So far, Denver-based Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which owns the English Premier League club, has said it is unwilling to sell the team, which Forbes estimates is worth $2.8 billion. Under KSE’s ownership, Arsenal has slipped into mediocrity in recent years, finishing eighth in the Premier League in 2020. So far, though, the Kroenke family has held firm, responding on Tuesday to speculation about a sale to Ek by saying that they were “100% committed to Arsenal and are not selling any stake in the Club,” adding that they would “not entertain any offer.”
But a potential offer from the 38-year-old Ek, who says he has been an Arsenal fan since he was eight years old, is gaining momentum amid a fan backlash over the team’s involvement in the recent European “super league” proposal. About 3,000 fans staged a protest outside Arsenal’s London stadium last week, calling for the Kroenke family to step aside as owners.
“I just see a tremendous opportunity to set a real vision for the club, to bring it back to its glory,” Ek said.
What is unclear is whether Ek would try to buy the team alone or has put together an investor group.
The Spotify CEO has a net worth of about $4.7 billion, with his wealth deriving mostly from his stake in the streaming platform he founded in 2006, according to Forbes.
Ek’s Spotify shares and warrants were worth $3.96 billion at Wednesday’s closing price (he was $582.4 million wealthier on Tuesday). According to the company’s 2020 annual report, Ek is the company’s largest shareholder with 8.1% of all ordinary shares. He has another 800,000 warrants to buy shares for $190 million, or $237.50 per share (8.1% above Wednesday’s closing price of $256.84). Ek has had a base salary of $0 since July 2017 and is eligible to receive bonuses; his last one was $1 million in 2017.
Spotify’s stock price dipped 12.9% on Wednesday (April 28). Analysts attributed the drop mainly to a slight fall in the company’s forecast for the number of listeners the platform expects to have at the end of 2021. (Spotify did not respond to questions from Billboard on Wednesday about Ek’s bid.)
From a financial perspective, Kroenke is not under pressure to sell Arsenal. KSE controls an arena and three stadiums — including the new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in London — and seven sports franchises, most prominently Arsenal, the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, the Denver Nuggets of the NBA and the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL. And the company has deep pockets: Kroenke himself is a billionaire who is married to Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke.
But Ek is leveraging the support of a group of former Arsenal players — including Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp — to try to stoke fan support for his potential bid, according to British media reports. (CNBC anchors did not ask Ek about the players’ support in the Wednesday interview.)
And at least for now, he seems undaunted by the Kroenke’s public statements. “I have been a fan for 30 years of this club,” Ek said. “And I certainly didn’t expect that this would happen overnight, and I’m prepared that this could be a long journey.”
Additional Reporting By Glenn Peoples.