There is, unfortunately, a tendency for some working for the well-being of soccer in England to disguise their creeping anti-Americanism under noble arguments against the neoliberal transformation of the football top flight. David Conn committed that sin in a weekend post on Fulham’s new owner, American billionaire car part manufacturer Shahid “Shad” Khan.
It starts off well-enough, with reasonable suspicions over Khan’s motives in buying the club, although it’s difficult to think that Khan’s plans are likely materially different from Fulham’s previous owner in Mohamed Al Fayed’s: hubris, love of sport(s), and the hope to maybe a little return on the investment one day.
Quite how this investment was or will be bad for Fulham is unknown, although presumably there are worries over the possible sale of Craven Cottage or other vulgar acts of commercial sacrilege. What is worrisome however is Conn’s focus on Khan’s nationality:
As [Americans] have arrived, to own Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Sunderland and now Fulham, these shrewd and calculating billionaires have rarely convincingly explained what is driving this gradual US takeover of our soccer. Khan at least avoided making a claim like that of Joel Glazer, when he bought Manchester United with his five siblings and £525m of debt in 2005, that he was an “avid” fan of the club. Stan Kroenke, another NFL franchise holder who has steadily bought a controlling stake in Arsenal, has never said much about his motivation, beyond praising the club.
Italics mine. In other words, those Yankee Doodles are takin’ our
jeorarbs football clubs!
Despite Conn’s intimation that this sudden in-flux of American business people in English football was somehow countenanced by the state department in line with the NSA sometime in 2005, the reason there are so many US owners is because there are more American billionaires than any other nation in the world.
The Premier League has long ago signaled it does not discriminate by nationality in terms of team investors, and, as the TV rights deals and commercial reach of the Premier League have increased, many Yanks with more money than sense, and, invariably, a history of owning sports teams, have tried to get involved. It’s a simple numbers game. Bobby McMahon puts it pretty simply:
When you combine revenue growth with a worldwide profile and global customers (fans) who exhibit some of the characteristics of junkies it really is a no brainer for any well-heeled (and I mean well-heeled) businessman.
Where else could you pick up a 5% share of a global brand for just $300M?
Actually, the surprise is that there are any English owners left.
I would go even further than that and say the American interest has less to do with the expectation of a solid ROI and everything to do with the rich person’s prerogative in owning a sports team because, in the end, rich people think it’s a pretty awesome thing to do.
Surprise! Not everything billionaires do is in the name of extreme profit. There is a reason why every single US owner in the Premier League also owns a sports team in the United States. If Conn was right and US owners are really soccer know-nothings with some hidden, nefarious scheme for monetary gain, why aren’t American capitalists with no history of sports ownership falling over each other to invest tens if not hundreds of millions of pounds on English clubs? Could it in part be English football clubs’ notoriously poor ability to make meaningful profits, or how their financial future is directly tied to a punitive relegation promotion system?
More importantly, what are the special, evil motives of US buyers that supposedly sets them apart from their English or Welsh or Qatari or UAE or Egyptian or Malaysian or Swiss or Russian equivalents? Would we not have seen them by now? The Glazers were bad because they purchased Man United with borrowed money and poured team revenue into debt service. But their commercial instincts have helped the club significantly increase commercial revenue, something Conn himself spoke of not four months ago. Could it be that their nation of origin is entirely arbitrary?
The issue shouldn’t be over the nation of origin of club owners, but whether the Premier League’s global investment model is demonstrably bad for the game and for club supporters. There’s much firmer argumentative ground there. Conn and others do themselves a grave disservice by flirting with the old anti-American beef of the British left. The fact is, lots of American fans of English soccer don’t want greedy owners of any creed or flag to f*ck it up either.