What Next For The Arsenal Board?

On the third of September 2018 the average age of the Arsenal Board will be exactly 67. If you remove young Josh Kroenke – a mere 38 – from the equation, the average age of the remaining members is close to 73. There’s no indication that the KSE takeover will result in any new Board members, but given Ken Friar is now 84 and not in the best of health, I can foresee he might step down soon. Possibly he would have stood down at this year’s AGM in October, but that has now been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances.
Since Josh K was appointed to the Board, the members have been the two Kroenkes, Ivan Gazidis, Ken Friar, Lord Harris and Sir Chips Keswick. The last four are considered ‘independent directors’, as they are not part of KSE, which has owned a majority of Arsenal shares since 2011. But given they don’t hold any shares between them and only retain their positions with Stan Kroenke’s permission, how independent are they really? Not very.
The usefulness of these so-called ‘independent directors’ has been shown up in the process of the KSE takeover. They wrote to all the other shareholders, but were unable to provide a recommendation on whether to accept the KSE offer. Why was this? The price offered is £7.5k per share lower than the rate that brokers have been selling for recently, so that’s a bad deal for every other shareholder. But if the independent directors said “This is a bad deal for you, you probably shouldn’t accept it” that would have made them look rather silly, given that the man making the offer is their boss – directly in the case of Gazidis and Friar who get a salary, and in practice in the case of Harris and Keswick, who do not a lot and could get kicked off the gravy train by Kroenke any time he felt like it. Would anyone notice if they were? Now there’s no AGM for Chips to ruin with his ineptitude it would make no difference to anyone. Lord H never says anything, and outside the AGM any statement purportedly from Sir Chips has clearly been written by the PR team.

When Kroenke Jr joined the Board, Chips allegedly said: “We are delighted to welcome Josh Kroenke to the Board of Arsenal. He has great experience in running sports organisations and brings extensive knowledge of what is required to succeed as we develop our Club for the future.” He almost certainly said nothing of the sort, but the PR team put his name at the bottom of the statement. Josh of course has some experience of running sports organisations in the US, but no previous experience in Europe or the UK. He also has no experience of top level football. Ivan Gazidis was asked at a supporters’ drinks evening what Josh knew about football, and replied that he used to play it as a kid. Yes, he really said that.

Nonetheless Josh is surely more use than messrs Keswick and Harris, and also Friar, who, while a great servant of Arsenal over the decades, cannot in all honesty be contributing a huge amount now. And have we not been crying out for a bit of youth on the Board instead of the crusty old fart Etonians, bankers and carpet salesmen? Well, yes. But youth is not everything in this game, is it.

So Josh doesn’t have the football knowledge, nor contacts in football, nor UK business knowledge. Ivan – who has built up some of these things – may well be leaving, and the rest are less than inspiring as a leadership team. New blood is definitely needed.

For as long as I can remember, probably forever, the Arsenal Board has been made up of people whose only experience of British or European football is at Arsenal. You could argue, and some have, that it needs diversity, in the sense of some women or ethnic groups other than ‘Old Etonian’. But what it really needs is an influx of knowledge, in particular knowledge from other clubs. It needs people with experience at the same level elsewhere. In no other business would the Board be so insular and made up of people who all have the same holes in their experience, even if they are not now all from exactly the same background. I’m not saying Arsenal always get it wrong and other clubs get it right, far from it. I don’t want a Ken Bates or Simon Jordan around, but there really is a need for diversity of knowledge and people who will actually add to the sum of knowledge currently present.

Arsenal, due to a private deal between two billionaires, will soon cease to be a public company. That removes the legal obligation for the directors to run the club for the benefit of all shareholders, though of course they still have a moral obligation to run the club for fans. (Ha! No, don’t titter, missus.)

“Titter ye not, shareholders. I have a message for you all”

When he was appointed, Josh Kroenke was quoted as saying: “It is an honour to join the Board of Arsenal. This re-affirms our family’s long-term commitment to the club.” He may actually have said that, he may not. It doesn’t really matter. What mattered was the PR message of the appointment: Stan Kroenke was not going anywhere. He’s keeping Arsenal long-term. Appointing his son to the Board made that point, even if it added little to how the club functions. At the time Usmanov remained silent. Now Usmanov is gone, and as a result the small shareholders will very soon be gone, and Stan Kroenke presides over his kingdom unchallenged.

If Gazidis jumps ship too I don’t think the day-to-day running will be drastically or quickly affected, since he’s put a new team in over the last year that should be able to manage. But who will be doing the strategic thinking? Sooner or later – probably sooner – Arsenal really need a fully-functioning modern Board without the old Etonian dead wood dragging it down. It’s hard enough to compete with the financially doped clubs anyway, and it’s been well over a decade since leaving it all to Arsene was a good idea.

How much does Kroenke Sr care about all this? My guess is a couple more seasons outside the Champions League and the P&L account would make him care. Then at last we might get some Board modernisation.

 

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One thought on “What Next For The Arsenal Board?

  1. All too true, Phil. You’ve hit the nail on the head. We need directors who know about football and have the contacts to help make a difference for the benefit of the team. Of course, this quote continues to bring doubt on any actions taken by Kroenke;

    “Speaking at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston he said: “For me, being an individual owner, I have to have some sort of reality involved.

    “If you want to win championships then you would never get involved. I think the best owners in sports are the guys that sort of watch both sides a bit. If you don’t have a good business then you can’t really afford to go out and get the best players unless you just want to rely on other sources of income.”

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