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
(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
“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
“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
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.”