There is a popular saying in the United States about the game of baseball that holds it is too much a game to be a business, but too much a business to be just a game. The adage sadly holds true for all professional sports these days, not to mention, NCAA basketball.
Liverpool fans, meet LeBron James: NBA All-Star, businessman and new minority owner of Liverpool FC.
It was announced on April 6 that King James’ LRMR Branding & Marketing had reached an agreement with Fenway Sports Group, the sports, media and entertainment giants that recently acquired majority ownership of the Reds, that will make FSG the Miami Heat star’s representative around the world.
In exchange, James gains a minority stake in one of the world’s most storied franchises.
FSG, which is the new operating name of what was formerly New England Sports Ventures, is run by principal owner John W. Henry and Chairman Tom Werner, as well as a small group of prestigious individuals and The New York Times and also owns the Boston Red Sox, NASCAR team Fenway Roush Racing and an 80 percent stake in regional television network NESN.
FSG also owns two of the most historic and hallowed stadiums in the word—Fenway Park and Anfield.
The move is seen as a way for Liverpool to expand its brand into markets previously untouched.
“There are very few athletes who can match his global reach and appeal,” Werner told the Boston Globe. “We feel the business opportunities for both working and being identified together in emerging international markets will result in unforeseen opportunities that neither would have been able to realize alone.”
In layman’s terms, LeBron is a big name in many places where Liverpool isn’t and vice-versa.
Maverick Carter, chief executive of LRMR and James’ former high school teammate at St. Mary-St. Vincent High School in Akron, Ohio, agreed that the new partnership would open up international business opportunities for the star.
While terms of the deal were not disclosed, FSG is expected to earn a small commission in any deals struck on behalf of James, who, at 26, is one of the world’s wealthiest athletes, earning $15.8 million from Miami and an estimated $30 million per annum from his vast array of lucrative endorsements, which include such paragons of capitalism as McDonald’s, Nike, Bubblicious and Coca-Cola.
While certainly most Liverpool fans will recognize the name, few perhaps are acquainted with the meteoric rise of the man who was anointed the “Air Apparent” to perhaps the greatest athlete in the history of sport, Michael “Air” Jordan, when he was still a teenager.
Born in 1984 (George Orwell and Eddie Van Halen seem somewhat prophetic in their fixations on that particular year, no?), his mother raised him alone after his father, an ex-convict, abandoned the family. James turned to the basketball court at an early age and had his first multi-million dollar endorsement deal with Nike signed before even turning pro.
He has been widely criticized, and rightly so in my opinion, for his handling of free agency, opting to make his decision to quit the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team, for a chance to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, into a public spectacle broadcast on ESPN called “The Decision.”
More like, “The Debacle.”
In any case, James remains one of the world’s most valuable athletes, and his influence on American popular culture shouldn’t be underestimated.
If LeBron is photographed wearing a Liverpool kit, there will be a spike in jersey sales in the U.S. Not may be a spike, will be a spike.
I have said this before, and I will say it again: Liverpool fans are in excellent hands.
While some owners take the view that just being competitive is enough to fill the stands and turn a profit, Henry has shown that he is not among them.
Since acquiring the Red Sox in 2002, all Henry has done is win a pair of World Series Championships, the first of which ended an 86-year drought. He has shown that he understands the realities of markets like Boston, and I would place Liverpool in the same category.
While certainly the Red Sox are well supported regardless of where they are in the standings, when the city of Boston erupted in lawless revelry following the 2004 World Series, Henry was watching his profit meter spin round faster than the digits on the National Debt Clock.
Some markets demand a winner.
Henry secured the two top positional prizes this offseason and has already committed one of them, left fielder Carl Crawford, to a seven-year $142 million contract. The guy ain’t cheap.
Of course, Reds’ supporters have already seen this first hand with the acquisitions of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, two of the most coveted players in the January transfer window.
The partnership with James is classic Henry: A shrewd move that will have far reaching effects for the club. Having James associated with Liverpool will bring fans and money. Money that will, some of it, at least, find its way into Liverpool’s transfer budget.
Of course, right about now, the only thing fans at Anfield want to know is, can King James play center back?
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