Arsenal is on the defensive. The Gunners are the last of the UK premiership football elite yet to fall into the hands of rich foreign investors. Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have all succumbed over the last four years. Now, it looks like Alisher Usmanov wants to add the North London football club to the list. The Russian billionaire surprised fans last week by purchasing 14.6% of Arsenal, valuing the group at £514 million.
Are the foreign owners of football clubs chasing pleasure, prestige or profit? It looks like all three, in this case. Usmanov is said to be a genuine Arsenal fan—owning a box at the team’s Emirates homeground. Meanwhile, the investment will also turn more eyes in his direction. Just look at Roman Abramovich, who is far better known for owning Chelsea than for his oil billions.
There’s also money to be made, mostly from viewing rights and sponsorship deals.
In 2006, total revenues at the four-team English Elite were £575m, not including transfers. With a new TV contract from broadcaster Sky due to come into effect next year, this figure will rise substantially.
Wealthy patrons bring obvious advantages. Sugar daddies are useful for acquiring pricey players like Chelsea’s Andriy Shevchenko and Man Utd’s Owen Hargreaves. They can also help fund new stadiums. American ice-hockey tycoons George Gillett and Tom Hicks snapped up Liverpool for a bargain earlier this year in exchange for guaranteeing to invest millions in the club’s new grounds.
Yet football is a game of two halves. Arsenal’s board is hostile to the idea of a sale. Unlike Manchester United, it doesn’t need rescuing from a bad business model. Nor does it require heavy investment—the Gunners have only played one full season at their new ground and team manager Arsene Wenger has carved his reputation cultivating young—inexpensive—talent, leaving money in the pot from this year’s transfer budget. The Russians may be gunning for Arsenal, but the path to a goal is not clear.