Arsenal fans aren’t exactly happy with their owner Stan Kroenke at the moment. That situation isn’t unique. While fans of Manchester City and Chelsea largely appear to have forgiven their owners for attempting to break away from UEFA and form their own European Super League last month, fans of Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool are still positively furious with their owners and are actively protesting against them. The largest and most controversial of those protests forced the cancellation of Manchester United’s home fixture against Liverpool last weekend.
For most of those fans – and Manchester United fans especially – most of the protests are borne out of frustration. As much as they might want their owners to sell their clubs, there’s little realistic prospect of it happening in the near future. The Glazer family has made huge amounts of money from Manchester United and would likely only consider bids in the sum of several billion dollars to take it off their hands. There are very few investors in the world who have enough money to make a deal happen, and even then, there’s no pressing reason for the Glazers to sell other than supporter unrest. That’s never bothered them before and probably won’t start to bother them now. The situation at Arsenal might be different. The purchase price involved in any deal would likely be far lower, and there’s a prospective buyer on the horizon. Daniel Ek, the founder and CEO of music streaming platform Spotify, is an Arsenal fan. He wants to buy the club, and he’s thought to have made initial contact with the existing board.
Ek is serious about his proposal. He’s already formed a consortium to approach Kroenke and the rest of the interested parties, and that consortium includes club legends Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, and Dennis Bergkamp. The group has already been in touch with the Arsenal Supporters Trust – the largest officially acknowledged Arsenal fan club – and held what the trust referred to as “productive talks.” Henry, who has assumed the role of Ek’s spokesman, says the lifelong fan wants to “restore Arsenal’s DNA” and restore success on the pitch after a difficult three years following the departure of Arsene Wenger. The appointment of beloved former players as figureheads is a smart move by Ek, as he knows it will garner fan support. If he’s as committed to the takeover as Henry claims he is, the overwhelming majority of fans will welcome it.
Officially, the Kroenke family will not welcome any offers. They’ve already released a statement reaffirming their commitment to the club and claim they’ll reject any offer out of hand. In reality, money always talks. Stan Kroenke bought into Arsenal with the intention of making money out of the football club, and the right offer should persuade him to sell. Privately he’ll be tiring of the personal attacks directed at him by angry fans, and from a public relations point of view, his position is already untenable. Fans will soon be allowed back into stadiums. If Kroenke or his son were to attend a home game, they’d receive an extremely hostile welcome and will likely continue to receive that hostile welcome every time they appear in future. Fans will almost certainly sing unpleasant songs about them whether they’re there in person or now. If an offer of $2.5bn were to be made, it’s likely that Kroenke would be tempted to take it. Sources close to the situation say that Ek is likely to start somewhere around $1.8bn with a willingness to increase his first offer if it’s turned down.
There’s no doubt that Ek has the resources to buy Arsenal and invest huge amounts of money into the team if the Kroenke family is willing to sell. Whether he’d actually do so is another matter. While Ek would immediately find himself adored by Arsenal fans, he’s not held in quite so high a regard by the musicians who rely on Spotify for exposure. There have been debates about whether Spotify’s thousands of musicians get a raw deal from the platform for more than a decade, and those debates continue to this day. Some estimates suggest that Spotify pays only one dollar for every 250 streams of any song on its platform. Ek has always claimed that the exposure an artist gets from being on Spotify is worth far more than the revenue made from streaming. Musicians respond to that with the age-old truism that exposure doesn’t pay the bills.
With Spotify, Ek almost operates a monopoly. Artists don’t have to be on Spotify, but the harsh reality of the music business is that artists who aren’t on Spotify will probably struggle to be heard. The situation isn’t like the more favourable situation that casino game developers have with operator websites. That’s a cut-throat industry, where websites compete with each other to offer the best rates to providers. If, for example, a developer wasn’t happy with the returns they made from one website, they could upload their games to a sister site website instead. Musicians don’t have that option with their music even though the music industry is – theoretically, at least – just as competitive. The irony is that many musicians now make more from licensed slots that feature their music than they do from Spotify. If this is Ek’s natural business instinct, it doesn’t bode well for his willingness to invest millions of dollars in team-building with no guarantee of success in return.
Perhaps we’re being unfair to Ek with that assessment. He operates Spotify as a business. He claims to be interested in buying Arsenal because he’s a fan. A passion project is very different to a business project, and Ek might be willing to be a little more generous with a football club than he is with Spotify. From an Arsenal fan’s point of view, things could scarcely get any worse than they are right now, with the club languishing in mid-table. A Daniel Ek takeover of Arsenal could work so long as Ek goes into it with the right mindset and an awareness that he’ll likely have to spend big money before he starts seeing any return on his investment, but the first step is persuading Kroenke to sell. That might be easier said than done.