BY ELLEN GRAY
JOSH KROENKE CHANGES THE FACE OF DENVER’S SPORTING SCENE.
At just 36 years of age, Josh Kroenke has garnered a reputation as a savvy businessman who understands what it takes to operate a fast-paced, highly successful sports franchise. With boundless enthusiasm he has learned on his feet what it takes to run a successful mix of four professional sports teams, juggle an incredible number of personalities, yet still maintain a humble, can-do outlook that enables him to keep it all together. Along the way, he has earned the respect of seasoned peers in a highly competitive industry.
As the son of Stan Kroenke, one of America’s most-recognized leaders in the professional sports world, Josh Kroenke was introduced to the industry as a kid of about 13 or 14, when his father became involved with the Rams. “This was my first exposure to high-level athletics and the business behind them,” he says. “Ever since then I always had aspirations to be involved in professional sports.” What he could never have imagined though was the turn this would take, propelling his family into the global sporting spotlight. From his early days playing competitive basketball on a full scholarship at the University of Missouri to an internship with the NBA league office, Kroenke learned all about the business and today is well equipped in his role as President and Governor of both the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche. In addition, he serves as an Alternate Governor for the Colorado Rapids (major league soccer) and serves on the Board of Directors for Arsenal Football Club in London.
Recently we sat down with Kroenke to learn a bit more about what makes this man, who arguably is one of sport’s most up-and-coming leaders … such an energetic force at so young an age.
CHM: What do you like most about your role with Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE?)
JK: I like meeting new people. Whether it’s a season ticket holder or an owner, a team president or a coach, a general manager or intern just starting a career, I have found a lot of enjoyment watching people grow personally and professionally to better themselves and their families. Each of them has taught me a lot over the years and hopefully I have taught them a few things as well.
Interacting with players across our teams is a lot of fun too because I get to meet a lot of people from very different walks of life. Gabriel Landeskog left home in Sweden as a teenager to pursue his NHL dream. Emmanuel Mudiay was born in a war-torn Congo and at age five fled with his two older brothers to meet their mother in Dallas to start a new life. These are exceptional young men and are examples of the perspective you gain when you have the privilege of being around them. They have learned and will continue to learn both as players and as people. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch our athletes represent themselves, their teams, and the City of Denver in a very positive way.
Our company and teams are full of phenomenal people and competitors, all of whom I have the pleasure of getting to know in my role, and for that I am extremely grateful.
CHM: What is your greatest accomplishment or what do you hope to accomplish in coming months?
JK: That’s a tough one since professionally I won’t feel we have accomplished anything of substance until our teams are consistently in “the conversation” of teams that can win a championship. That requires a lot of building, patience, and also a bit of luck to get there. There are little things we have accomplished and are currently doing that I feel will get us to where we aspire to be, but we can’t skip steps. We have won championships before in the NFL, NHL, and MLS and we won’t be satisfied until we are consistently at that championship level across the board.
CHM: Was being involved in the sports world an ambition of yours when you were growing up?
JK: I always had aspirations to be involved in professional sports. But if I said that I knew my family was going to wind up with the presence we now have in the global sporting community, I would be lying to you. Soccer was my first love but basketball was the sport I chose to play competitively. Through the basketball experience that continued all the way through college at the University of Missouri and an internship with the NBA league office, I learned a lot about high-level athletics and everything it entailed. So when I came into my role in 2010, I was about as prepared as I could have been.
CHM: Favorite spectator sport?
JK: My favorite sport to watch is golf. Skiing in the winter and playing golf in the summer have become my outlets to take my mind off of things when I’m stressed, and watching golf has become a very fun and relaxing thing for me. I guess with KSE being involved in so many different sports and paying such close attention at all times to different leagues, records, rankings, and standings, it’s nice just to be able to be a fan of something and enjoy the result no matter what happens. I have a favorite player or two and know a few guys on the PGA Tour, so it’s fun to just kick back and cheer for a couple different guys while admiring how dedicated they are to their craft. I wound up next to David Duval at our club driving range once and just listening to the sound his golf club makes during contact lets you know the pros are playing a completely different game than the rest of us amateurs!
