Kroenke Sports Enterprises have no intention of selling Arsenal and will cover the cost of the club’s aborted attempt to join a European Super League, director Josh Kroenke insisted during a stormy meeting with supporters on Thursday.
The Gunners regularly hold Fans’ Forum events with influential groups throughout the season but Kroenke, son of owner Stan, made a rare appearance via Zoom alongside chief executive Vinai Venkatesham.
Arsenal originally postponed the online gathering on Sunday, hours after news broke that the club were one of six English teams to sign up to a new European competition, but it was rearranged in the last 48 hours as the Super League proposals collapsed.
A significant percentage of supporters have always opposed Kroenke’s ownership ever since he took a majority shareholding in 2011 and the club’s attempts to breakaway have reignited hostility among the fanbase, leading to some speculation the group could look to sell.
However, Kroenke quashed those rumours and confirmed his parent company will cover the withdrawal fees arising from their U-turn. Reports suggest these are in the region of £8 million, but Venkatesham indicated the figure was lower.
When asked: when KSE wanted to sell, Kroenke replied: “I am not willing to answer that question because we have no intention of selling.
“I believe we are fit to carry on in our position as custodians of Arsenal. We were put in a very difficult position by forces outside of the club.
“We have the same plans for summer that we had several weeks ago and I’m still excited about those. So I might be met with mistrust, I might be met with scepticism, but over time I hope to establish some sort of relationship with our supporter groups and show them that we are capable of taking our club forward.”
In trying to explain their decision to join the 12 breakaway teams, Kroenke claimed they were trying to safeguard the future of the club amid declining revenues resulting from the coronavirus pandemic and four consecutive seasons outside the Champions League.
He said: “As this project took shape in a very fast manner, we asked ourselves two key questions. The first question we asked ourselves was: what is worse, a Super League or a Super League without Arsenal? That was a very tough one for us to weigh. We decided a Super League without Arsenal was the worst of both those answers.
“The second question we asked ourselves was: what do the fans want? We tried to answer that question in as many ways as possible. We were obviously bound by certain confidentiality aspects of the decision we were thinking about making, and it was a much more complicated answer than we had time to contemplate.
“I think the global fan wants to see Arsenal versus Barcelona as much as possible. I think the European fan wants to see more big matches between top clubs, to be quite frank because their domestic league is so predictable.
“I think from an English fan’s perspective, and this is what was so educating for me, they want to see more big matches. But as one Chelsea supporter wrote on a sign that I saw online the other day, you still want your cold nights in Stoke.”
Venkatesham also claimed Arsenal were not central figures in the Super League formation, despite multiple sources suggesting the Gunners, Manchester United and Liverpool were heavily influential.
“I am really, really sorry for Arsenal’s part in what has been a hugely difficult and really disturbing week for football and in particular our fans,” Venkatesham said.
“Despite the stories, Arsenal were categorically not the authors or drivers of this proposal. That does not excuse what happens, but we were not the authors.
“What was clear to us was that the train was leaving the station. This project was about to be launched with some of the biggest clubs in Europe. We need to assess if this launch happened without us, and this tournament came to fruition without us, what that would mean for the club. Due to concerns about us being left behind, we made the decision to join.
“It became immediately apparent that we made not only a bad decision but a terrible one. We immediately got out as quickly as we possibly could. Now we need to say sorry to lots of people.
Peter Hoest, of Arsenal Denmark, told Kroenke: “You say the trust has been broken, but I don’t believe that is true. As fans of Arsenal we have never trusted you. It is really important you engage with fans much more.”
Kroenke responded by saying: “I am well aware we have never really had trust and what teeny bit of hope there was among a small fan group that KSE would take it forward, I know that has been shredded as well. That is why I am here to start to build that bridge. If ever there ever was a plank on the bridge or no planks on the bridge of trust, I am here to start trying to build that bridge.”
A large fan protest using the hashtag #KroenkeOUT is planned outside Emirates Stadium before Friday’s Premier League game against Everton.