As the NFL Returns to London, Can Stan Kroenke Have Success in Soccer and Football?

Two of the businessman's sporting interests vied for his attention in London this past weekend

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Dilip Vishwanat / Getty Images

St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke addresses the media during a press conference at the Russell Training Center on Jan. 17, 2012 in Earth City, Miss.

In an ideal world, American businessman Stan Kroenke should have enjoyed a fun-filled sporting week in the U.K. Two of his sporting interests were playing their home games in London: soccer side Arsenal, for which the 65-year old Kroenke is the majority shareholder, had two winnable games in the English Premier League (EPL) against Norwich City and Queens Park Rangers, either side of a Champions League match at home to the German team Schalke, from which they were also expected to emerge victorious. Instead, they slumped to a 1-0 defeat against a lowly Norwich, were shocked 0-2 at home to the Bundesliga outfit and were less than 10 minutes away from being held to a goalless draw at home to 10-man QPR before a late (albeit offside) winner saw off the EPL’s bottom club. What’s more, if he thought he’d be afforded some respite at Arsenal’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) last Thursday, he was in for a rude awakening as fans accused the board of “ruining the club.” Kroenke was even asked if he planned to take dividends out of the North London side (he said it was a decision for the board).

Clearly under fire, the rarely-heard-from Kroenke — there’s a reason he’s known as “Silent Stan” — took to the Arsenal website to try and make his point: “I am ambitious for the Club and we all share the same goal,” he stated. “The reason I am involved in sport is to win. It’s what it’s all about. Everything else is a footnote. I can assure you no one is more ambitious than me. Arsenal is a tremendous club with a track record of consistent performance at the top level. That is very rare but we have managed it. I know that will continue as we move forwards. We have an exciting future and our goal is to win trophies.”

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And then there’s his perennially underachieving St. Louis Rams, who moved their home game against the New England Patriots to Wembley Stadium for the NFL’s annual trip to the U.K. (two games are planned for 2013, with the Jacksonville Jaguars playing a game in England until at least 2016). Until recently, it was the Rams slated to make more of an impact in the U.K. but they pulled out of further fixtures in 2013 and 2014, deciding to focus on negotiations on their lease and placating their fanbase instead. That seems a smart move when you consider that the Rams were tied for the worst record in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts last season (2-14), and going into Sunday’s game were a shocking 15-65 over the last five years.

Despite a depressing few days, did Kroenke at least give the Rams an early edge over the Patriots? How so? Because due to his involvement at Arsenal, it wouldn’t have taken much to have his Rams use his soccer side’s impressive training facilities. “I am not sure if I have ever seen a facility quite like this,” Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said.”We don’t have places back home where there is 12, 13 football fields in a row. It is pretty cool just having the opportunity to be over here and practice at a place like this.” The Rams came over to London early in the week to acclimate, whereas the Patriots only arrived a couple of days before kickoff.

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The sixth regular-season NFL game in London also happened to mark the 10-year anniversary of the 2002 Super Bowl, when the heavily favored Rams lost to the Patriots, which was the first of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s (so far) three Super Bowls with New England. But could Kroenke at least make it a weekend to remember and see St. Louis follow up Arsenal’s home win?

The Rams clearly felt right at home from the off. The first possession of the game goes to them and the announcer says “brilliant” on their initial first down, as if that would be the greeting back at the Edward Jones Dome. Bradford makes a stunning start, with his lengthy pass resulting in a touchdown. Are the Pats possibly still jet lagged, after only getting in on Friday? Opposing QB Brady clearly isn’t, as he matches Bradford with a TD shortly after getting the ball and a couple of decisive first downs (which don’t get the “brilliant” treatment).

From there, sadly for Kroenke, the Rams players, management, and supporters (who seem vastly outnumbered at London’s Wembley Stadium on a typically drizzly Sunday afternoon in late October), the game becomes an absolute rout, with the Patriots scoring 45 unanswered points (weirdly, when they were last in London in 2009, the Pats also restricted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to seven points). It’s no wonder the Rams decided to pass on becoming London’s regular NFL visitor, as many of the admittedly incredible figure of 84,004 in attendance seem more interested in the out of town scoreboard (the news that the Miami Dolphins were leading at the New York Jets by 20-0 gets as huge a cheer as anything the Rams achieve). And while there’s no questioning the interest and knowledge shown by the British fanbase, polite applause greets completed passes rather than the raucous roars often heard across American stadia.

It’s back to the drawing board for Kroenke’s (or rather, coach Jeff Fisher’s) 3-5 Rams. Ironically, the game is such a non-event that the CBS announcers resort on two occasions to discussing the other form of football, the one better known in Britain. Not only do they mention the thrilling game taking place across town between Chelsea and Manchester United — the road team also won that one — but how, over an image of Kroenke in the stands, Arsenal “had a big win yesterday.” While that might not have been the case, perhaps it would be more prudent for Kroenke to concentrate on promoting his soccer interests in the U.S. rather than his footballing ones in the U.K.

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