Arsenal encourage supporter ownership scheme
Arsenal Supporters Trust has launched a new initiative aimed to help fans buy a small shareholding and increase their representation in the Premier League club.
'Arsenal Fanshare' has the full backing of the Gunners, who have American Stan Kroenke as their largest individual stakeholder, with the long-term custodianship and legacy of the club always a pressing issue for the board.
Supporters will be able to sign up to the scheme online at www.arsenalfanshare.co.uk, which offers the opportunity to purchase 'fanshares' at just one hundredth of the price of those in Arsenal Holdings Plc - around £95 - and will be entered into a ballot for a seat at the club's Annual General Meeting. Anyone eventually purchasing 100 will have their membership status converted to receive full voting rights for one share. The AST collectively speaks for approximately 3% of the club's overall equity.
AST spokesperson Tim Payton said: "Arsenal Fanshare has been established by the AST to increase supporter ownership and representation at Arsenal.
"The AST recently surveyed its membership on their preferred ownership structure at Arsenal - 90% of AST members rate maintaining the club's custodianship and protecting the long-term future to be the most important priority of Arsenal's board.
"There is little support for the club being taken private, with 84% preferring Arsenal's ownership model to be one which includes supporter representation.
"Arsenal Fanshare meets Arsenal supporters' objective that the club remains in plural ownership. Arsenal is simply too important an institution to be owned by just one person. The AST welcomes the support that the Arsenal board and chief executive Ivan Gazidis have given to the scheme.
"The support Arsenal Fanshare has from all of the club's major shareholders should allow all talk of a takeover to be put to one side. We urge all Arsenal fans to take this opportunity and get involved - by working together we can make Arsenal even stronger.''
Arsenal are to help promote the scheme at their first home game of the new season, against Blackpool on Saturday. Currently, American tycoon Kroenke is Arsenal's largest individual shareholder at 29.9%.
Alisher Usmanov backs the Red & White Holdings group, whose stake is at just over 26%, but unlike Kroenke the Uzbek-born mining billionaire has not been invited onto the Arsenal board.
Key to the future ownership of the club would appear to be the stock of Lady Nina Bracewell-Smith, who left the board during December 2008 and has appointed a private-equity firm to sell her 15.9%.
Kroenke's move to purchase the remaining 60% holding in the St Louis Rams American football team franchise would appear to rule the American - whose personal wealth is estimated by Forbes at some £2.9 billion - out of a making an imminent full takeover at Arsenal, likely to cost the best part of £400 million.
Under the City's takeover rule, were Kroenke Sports Enterprises to purchase another ten shares, then it would trigger the £30% threshold.
Should Denver-based Kroenke - who also has interests in both the NBA's Denver Nuggets and the NHL's Colorado Avalanche - then acquire more than 50% of the shares, he will gain legal control of the club. If he reached 90%, the American could compulsorily purchase the remaining shares.
However, if the group failed to surpass the 50% level, they would be prohibited from making another takeover bid for at least a year - unless asked to do so by the club.
Kroenke first bought a 9.99% stake in the Gunners during April 2007, which prompted chairman Peter Hill-Wood to famously declare "we don't need his sort''. The American, however, has slowly increased his ties with the Gunners, striking up a partnership with his Colorado Rapids Major League Soccer franchise.
Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis, though, feels a change of direction behind the scenes is not imminent.
"I don't see anything dramatic happening with the ownership,'' Gazidis told BBC Sport. "Of course we are a public company and I manage the club and cannot control what happens with the ownership, but I don't sense there will be any changes.
"Certainly all of our owners and the vast majority of our fans strongly support the custodian model we have.''