CHM: What have you observed about Denver fans?
JK: Denver fans can be defined by one word … passion. Passion is a wonderful thing to have because without it, you simply have no one interested and a passive fan base is definitely not a strong fan base. Fans want to see our teams succeed, so for me, that passion can go both ways. When our teams are winning more games than they are losing, fans are much easier to interact with as they see the vision and can easily get behind a winning team. But when the teams are not as successful, let’s just say the interactions aren’t quite as much fun. I always joke with my family that when the teams are winning all of the focus will rightly be on the coaches, players, and management. But when the teams are losing, the focus and blame will come our way as people will expect changes to be made. It’s not the most fun of dynamics at times, but when we achieve success it’s a feeling that is hard to describe because you can feel the amazing city of Denver behind you everywhere you go.
CHM: What changes can we expect to see with regard to the upcoming season? How competitive do you feel the Nuggets and Avalanche will be this year?
JK: I think generally both teams will be young, very competitive, and should be competing for playoff spots. There are numerous highly talented young players throughout both rosters with a nice mix of veterans in each locker room to ensure strong cultures. Both coaches are very disciplined and very structured on a daily basis and are not afraid to hold each and every player accountable. However, with the accountability comes a personal touch that I think allows our players to understand we care about them as people as much as we do their contributions to our teams. I believe truly caring about them as human beings is incredibly important.
On the Avalanche side, we have a first-year head coach in Jared Bednar and we’re incredibly excited to have him join our organization. He has been successful at every level he’s coached, and we feel he can have a very positive impact on the roster. We have a very talented group of young players we have been drafting over the past several years and they are each going to be expected to step into larger roles going forward to have success as a group. We signed both Nathan MacKinnon and Tyson Barrie to multi-year contract extensions and are planning to have a few veteran defensemen around to help with some of the newer, younger faces along our blue line. We are near the limit of the salary cap and have been drafting well over the past several years, but as I joked with a group of fans a few weeks ago, we can’t make Nathan (who just turned 21) turn 25 years old tomorrow. Matt Duchene has been a huge part of our organization for quite some time now and just posted his first 30-goal season last year at age 25. People forget we’re drafting these kids at 18 years old and sometimes patience and discipline are needed in order to achieve success.
While the Avalanche are young, it’s possible the Nuggets are even younger. Michael Malone is entering his second season as head coach and while one would say we didn’t have a successful record last season (33-49), we did it with an eye on the future, with several first- and second-year players. We are expecting some internal growth from the young players and are hopeful that through continuity and hard work, the young talent will continue to improve and raise our ceiling for success, both now and in the future. Danilo Gallinari is a veteran who had a fabulous season in 2015-16, and I look for him to continue to build upon his individual success. Wilson Chandler was out the entire last season due to a hip injury in the preseason, and we almost look at him as a free agent signing because he will contribute heavily this year. We felt we drafted well, and with our incoming rookies combining with a group of youngsters who made the NBA All Rookie team in 2015-16 (Nikola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay), we are excited about the possibilities heading into the future.
CHM: Which of your players do you think have the most impact on the community?
JK: One of the things we are most proud of is the impact all our players have on the community. Each player does things throughout the community on their own initiatives through team and league-sponsored events. A lot of them have their own personal stories that will bring awareness to specific organizations or illnesses. I believe every player feels pride that this is not just a place they play, but also where they live and the effect they have in sharing in the Colorado community.
