Arsenal backs plan for low-cost plan to promote greater fan ownership of club

Arsenal endorsed a plan that allows fans to buy small stakes in the Premier League club and help resist any takeover bid by rival American and Russian shareholders.

While not as expansive as the fan-ownership model at Barcelona, supporters can make small contributions to the "fanshares" initiative before gaining an actual portion of Arsenal.

One "fanshare" is priced at $150 or one hundredth of the value of Arsenal shares, which are currently worth about $15,000. The Arsenal Supporters' Trust, which already owns about 3 percent of the club, is running the initiative.

The plan will be promoted in advertising around the Emirates Stadium at the first home game of the season on Saturday against Blackpool.

American Stan Kroenke and Russian Alisher Usmanov are Arsenal's two largest shareholders. They've offered their backing to the venture, according to The Arsenal Supporters' Trust.

Kroenke, who owns the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche, has a 29.9 percent holding, while Usmanov owns 26 percent through his investment vehicle Red and White Holdings. Kroenke has a place on the Arsenal board, unlike Usmanov.

"Arsenal for 70 to 80 years has been the model of how a club should be run, investing in youth and not spending more than it can afford," AST board member Tim Payton told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Now at a time (where at) other clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool the relationship doesn't exist with the supporters, Arsenal is setting the lead for others to follow. As important is the symbolism of getting more people owning a part share of the club."

Buyers will be entered into a ballot for a seat at the club's annual general meetings, but anyone purchasing 100 fanshares will have their membership status converted to receive full voting rights.

Once the first influx of money arrives, the supporters' trust will acquire shares in Arsenal Holdings, which is listed on London's Plus Market.

"We are confident that the market will supply us with shares and that their first choice will be to sell to us as supporters," Payton said. "There are always a few small shareholders who need to realize some capital."

The other main shareholders are Danny Fiszman, who owns 16.1 percent, and Nina Bracewell-Smith, who is already looking for a buyer for her 15.9 percent stake.

"If the scheme is a success we may look to approach Lady Nina or other major shareholders to purchase a small number of shares from them, so they can also demonstrate their support," Payton said. "We would also talk to the club to see if we need an issue of new shares.

"We believe in plurality of ownership and having as many supporters as possible involved."

If either Kroenke or Usmanov take their stakes beyond 30 percent, an offer would have to be made for the remaining shares. If an investor buys more than 50 percent of the shares, they gain legal control of the club. Anyone who reaches 90 percent can purchase the remaining shares.

The British government urged other clubs to follow the lead of fanshare.

"It is part of the coalition agreement to encourage supporters to have more representation at their clubs," said sports minister Hugh Robertson. "Arsenal's proposal is an enlightened and forward-looking way of doing this, and makes it affordable for their fans to own a part of their club. Clearly it is for individual clubs to decide, but this is a model I'd like to see other teams explore."

Payton said Arsenal board and chief executive Ivan Gazidis supports the plan. Gazidis does not expect a change in the ownership structure.

"All of our owners and the vast majority of our fans strongly support the custodian model we have," Gazidis said.

It is unlikely fanshares would emulate Barcelona, whose 173,000 members own the club and elect the club's president.