US sports tycoon builds stake in Arsenal

Stan Kroenke, the owner of four US sports franchises, has bought ITV’s 9.99 per cent stake in Arsenal Holdings, fuelling long-running bid speculation around the football club.

The deal, combined with a sale of ITV’s 50 per cent stake in Arsenal Broadband Limited, will raise £65m for the broadcaster. It values Arsenal at £6800 per share or more than £420m, a new record for the club’s valuation.

Although ITV paid £77m in three tranches for the two assets, starting in 2000, it had already written their value down to just £32m in its books after the collapse of ITV Digital, so will record a profit of more than £30m on the transaction.

Mr Kroenke is the co-owner of the St Louis Rams American football franchise and owns the Denver Nuggets basketball team, the Colorado Avalanche hockey team and the Colorado Rapids soccer franchise.

He has remained silent on whether he intends to accumulate a larger stake, or bid for the entire club. To take control, he would have to win over other holders of large blocks of shares, and Arsenal’s management, which said last week it was “committed” to the club.

His investment makes him the latest overseas investor in UK Premier League franchises and comes amid a marketing push behind football in the US market, following David Beckham’s move to California.

The Colorado Rapids struck a commercial and marketing agreement with Arsenal in ITV, which will see the London club playing practice matches at its new, 25-field stadium complex in Commerce City, Colorado.

The sale of ITV’s stake means the broadcaster has raised close to £600m from disposals since it was formed from the merger of Granada and Carlton Communications in 2004. “This is the right time and this is the right price,” an ITV spokesman said.

Michael Grade, its new executive chairman, has made clear its £1bn programming budget will be its priority for investments.

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