Commentary

American owners still finding their feet at Swansea City

Many American fans lost interest in Swansea City after the club fired Bob Bradley as manager just 11 matches into his tenure, yet the primary ownership duo of Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (also managing general partner of D.C. United) are implementing significant changes to the Premier League club.

They are not the only American businessmen with Premier League investments. Rapids majority owner Stan Kroenke owns a controlling stake in Arsenal, and the Glazer family – headed by Malcolm Glazer – has been in charge of Manchester United for more than a decade. John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, fills the same role for Liverpool.

But the investment of Kaplan and Levien runs a much greater risk of relegation than those mega-clubs, and after they bought a controlling interest of 60 percent in July of last year, the prospect of dropping into the League Championship loomed large enough that Bradley got the boot in late December.

This rocky patch didn’t sit well with the fan base, and in particular the Swansea City Supporters’ Trust, which owns most of the shares -- slightly more than 21 percent -- the Americans do not control. Its members had been largely unaware of the takeover process until the deal was announced and the early-season dismissal of Francesco Guildolin followed by Bradley’s brief stint further roiled the waters.

(Several clubs owned by Americans have been relegated from the Premier League in the past few years and since taking over Crystal Palace a year and a half ago, Josh Harris and David Blitzer -- part owners of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils -- have listed through a few turbulent spells. Just this week they changed managers and brought in former English national team manager Roy Hodgson.)

Bradley's replacement, Paul Clement -- aided by a few key buys in the January transfer window -- steered Swansea out of the drop zone and along the way Kaplan and Levien bought an additional 8.2 percent of shares from chairman Huw Jenkins, who retains about 5 percent. Another minority investor is former U.S. international Landon Donovan, who is actively working to land an MLS expansion team in San Diego, where he lives.

Since escaping relegation, and registering a profit of about $26 million, the Swans have sold off some of their best players, with suitable replacements yet to be acquired. Thus, angst is again rampant among the club’s more ardent fans, especially with a lot more money available from a lucrative new TV deal that kicked in this season.  Swansea City has accrued four points from its first four matches and – thanks to goal difference -- is in 15th  place.

“It doesn't seem like the Americans are putting in any of their own money to take the club forward,” said former Swans and Wales striker Ian Walsh told BBC Sport Wales. “They're prepared to invest to keep things on a status quo, but not investing to take the club forward on the field.

“But it is difficult. Lots goes on off the field that us as punters and the fans and the media don't know about. But it just seems to me that they're just looking after what's here, the Americans, and not really putting in any of their own money.”

Hiring data analyst Dan Altman and chief operating officer Chris Pearlman have not energized the populace given the departures of two-time Player of the Year Gylfi Sigurdsson to Everton and top scorer Fernando Llorente to Tottenham for combined transfer fees of about $82 million. Midfielders Sam Clucas and Roque Mesa and striker Wilfried Bony were transferred to Swansea City for combined fees of about $52 million, but the owners have set as their primary target not the team itself but where it plays.

Kaplan and Levien are negotiating a takeover of Liberty Stadium, which the Swans share with the Ospreys rugby club under an agreement with Swansea Stadium Management Company and the Swansea City Council, which paid about $55 million for the facility that opened in 2005.

As landlords rather than tenants, the Swans could sell naming rights, control scheduling for events other than soccer and rugby, and make plans for expansion. Its capacity of 20,700 is the smallest in the Premier League, though the stadiums in which Watford and Huddersfield Town play are not much larger.

Much of the fans’ rage has been directed at Jenkins, not only for a rather tepid offseason in the transfer market but the tidy sum – about $11 million – he pocketed for selling many of his shares. He is adamant that the leadership of Kaplan and Levien, though shaky on the field, has solidified its present and future. The Swans earned promotion by beating Reading in May 2011 playoff final.

“We are probably in the best financial position we have been in since we've been in the Premier League,” he said to BBC Sport Wales. “Things are looking in the best position we've been in since joining the Premier League on and off the field.&rdquo

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12 comments about "American owners still finding their feet at Swansea City".
  1. frank schoon, September 16, 2017 at 12:55 p.m.

    The Americans should invest in an American club for they understand the American culture better. Realize these clubs in England have grown a certain specific culture with each club after a hundred years or so
    Ajax would never accept an American investor for he doesn't understand the Amsterdam and Ajax culture that goes into what makes an Ajax player. It is not just about Football but Culture as well and that is why Pro/Rel works much better there....

  2. frank schoon replied, September 17, 2017 at 7:57 a.m.

