Could Spotify founder and CEO Daniel Ek become the next music mogul to buy into a major sports franchise?
The billionaire Swede said Friday that he would be interested in buying British soccer club Arsenal FC if owner Stan Kroenke, CEO of Denver-based Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, was willing to sell.
“As a kid growing up, I’ve cheered for Arsenal as long as I can remember,” Ek tweeted. “If KSE would like to sell Arsenal I’d be happy to throw my hat into the ring.”
Ek’s expression of interest comes at a delicate moment for Arsenal, a Premier League team which Forbes estimates is worth $2.8 billion. Last week, about 3,000 fans staged a protest outside the team’s London stadium following the collapse of a European soccer “super league,” calling for the Kroenke family to step aside as owners.
British media outlets, including The Guardian and The Telegraph, say Ek has the funds to complete a deal — Kroenke is said to want at least £2 billion ($2.8 billion) — and, perhaps more importantly, he has the support of former star players Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp who were part of the “Invincible” team that won the Premier League in 2004.
Ek, whose fortune derives from his 9% stake in Spotify, has a net worth of $4.7 billion, according to Forbes.
Dislike of Arsenal’s owners has been building among fans for years because of Kroenke’s lack of investment and the declining performance of the team, which finished eighth in the Premier League in 2020. The team counts Universal Music Group CEO Lucian Grange among its supporters.
But the family has yet to buckle. On Tuesday (April 27) Kroenke and his son Josh Kroenke, the club director, put out a statement saying they are “100% committed to Arsenal and are not selling any stake in the Club,” adding that they had not received “any offer and we will not entertain any offer.”
KSE controls an arena and three stadiums — including the brand-new SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles — and seven sports franchises, most prominently Arsenal, the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, the Denver Nuggets of the NBA, the Colorado Avalanche of the NHL and the Colorado Rapids of MLS. (Kroenke, a billionaire himself, is married to Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke.)
While Ek would be the first streaming music executive known to purchase interest in a sports team, he would hardly be the first music industry figure to dabble in sports ownership. JAY-Z, Nelly, Usher, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Jon Bon Jovi, Kiss band members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, all have bought stakes in U.S. teams. Private equity investor Tom Gores, who helped bail out his brother Sam Gores by buying a controlling stake in Paradigm Talent Agency last year, owns the Detroit Pistons NBA team.
Then there is Elton John, who bought his hometown U.K. soccer team, Watford FC, back in the 1970s and went on to boost the team from the fourth division to the first division. The same year John released Too Low For Zero (which included the singles “I’m Still Standing” and “I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues”), Watford finished second to champion Liverpool in the 1982-83 season — the club’s highest-ever finish.
Writing in his autobiography, John said he was chairman of the club during “the worst period of my life: years of addiction and unhappiness, failed relationships, bad business deals, court cases, unending turmoil.” But the Rocketman said last year that owning the club “grounded [him] because people who go to football, they’ll tell you the truth.”
If Ek were to convince Kroenke to sell, the deal could have a major impact on the ticketing agreement Ticketmaster extended with KSE in August. In 2018, Kroenke invested in startup ticketing company Rival, created by former Ticketmaster chief executive Nathan Hubbard. The plan was for Rival to replace KSE’s existing contract with AEG-owned AXS, but the L.A. startup failed to launch by its July 2019 deadline.
Executives from Ticketmaster agreed to buy Rival and make Kroenke and his investors whole on the investment they made in the ticketing flop in exchange for long-term contracts that were rumored to include both SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, which will use Ticketmaster when it opens to fans later this year, and a right of refusal on Arsenal in the U.K.
Additional reporting by Dave Brooks