The question of who owns Arsenal used to have a long answer, as Arsenal always had many shareholders, but the situation was made much simpler on 25th September 2018, when Stan Kroenke compulsorily purchased all the shares he didn’t already own, becoming the first 100 per cent owner in Arsenal’s history. Kroenke was also the first majority owner in Arsenal’s history.
I could stop there, but for the purpose of telling the story, here’s a brief history of how we got to this position.
In 1910 the original Arsenal FC limited company, formed in 1893, had gone into liquidation and been rescued by Henry Norris. The new company had authorised share capital of £7,000 and Norris issued 6,600 £1 shares for sale to the general public. The response at the time was initially poor, with only 50 shares reportedly sold, but other blocks of the £7,000 of authorised capital were sold in 1913, 1914 and 1919 to the public and at other times to directors. By 1983 there were 5,839 shares issued, with 1,161 of the 7,000 still unissued. David Dein bought these unissued shares for £290,250, or £250 each – which valued the whole of Arsenal at £1,750,000! Incredible when you think that even if football ceased and the players all became worthless, the stadium site must have been worth far more than that to a property developer, even in the 1980s.
In 1991 there was an eight-for-one split (eight new shares for every one ‘old one’ held), the result being that (you’ve guessed it) every shareholder had their holding multiplied by eight. Quite a few of the people who only had one share prior to the split had bought single shares for £1 in the early 20th century. The split meant there were now 56,000 shares authorised and issued.
When the new stadium project began Arsenal set up a more complicated ownership structure under Arsenal Holdings PLC. Two subscriber shares were issued that were held by club executives, their only purpose being to satisfy the requirement of the Companies Act 1985 that a public company – Arsenal Holdings – must be formed by at least two members. All the shares were then transferred to the new holding company, so shareholders now owned Arsenal Holdings PLC, which owned Arsenal Football Club PLC and a range of other companies mostly set up to manage different aspects of stadium building and property development.
In 2005 the club issued more shares in Arsenal Holdings to be purchased by Granada TV, giving the TV company just under 10 per cent of the club. This took the authorised total to 62,219, with 62,218 in issue – Granada didn’t purchase the last share because that would have given them 10 per cent, and they had to stay below that figure because Arsenal wasn’t their only football investment. The remaining ‘orphan share’ was given to the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust in 2007, and the authorised and issued figures remained static after that.
When Arsenal shares were traded, the ISDX website always quoted 62,219 as the total, while the registrar, Capita, always used 62,217, which didn’t include the subscriber shares.
In 2011 Kroenke became majority shareholder, and by 2015 he and Alisher Usmanov between them owned over 97 per cent of Arsenal, leaving about 1,800 shares in other hands. As at the start of October 2015 there were 645 entries on the share register, which on the face of it was 645 different shareholders. But things were not that simple.
A lot of shares – almost 8,400 – were held in the names of nominee companies for the purposes of the Register, which is not unusual. People who trade shares may leave them all with a nominee, often a bank, for convenience, but it also has the advantage of keeping the name of the real owner private. And it means that one nominee Register entry might cover multiple owners, or multiple nominee Register entries might have the same owner. Most of the 8,300+ nominee-held shares were part of the Usmanov / Red & White Holdings total.
Additionally, some shareholders have multiple entries on the register. This can be for various reasons, including where parents have them for their children, or where shares have just been obtained at different times.
Aside from the big two, the next biggest shareholder was a nominee account with 116 shares, followed by one lady who had 115. Then two holdings of 80 shares each and after that no one else had more than 40 in a single holding.
In total in 2015 there were only 18 entries of more than ten shares, and three of those 18 entries were for R&W.
The rest of the shares were split like this:
• 393 entries of a single share being held – though those may have included a couple of cases where the same person had more than one entry (in July 2012, when I first blogged on this subject, there were 376 entries of a single share)
• 88 entries of two shares each (there were 84 in July 2012)
• 34 entries of three shares each (32 in 2012)
• 21 entries of four shares each (25 in 2012)
• 14 entries of five shares each (18 in 2012)
• 16 entries of six shares each (15 in 2012)
• 4 entries of seven shares each (4 in 2012 also)
• 34 entries of eight shares each (51 in 2012 – the reason there were still a comparatively high number of blocks of eight was the 1991 eight-for-one split
• 2 entries of nine shares each (3 in 2012)
• 10 entries of ten shares each (3 in 2012)
Then in 2018 Kroenke and Usmanov made a deal, Usmanov sold out and Kroenke had 97 per cent. Being a man of no sentiment whatsoever towards Arsenal fans or non-billionaires, he exercised his right to buy all the remaining shares. At the time of writing in July 2019, there are believed to be about 100 former shareholders who have not received their money from the compulsory purchase by KSE UK. KSE have had to hand the money over, which means Link Registrars are sitting on about £3m of other people’s money, waiting for it to be claimed.