    Bob, it is difficult to explain culture unless you grew up with a club, that has been around for over hundred years. It becomes part of the history of the city, your relatives, it is so much more, than what you think, and it much more than just the bottom line as seen in American sports. In England it is even worse, I knew someone who had trouble dating a girl for her father didn't like the team he supported. It is hardcore in England

  3. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 17, 2017 at 10:48 a.m.

    Maybe insular attitudes like that are the reason Ajax, and Dutch football in general, have regressed in recent years.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, September 18, 2017 at 8:16 a.m.

    I grew up in the Midwest where pointy football was the no. 1 spectator sport. College stadiums seated 100,000 and filled them. There was a rivalry between 2 colleges that was state wide. The week of the annual game, essentially the entire state split into 2 supporters groups wearing the colors of their chosen team. For the vast majority it was just good-natured fun. Very few people were actually obsessive about it. Each state had similar rivalries. I find it hard to believe that Brits are any different. "Fever Pitch" is an exception, not the norm.

  5. frank schoon replied, September 18, 2017 at 9:50 a.m.

    Bob, In England, the roots go very deep with teams. I knew an English couple, the girl a Nottingham Forest supporter and he was a Notts County supporter, whose team loyalties caused a lot angry division in the families in the same little town. They told me some stories about their soccer culture that I even find, unbelievable and shocking. As fans he and his buddies would rent a small U-haul truck packed with his buddies ,drive to an away game and create fights with some of the opposing supporters before game time. He doesn't see his mother very for much. I found out she lived one mile away in the same small town Apparently that is a big distance for them. England has a very provincial attitude about things. That is why the English soccer is so far behind in healing techniques, physical therapy , diets for soccer players, for they don't across the channel for new things, which in a sense reflect "tradition" that describe England. It was Arsenal coach Wenger,from France, who first introduced new techniques,diets, and new attitudes in soccer. It is this provincial attitude, so insular , making loyalties much more part of their family, their history, their lives...I know in Italy, it is a little different but there the team not so much represents part of their family but of their city. If the team loses it is an insult to their city...and guess,historically , Italy was more about the city states not country...

  6. Bob Ashpole, September 16, 2017 at 11:11 p.m.

    The problem Frank is not a lack of understanding of the culture. The problem is that the owners are not investing in players to improve the level of the club. They are apparently only interesting keeping player salaries as low as possible and making a profit on player transfers. The fans are complaining because they don't see any progress. I don't blame them. It is one thing to maintain the status quo for a mid table team, but something else to maintain the status quo on a team that barely survived relegation.

  7. R2 Dad replied, September 17, 2017 at 1:41 a.m.

    Swansea has to be careful--the drop is usually for an extended period. Newcastle should NOT be the case study. They came right back up the year after the drop but that is very unusual. Look at all the names in the Championship who have been up the past 15 years and are still lodged in the Championship. It's a difficult balance, avoiding relegation. Look at all the talent at Stoke, all the new faces at West Ham. It's still early in the season, but Kaplan and Levien better get ready to spend in January. That is NOT the most cost-effective time of year to bolster your squad. Owning a Premier League team (I hear) is like owning a boat. Your two happiest days are the day you buy, and the day you sell. Everything else is dumping cash down a money pit.

  8. Fire Paul Gardner Now replied, September 17, 2017 at 10:49 a.m.

    Actually relegated teams frequently bounce back. Some don't, it's true. But relegation is not a death sentence like it's often portrayed.

  9. Ginger Peeler replied, September 18, 2017 at 9:58 a.m.

    You're absolutely right, Bob!

  10. R2 Dad replied, September 18, 2017 at 11:14 a.m.

    Fire, what's become clear is the amount and timing of the parachute payments to relegated teams can cushion the blow--but crummy owners can still just pocket those payments instead of re-investing in the team to try and win promotion again.

  11. Alfred Randall, September 18, 2017 at 10:07 a.m.

    Good Examples of clubs being relegated and not coming back up are Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday. It's very difficult to make it back without that TV money. Good business men should run all clubs.

  12. Ginger Peeler, September 18, 2017 at 10:42 a.m.

    Frank...Americans can be just as fanatical as Europeans about their sports. It's not so much culture, it's what some sports fans do. That's where the word "fanatics" comes from. We've got our share of pointy football fanatics. One idiot used an herbicide to poison a group of 130 year old oak trees at Toomers Corner because of a college rivalry, for heaven's sake! Traditionally, the local college students gathered there to celebrate their team's wins and they t-papered the trees! Harmless fun for a lot of kids! Ruined by one man's fanaticism. All of that has nothing to do with the Swans fans. Of course they're unhappy with the management. The fact that they're more financially stable than they've ever been before is nice, but when are they going to bring in the players they'll need to avoid relegation? The clock is ticking.

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