As Liverpool start life under the ownership of John Henry’s New England Sports Ventures (NESV), we have been catching up with a few Reds recently, whose love also extends to that of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, another jewel in the NESV portfolio. Under NESV ownership, the Red Sox saw World Series wins in 2004 and 2007 end a run of 86 years of waiting.
LFCTV recently released a commercial overview on their new owners but we caught up with LFC & Red Sox fans Eleanor Kennedy and Stephen Brandt to get their views on what life could be like at Anfield moving forward.
What similarities do you see between LFC and the Red Sox at the time NESV came in to take over ownership?
Eleanor: I can honestly see many similarities between LFC and the Red Sox in many ways. First of all, both sets of supporters can arguably be referred to as the best in their sport. Since 2003, Fenway Park has had a sellout every single game. Both sets of fans are very passionate about their teams and want nothing but the best players and the best efforts coming from their players.
I suppose an example for the Red Sox would be Mike Lowell. He was traded to the Red Sox in 2006, in 2007 he was crowned World Series MVP and retired at the end of the last season. The Red Sox held a “Thanks Mike” day to honour his efforts. That shows the respect John W. Henry and Tom Werner have for their players.
Comebacks are also in both history books. On route to winning the World Series in 2004, the Red Sox pulled a miracle comeback, being down three games to none against the rival Yankees, the Red Sox won four games in a row to win the AL.
And we all know Istanbul 2005!
Entering the 2004 season the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years. It has been 20 years since Liverpool last won the league, obviously not as long but long enough. The owners will have experience in dealing with these areas. The season ended, Boston failed to make the postseason. Their season was a very difficult and frustrating one as injury after injury came up on the best Red Sox players, for example Dustin Pedroia or Kevin Youkilis, the heart of the team. This experience will most likely help the owners this year with LFC. Overall both clubs are very historic and passionate.
Stephen: Well let’s look at it this way, both teams are simply legendary in their sport. Boston isn’t Liverpool, but as far as importance to the game, it is the same. The Red Sox hadn’t won a title in almost 90 years and they had a manager who just couldn’t manage (Read Grady Little vs. Pedro Martinez).
How long, from the point of takeover, was it before noticeable progressive changes in a fan’s view were made and what were they?
Eleanor: Immediately after John W. Henry bought the Red Sox, an impact was made. Just two years after the sale the Red Sox (as I pointed out above) won the World Series for the first time in 86 years, breaking the curse of the Bambino as was known. A couple weeks after the owners took over they replaced manager Joe Kerrigan with Grady Little, and before the 2004 season current manager Terry Francona was hired. A move which to this day is a pleaser! Also current general manager Theo Epstein was hired in 2003 (only 28 at the time). This shows that the owners are capable of making decisions that are long lasting.
Stephen: Within two years. Henry got them two World Series titles pretty quickly, after buying the Red Sox in 2002 they went on to win their first World Series in 2004.
Fenway Park is an iconic stadium in America’s baseball history; after careful review NESV opted to refurbish instead of replace it. How extensive was the overhaul and how well did this show NESV’s understanding of what was in the best interests of the Red Sox?
Eleanor: I believe the owners made an excellent decision in refurbishing Fenway Park rather than knock down the iconic stadium to build a new one with zero history. Part of NESV’s decision to refurbish rather than build was the fact that in 2012, Fenway Park celebrates its 100th year anniversary. Because of their decision to keep Fenway Park around, not just Red Sox fans, but MLB fans get to celebrate this. This was a very clever decision by the owners. I don’t think any Red Sox fan wants to see “America’s beloved ballpark” knocked down to nothing. This shows that the owner not only care about the history of their team, but the fans too.
Stephen: Here’s the thing, you can’t replace or demolish Fenway, it’s a national monument. Henry, if he wanted to, couldn’t legally tear it down. He’s improved a lot of it, but the foundation is there. They won’t replace something if it’s not in the best interest of the fans.
There is a general consensus out there that NESV are exceptional owners of the Red Sox, backed passionately by the fans who they listen to. This is something that has been missing at Liverpool for some years now but how true is this in your opinion at the Red Sox?
