You didn’t have to be a Cincinnati Bengals fan to cringe at the sight of Stan Kroenke reveling in his own glory on national television Sunday night. The LA Rams players had just exhausted themselves on the field to win the Super Bowl, but it was the franchise’s stiff seventy-four-year-old billionaire owner who first held aloft the championship trophy like a conquering hero after safely watching the action from the comforts of the luxury box of his $5 billion trophy of a stadium.
But what Kroenke’s long career proves is that it doesn’t take talent or charisma of someone like quarterback Matthew Stafford or Joe Burrow to succeed as a capitalist. Just luck, connections, and money — lots and lots of money.
Kroenke’s incredible run of good luck began in 1971, back when the Columbia, Missouri native bumped into Ann Walton on a ski trip in Aspen, Colorado. Thus started a courtship with the Walmart heiress (currently #83 on Forbes’ list of richest Americans) that resulted in marriage in 1974. Marrying into money paid off quickly as the Waltons took Stan under their wing and got him a job with one of Ann’s uncles, a powerful Missouri real estate developer.
“Marrying into the Walton Family is still the No. 1 accomplishment of Stan’s life,” wrote longtime St Louis sports columnist Bernie Miklasz.
Stan spent the next two decades building up a real estate empire of cookie-cutter strip malls with a little direct help from a friend named Walmart. His retail properties were often anchored by Walmart Supercenters, and from 1990 to 2000, he collected $154 million in rents and fees from the retail giant, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), with the final half decade as a member of ots board of directors.
Money also flowed into Kroenke’s coffers from the public in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies. His St Louis–based real estate company received $117 million in tax breaks from local governments on ten shopping-center developments from 1994 to 2006, $54 million of which went toward Walmart stores, according to Good Jobs First. While fleecing millions of dollars through corporate welfare, Walmart doled out paltry wages to its hundreds of thousands of workers, leaving the state to make up the difference with food stamps and other benefits.
Kroeneke has long donated to the Republican Party to keep the money flowing — including $1 million to the Trump inauguration fund in 2016.
In many ways, Stan is like a boring funhouse version of Trump, a big-spending businessman who decries big government while milking money from it. Not to mention a fellow believer in and beneficiary of nepotism.
I was far from the only Mizzou alum angered at the sight of Stan’s son Josh launching bricks from behind the three point line for the University of Missouri basketball team. “Limit Kroenke’s playing time and [Missouri] wins basketball games,” our student newspaper argued in 2004.
Even more infuriating, Josh Kroenke had a full-ride athletic scholarship at a $75 million dollar sports arena named for his cousin. Walmart heirs Bill and Nancy Laurie bought the naming rights for the Missouri basketball stadium they helped fund and named it Paige Sports Arena for their daughter, who was a college student at UCLA (later removed after Paige got busted for cheating her way through college).
Screwing Over St Louis
The Walmart heirs weren’t just content with naming stadiums — they wanted to own the teams that played in them. In 1995, Stan expanded beyond Super Walmarts to superdomed football stadiums by purchasing a 30 percent minority stake of the Rams for $80 million.
This was a time when, ironically, the Rams planned to flee Southern California because the taxpayers of Anaheim refused to subsidize the construction of an unnecessary state-of-the art stadium. Enter Kroenke’s backyard of St Louis, who fell for the siren song of the trickle down effect of an NFL franchise on a city’s economy.
City officials agreed to hand over $280 million in public money ($523 million in 2022 dollars) to fund the construction of the Trans World Dome, a concrete megaplex in downtown St Louis that had all the charm of the Mall of America. It was a sucker deal made worse by a guarantee that the stadium’s amenities would be maintained in the top quarter of all NFL facilities — a clause that would come back to haunt them not long after Kroenke became full owner of the Rams in 2010.
The Dome had just received a $30 million renovation in 2009, but that wasn’t enough for Stan. Nor were several proposals from St Louis officials for over $100 million in additional renovations. By the time the city countered with a desperate $1 billion dollar plan to build a new stadium on the Mississippi River to make Kroenke happy, he had closed a deal on approximately sixty acres of land in Inglewood, California, in 2015, the future site of SoFi stadium.
St Louis sued for breach of contract, but Kroenke and the NFL agreed to pay the city $790 million and returned the Rams west anyway in 2016 — making him Public Enemy #1 in eastern Missouri. The mostly empty St Louis stadium, now called Dome at America’s Center, is more than just a massive symbol of capital flight and Kroenke’s dirty dealings. The state still owes tens of millions of dollars in bonds on it.
“The three biggest sports in St Louis are the Cardinals, the Blues and Kroenke hating,” says Miklasz.
Kroenke is only slightly more popular in England than St Louis, where he has been criticized as the deadbeat owner of Arsenal since 2011.
A Capitalist’s Capitalist
Even among the rogue’s gallery of superrich NFL owners, Kroenke is singular for his awfulness. The Super Bowl’s super landlord has been nicknamed Silent Stan and “has as much charisma as an undertaker,” a Florida journalist once wrote. Stan himself once described his ruthless, dispassionate management style as akin to driving fence posts into the ground, according to the Denver Post: “You have to hit the post over and over. […] The key is to just stay with it every day.”
Kroenke has certainly smacked a lot of expensive posts without sentimentality. When he bought a Napa Valley–based Screaming Eagle winery, he literally poured roughly $3.3 million of cabernet sauvignon down the drain, figuring it couldn’t generate the thousands of dollars per bottle that other vintages could earn.
He now owns roughly 60 million square feet of real estate, plus more than 1.6 million acres of ranches, making him the fifth-largest landowner in the United States. He also pocketed nearly all of the professional sports franchises in Denver as part of his $10 billion sports empire — second biggest in the world, according to Forbes. His crown jewel, however, is the 70,240-seat SoFi Stadium, the most expensive sporting stadium in the world.
Does it bother Kroenke to be hated in his home state and across the Atlantic?
Probably not. During the confetti-filled post-game interview, he gave a sly shoutout to all his haters. “As far as building this stadium, I think it turned out alright,” he said.
That’s certainly true for Kroenke. But there are at least 5 billion reasons why the rest of us might jeer the $5 billion gleaming Disneyland of pro football and the man who bullied it into existence.