The Colorado Avalanche hockey club visits area hospitals annually and spends time with patients and their families during the holidays. Our Denver Nuggets organization puts on a clinic for Special Olympics Colorado, giving more than 100 Special Olympics athletes a day of fun in basketball each year. The Colorado Rapids and Colorado Mammoth teams create month-long events to help raise funds and support cancer patients. Our teams host numerous events and donate their time in appearances annually, making a positive impact in the city. One of our biggest events I am able to participate in alongside all four teams is the Mile High Dreams Gala. It highlights our players and coaches by providing a unique opportunity for the community to engage with each team directly while raising money for Kroenke Sports Charities. (Note: This year’s Mile High Dreams Gala will be held on November 14, 2016. For reservation information, please visit the community section of team website.)
CHM: What is fueling your enthusiasm right now?
JK: We are knee deep into the MLS season and I look forward to the playoff potential at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (DGSP). Soccer fans are some of the most passionate to watch and DSGP is a site to remember. The Colorado Rapids recently brought in Team USA goalkeeper Tim Howard this past offseason, and they have been at or near the top of the standings all season. We are incredibly excited about their playoff prospects. Tim has been a great addition to both the team and the community and we’re thrilled to have him join our club.
CHM: Favorite thing about living in Colorado?
JK: Where do I start? Between the friendly people and the great weather I think I have everything I need! Having lived in Denver since 2007 it has been incredible to watch the city change in such a short period of time. The growth around town is exciting to say the least. From my office at Pepsi Center I can see several high-rise cranes at work throughout downtown, and it has been astonishing to watch the Cherry Creek area change. I have a few friends who are working on projects over in the RiNo district of downtown and I think that area is going to be tremendous going forward as well. However, don’t lose sight of why I’m really here, which is the mountains. My parents have a duplex in Steamboat Springs and they put me on skis when I was two. My older sister was getting to do something I wasn’t, so they put me on skis to stop me from crying and ever since, I have had a love for Colorado.
CHM: Talk about family and what is important to you? What did you learn from your father?
JK: I am a very family-oriented guy and along with my family I have a love for dogs. Most people who know me or see me around Pepsi Center and the city know I love to be with my two bulldogs, Fletcher and Arnie. They come to the office with me most days and travel with me often. They create a calm atmosphere during the heavy work hours, long seasons, and I can’t imagine my life without them.
I think the main thing my father instilled in me at a young age was hard work. And not only just hard work, but when you fail, work harder. Whether it’s something business-related or in your personal life, there is no substitute for going out and working hard. I try to apply this in all aspects of my life and you need to understand that failure will happen at times, but by continuing to work hard through difficult times you will better prepare yourself for when a similar situation arises in the future and hopefully you’ll achieve success.
CHM: If you could be doing any other job, what would it be?
JK: I think I’d be a fishing guide on a river somewhere or a ski instructor. I would enjoy the daily outdoor aspect of the jobs and I would also enjoy meeting new people and teaching them a skill they didn’t already have. Fishing or skiing on a daily basis sounds like a lot of fun.
CHM: Favorite Denver restaurant?
JK: My Brother’s Bar. My dad first took me there when I moved to Denver in 2007 and I immediately fell in love with the place. I enjoy restaurants and bars that have a lot of character, and I would say that My Brother’s Bar has as much character as any place I’ve been to in Denver. My usual order is a Double Ralphie (Bison Burger) with cheese and a side of fries/onion rings combo basket. They also have unbelievable chili that will tempt me when I’m feeling exceptionally hungry. It’s close to Pepsi Center, so it makes it an easy lunch spot and I love to drag anyone and everyone there with me. The Cherry Cricket is also a personal favorite. They both have options for people of all tastes and diets. I enjoy a good burger every now and then!
CHM: Favorite vacation spot?
JK: This is a tough one but I’d have to say Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I love the mountains and Jackson is rugged and just far enough away from Denver where I feel like I’m escaping somewhere more remote. As Coloradans know, the mountains are a special place and the Teton Range is one that I find to be incredibly inspiring. I really enjoy sneaking up there a few times during the winter as the people are wonderful and the skiing is truly world class … steep and deep!