is the jewel in his crown,” one business associate of the American told Goal this week. “Stan has never had any interest in selling and I don’t see that changing any time soon. It would take something incredible to even turn his head.”

It’s claimed that Ek’s offer for the club, when it does arrive, will be in the region of £1.8bn ($2.5bn). On the face of it, that does not seem enough. 

In amassing all of his shares in Arsenal since he first arrived on the scene in 2007, Kroenke has spent just over £1bn ($1.4bn). Many believe he would want three times that figure to even consider parting with the club.

Given Ek’s wealth is estimated to be around £3.4bn ($4.7bn), it seems like he would need some help to put together an offer that could be appealing.

But in linking up with Henry, Bergkamp and Vieira, he has gone for club legends rather than massively rich financial backers.

“It’s typical of him to try and seek out influential people and those are obviously his Arsenal heroes,” said Carlsson. “It’s a very personal thing, but it doesn’t seem hugely prepared either. 

“If you were starting from scratch with a bid and you were doing it well in advance, you would go to someone who could help fund it. But Daniel’s gone for the superstars. I struggle to make sense of some of it, to be honest. It seems like an emotional thing.”

Carlsson added: “If Arsenal went for £2bn ($2.8bn), that would be half of his wealth and I don’t think he would ever do that in cash. So, he would probably need a co-financier or some loans. It’s not apparent to me that he can afford this off the bat.

“Obviously, the vast majority of his wealth is made up with Spotify shares and they’ve been doing a lot better on the stock market recently. That’s almost doubled his fortune in the last year with the pandemic.

“So, it’s within reach, but it would be financially dumb to put all your income in that basket.”

Whether Ek possesses the financial firepower to take control of Arsenal remains to be seen, but the battle lines in this power play have now been drawn.

For now, Kroenke still holds the keys to the Emirates and it will take something monumental to convince a man who has never sold a single share in his sports franchises to even enter into talks.

Usmanov tried and failed, so now it’s Ek’s turn to take the American on.

It couldn’t happen. Could it?