A wealthy gentleman from my hometown recently (2012) purchased an NFL franchise. I have known him for a few years and know him to be a shrewd businessman, a generous philanthropist, and he loves sports…especially American football. For a few seasons he was a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and had his sights set on outright majority ownership of an NFL club. Being from Tennessee, he had always wanted to purchase our own local NFL team but the owners not wanting to sell, he found the opportunity in Ohio by purchasing the, perennially horrible, Cleveland Browns for $1 billion.
NFL ownership is an elite fraternity as there are only 32 teams without promotion or relegation. The NFL is by far the most profitable investment in American sports. Even a horrible team will bring in millions in revenue from the broadcast rights and merchandising. Also, NFL teams have protected markets. They would never allow a city like Manchester to have two successful clubs in the same town (or London to have 4-7) so your club will have dominance in the local media coverage and scant competition for stadium attendance.
Even under his ownership, though, the Browns have continued to struggle; finding neither great coaching nor great quarterback play during his four seasons in the owner’s box. But another issue I suspect he faces is his status among the local longtime supporters as an “outsider owner.” No matter his efforts at community outreach and presence in Cleveland he will never be “one of them”; Especially since he continues to live most of the year at his family home.
That brings me to Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Gold. This week there has been plenty of heat on social media directed at our West Ham owners due to not signing some players we had all hoped for, not liking the seating configuration in the London Stadium, not liking being told to not stand up in front of elderly patrons for 90 minutes of play, not liking potential stadium name sponsors, and numerous other grievances. I hope true fans would pause and take stock of how fortunate you are to have owners that are both local and true fans of West Ham United. There will be bumps in the road, but overall the heights this club is reaching are astounding. For a benchmark, just remember that 32 months ago we lost to Forest 5-0 in an FA Cup tie. And our owners have paid adequate reverence to the club’s storied history throughout this run.
When I look around the Premier League, I see a number of clubs that have sold out to American investors. Not to knock my fellow countrymen, but even in the large clubs this casts an uneasy feeling upon the clubs’ supporters. The Glazier family from Florida purchased Manchester United and burdened the club with crushing debt. Their post-Ferguson life has been rocky, but possibly brighter days are ahead. The Liverpool ownership by John Henry has had starts and stops as Liverpool scouts have frequently complained that the board tries to run player scouting like they do their Boston baseball team; high on computer modeling of player statistics, low on longtime scouts’ expertise. Randy Lerner’s time as owner of Aston Villa led to relegation (and yesterday’s loss to a League 2 side). And finally Stanley Kroenke’s ownership of Arsenal has seen… “a more frugal” use of funds in the transfer market than what a club with their resources should do. A lot of criticism aimed at Arsene Wenger for unaggressive transfer moves probably should really find its way to a board that views the Gunners as an investment and not a passion.
When the ownership of a sports team is crazy about their team and wore their colours, even before they were successful businessmen, then I feel that you have something special; a reverence for the fans, for the history, for the local community. There is a bit more emphasis on a strong youth academy. There are plenty of unseen charities supported that a distant American owner wouldn’t make a priority.
I think I’m the biggest West Ham fan in all of the United States; however, I probably don’t need to ever own the club. Mainly, because I don’t think I would ever move to London. It’s hard to own a community institution when you are so removed from the community. Maybe if I came into a large amount of wealth I could purchase a minority stake in WHUFC. What little I’ve gotten to know of Jack and Dave, I think we would have a pretty fun time with it. But my dreaming of billions aside, West Ham’s passionate fans should lighten up on our board. They are doing a great job managing wages, moving to a new facility, and growing the brand while keeping in touch with the past. Each time you find a complaint to share with @DavidGold remember there is some American hedge fund manager that would love to try to “invest” in Stratford’s Premier League club. He would say “We’ve Got Payet” all the way until a record transfer to Real Madrid came across his desk. Then it would be “We HAD Payet.”