Eleanor: I haven’t been a Sox fan that long but from my time as one it is definitely evident that NESV are exceptional owners and do listen to the fans. It all comes down to the success in Boston since the owners took over. You just look at our playoff record, two World Series, and as pointed out above their plans to refurbish Fenway. They are willing to go hunting for the best players and are not afraid to let go of ones that are nothing but a bad distraction to teammates, i.e. Manny Ramirez, who despite being one of the best players in baseball, obviously wasn’t giving 100 percent and wanted out of Boston. In my opinion this backs this consensus.
Stephen: Fans in America aren’t as rabid as football fans. The only thing the Red Sox fans wanted was to win the World Series, and Henry has given them two World Series rings. That’s all that matters. I figure if the fans tell Henry, we want to become what we were in the '80s, he would make it possible.
NESV replaced their manager within a week of their takeover and made significant changes to the playing staff. How good were the decisions that they made from the off in these areas and were they strongly publicly supported?
Eleanor: I pointed out above that the owners have made decisions that are long lasting. They hired manager Terry Francona who to this day could be considered one of the best in baseball. Also they hired general manager Theo Epstein who has been a stronghold in the Red Sox front office in dealing with players and bringing the best players into Boston. Obviously mistakes have been made but what team can say they haven’t. The whole backroom staff today are very good, from pitching coach to catching coach and beyond. They have brought in people with a true knowledge of baseball.
Stephen: You had to get rid of Grady Little. Great man, been in the game long time, well thought of. Strangely, I’ve heard that about a certain manager wearing red right now. They’ve kept the new manager since, then again it’s easy when you win two World Series. They will only get rid of players or staff if they are hurting the image/winning chances. They won’t sell a player just because it’s cool. Henry will study the game more than any owner, I really recommend a read of the book Moneyball, it’s about them really.
NESV have opted for an “actions speaks louder than words” strategy at Anfield which is wise to a degree but at the Red Sox they announced an early five-point plan of change. Do you think they have opted not do something similar because of the previous H&G failings on their promises, or because of differences in American and UK culture and the sports of course, also being different?
Eleanor: I believe the owners went for an “actions speak louder than words” strategy because of the state the previous owners left us in. Hicks and Gillett promised us things that never came and I believe that had Henry and Werner drew out a list of promises, Liverpool fans would have been cautious and would not have taken full trust in the owners.
It was clever by the owners to do this as they were aware of this and wanted to send out a message to the fans that they understand what position we are in, in terms of trust and that they owners realize they have to work for our trust. The more promises you make the more promises you are capable of breaking. You can draw up as many lists of promises as you want but it doesn't mean anything until you act on those and make them happen.
Stephen: American sports are only different in that they haven’t been around as long. Like in the UK, a lot of owners make promises and don’t keep them. It’s almost second nature. They only are doing this to win, and win the fans. They aren’t concerned about their image because they're a bunch of white businessmen who don’t need to see themselves. If they can make the team the best using the least amount of money (not that they don’t have it, because they do).
Everything this ownership group will do, will be thought out, and researched. If there’s any chance of it not working, they won’t do it, they’re not cocky like other American owners. Plus they are used to dealing with idiots to a degree in sports (Yankees owners are jerks, Mets ownership is laughable and the rest of the league is not run well.) They know what won’t work, they studied this before doing it. A five-point plan will seem to the UK as something stupid, but they would have followed it at LFC to the bone.
John Henry and Tom Werner are perceived to be “winners” something they advocate as a strength of NESV. Was it very clear early on that NESV had made their investment very much with a passion for the sport and the club as well as a commercial interest?
Eleanor: I think NESV are the type of owners that take a passion in what they invest in. Obviously everyone invests in something looking for a profit but I honestly don’t believe Henry and Werner will be the types that JUST invest in something for the money. I don’t think that had they zero interest in LFC or the sport they would have bought us. They are plenty busy with the Red Sox and other New England deals. I think this shows that they do care about our well-being, not just because it will affect them financially but because they really do have an interest in Liverpool Football Club.
Stephen: I can’t say it anymore than this: NESV is the best to happen to LFC since Kenny came from Celtic. They wouldn’t have bought Leicester or Scunthrope, they buy clubs and business that have fans who love the team and will worship. Of all the ownership groups out there, which could buy the club, NESV is the best thing to happen. They’ll make the club right. It won't be overnight, but top-four finishes and Cup wins will be coming. It’s not going to be the '70s and '80s again, but LFC will be back. NESV will bring back the legends, and you’ll also have a true American audience now.