Rapids team up with Arsenal

February 9, 2007

DENVER -- London's Arsenal soccer club extended its influence into the United States on Friday when it entered a partnership with Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which owns Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids, as well the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and the NBA's Denver Nuggets.

In the agreement, the soccer clubs will exchange business, commercial and marketing information as well as the transfer of coaching and training philosophies.

The deal also includes the creation of the Arsenal Center of Excellence in Denver and the Arsenal Cup, a tournament involving American youth soccer clubs that will be held annually at the new stadium the Rapids are set to open in April.

"We try to extend our brand," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "We try to extend our technical cooperation as well, because the Americans might produce some players at some stage and that's why we do it."

The MLS team also ditched its black and blue colors, but decided against adopting Arsenal's red and white scheme or incorporating the Arsenal brand into its name.

The Rapids had strongly considered changing their name to Colorado Arsenal or Arsenal Colorado and had registered those domain names to prevent cybersquatting.

However, the team introduced a new shield and kits Friday that maintained the Rapids nickname and incorporated the maroon from owner Stan Kroenke's NHL team and the powder blue of his NBA team.

"I think it makes sense in both business and the soccer side of things," said Rapids managing director Jeff Plush, whose team will train at Arsenal's facility in London next month before playing a series of matches in Spain.

"Soccer is the global game and when we acquired this franchise in 2003, we came into it with a lot of sports marketing experience but no soccer experience. So, we decided right then we had to reach across the world, across borders and to reach out and get to know people," Plush said.

Sponsorships, building operations and youth development are handled differently in Europe than in the U.S., "and I think it's the ability to have that exchange of ideas in a noncompetitive way ... (that) makes us smarter and we think it makes them smarter. And that's all we're trying to do is get better at our business," Plush said.

The announcement comes three days after the English soccer club Liverpool announced that it backed a takeover bid by Americans George Gillett Jr. and Tom Hicks. But Wenger was adamant that Arsenal was not being sold to Kroenke, who also co-owns the St. Louis Rams among his many sports and entertainment endeavors.

"(The deal) is not for a takeover," Wenger said. "There are enough Americans in the league now."

Malcolm Glazer, who owns NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, took control of Manchester United in 2005, while Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner took over Aston Villa in September.

Plush said there never was any effort by Kroenke Sports to acquire Arsenal.

"This is 100 percent a commercial relationship, a marketing relationship, a best-practices relationship," he said. "There was absolutely zero equity conversations as a part of this.

"This is business. This is strategic. This is about brand extension for them," Plush added. "This is about getting their beachhead in the United States. I think we become their advocate and their friend on the ground and help guide them through the nuances of our country and our culture and our business opportunities. And vice versa."

The partnership includes the creation this summer of the Arsenal Center for Excellence at the Rapids' new $131 million soccer complex. Plush said a coach with "strong Arsenal lineage" will relocate to Denver and teach the club's philosophy to American youth.

The 18,000-seat Dick's Sporting Goods Park will host the MLS All-Star game against Celtic in July, which will likely include newcomer David Beckham, who has a five-year deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy but remains with Spain's Real Madrid through June 30.

Arsenal also has a partnership with Belgian team Beveren, where young and developing players are often sent on temporary contracts. It is unclear if Arsenal will play a friendly match in the U.S., but Wenger said he doesn't expect the team to tour.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press