In 2002, Liverpool FC first announced plans to relocate to a brand-new 60,000-capacity stadium at Stanley Park, a stone's throw from current home Anfield.
If the project had gone ahead as initially scheduled, the Reds would have started playing in the futuristic £300 million ($480 million) complex in 2006, under the supervision of owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.
The oft-derided American duo, however, are now a thing of the past, and the new stadium proposals are also set to be sidelined. Subject to planning permission, Liverpool Managing Director Ian Ayre announced in a press conference on Monday that the club are now choosing to redevelop Anfield, their home since 1892.
This is a victory not only for the sentimentalists and diehard Koppites, but also those who wish to see the club regain their former glory in the short- to mid-term future.
The redevelopment is likely to bolster the Main Stand and Anfield Road end, increasing capacity by 15,000 to 60,000—the same as the initial capacity of Stanley Park, and within the top three Premier League stadium capacities. Owner John Henry expects this to increase match-day revenue by £40 million ($64 million).
What's more, redevelopment will only cost £154 million ($247 million) and will be subsidised with a £25 million ($40 million) housing association grant. It doesn't take a high-level economist to see that this is considerably less than the capital required for Stanley Park, with the same amount of seats and revenue-generating potential. Ian Ayre concurred in the press conference:
"If you build a new stadium, one of the big challenges is that you don't get 60,000 new seats in a new stadium, you only get the difference [with the existing capacity]. That makes it very difficult to make it viable because the cost of building such a big new stadium doesn't work economically, particularly in this market."
Funding a new stadium can have serious repercussions for a team trying to mount an assault on the pinnacle of the Premier League. Arsenal, for example, obtained a 14-year, £260 million ($418 million) loan to fund the £390 million ($627 million) Emirates Stadium. The Gunners may have an extra 22,000 bums on seats, and revenue from housing built on the Highbury site, but the need to balance the books has dictated transfer policy, forcing the club to wave goodbye to the some of their most talented staff in the last few seasons.
Liverpool must keep spending on their squad to stay competitive on domestic and European fronts, and without a significantly lower debt service, the Anfield redevelopment will certainly have less impact on their transfer budget.
The club's current owners, Fenway Sports Group (FSG), have previous form for successful redevelopments. In 1999, plans were proposed to demolish The Boston Red Sox's Fenway Park and build an updated replica nearby (much like the New York Yankees did with Yankee Stadium). The plan was heavily opposed by fans, who considered Fenway sacred ground, and the Red Sox instead chose to spend $285 million on renovations. The facilities were improved, and players and fans were satisfied.
With this in mind, Liverpool can't underestimate the psychological value of staying at their spiritual home. The chorus of fans has echoed around Anfield for 120 years—could that emotional experience be properly replicated in a new structure?
Would the players who wear the Liver bird feel the same sense of pride and motivation if they didn't slap the 'This is Anfield' sign en route to the pitch; the same sign that overlooked Ian Rush, Tommy Smith, Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and a host of club legends? Would visiting teams feel as intimidated in yet another new McStadium, or the revered ground steeped in history, with an extra 15,000 Merseysiders leading the charge?
The redevelopment is contingent on Liverpool obtaining the relevant permissions from local authorities—and many local residents would need to be rehoused to make way for expansion. The Stanley Park proposal is not technically dead in the water yet, but fans who wish for the club to become a European powerhouse once again will be hoping for Liverpool City Council to make the right call.