Ahead of a crucial Premier League title decider against Chelsea this Sunday, Liverpool this week announced their expansion plans for Anfield, while managing director Ian Ayre today credited, via the Telegraph, the role of current owners John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group in their financial rejuvenation.
Both the Anfield redevelopment announcement and the revelations behind the dire financial situation at Liverpool have not only boosted the feel-good factor around the club, who are five points clear in the Premier League and poised to win their first league title in 24 years, but also highlighted just how important FSG have been in their resurrection.
The Reds now seem a stark contrast to what they were just a few years ago, when Tom Hicks and George Gillett were in constant internal battles with then-manager Rafael Benitez and released plans for a new stadium in Stanley Park that got nowhere, a symbol of their failed reign that disillusioned supporters.
John W. Henry led FSG’s takeover in 2010, which saved the club from administration and that has subsequently transformed Liverpool’s fortunes on and off the pitch.
As Ayre claims that “the club is in a fantastically sustainable position now,” let’s look at just how Liverpool have been rejuvenated financially under the reign of Henry and FSG—and whether this can be sustained going forward.
Corporatization of Liverpool as a Global Business
It’s easy to say we were 10 years into a stadium move and it’s about time we are back in the Champions League, but if you think about where we were financially, just because you’re Liverpool it does not mean you have a right to get back up there. There are plenty of teams who could have slipped and slipped, despite new owners, so it’s an unbelievable achievement to get back where we are today. That is testament to the people who invested in it and worked on getting us back there.
Ian Ayre’s proud proclamations of the FSG-led transformation, dipped in bitter memories of the Hicks and Gillett reign, will reverberate around Anfield as a resounding endorsement of the way John W. Henry has run his sports empire.
Joshua Green of Bloomberg.com has encapsulated Henry’s reign at Major League Baseball club Boston Red Sox in a wonderfully revealing article on their baseball dynasty, and similar principles from Henry’s financial and business background have been applied to Liverpool.
The inevitable truth in the sports world these days is that it is becoming more and more of a global business, and Liverpool have, in many aspects, finally caught on.
When looking at models for sustainable growth in world football, perhaps Arsenal is always the go-to club given the building of their new Emirates Stadium and the well-known financial management of Arsene Wenger, but it’s no surprise that Ian Herbert’s column for the Independent draws comparisons with “the kind of machine that the Glazer family have developed at Old Trafford.”
That Manchester United have set up offices around the globe to push their marketing and sponsorship efforts is indicative of their aggressive expansion as a corporation; Herbert writes that their “far-sighted establishment of regional and global corporate sponsorship deals began well over a decade ago.”
This has only recently surfaced at Anfield—though, of course, it is a case of better late than never—with all kinds of backroom appointments boasting titles we would otherwise associate with financial organizations and the business world in general.
Liverpool, who have for years been in the top 10 of Deloitte’s Money League rankings despite missing out on the Champions League, have finally gotten in the sponsorship act and have begun raking in the millions as a result of the commercial push. Their announcement this week of a partnership with US restaurant chain Subway, per the Liverpool Echo, is only the latest chapter in their fast-growing business empire.
Anfield Redevelopment: Finally Done Right?
When looking to expand the financial income of football clubs, the issue of stadiums will always come into the equation.
After all, gate receipts was the reason behind Arsenal’s decision to move from Highbury to a new stadium, and Manchester United, having expanded Old Trafford over the years, have been raking in a minimum of £3 million every home match since its capacity has come close to 76,000, per ESPNFC.
So it’s no surprise that much has been made over Liverpool’s next step in terms of their stadium: The question was always whether to develop the iconic Anfield, which would have a capacity ceiling due to construction constraints, or to move into their neighboring Stanley Park, which would require massive payments that might hamper their other financial activity, much as Arsene Wenger has experienced.
This Mirror Football article, in light of the new stadium redevelopment announcements, revisited the failed and widely mocked plans for a 60,000-capacity stadium in Stanley Park, which were first suggested in 2002 and then revisited in the Hicks and Gillett reign. They promised a “spade in the ground” within 60 days of their 2007 acquisition of Liverpool, but proved unable to finance the construction project.
By contrast, the £150 million redevelopment currently mooted will cost less than a third of the Stanley Park plans, and will likely eventually take the total seating capacity to 58,000 after expanding two main stands, according to Chris Bascombe of the Telegraph.
Surrounding all the recent fanfare has been the club’s shady policy of “buying up houses around the stadium and leaving them empty, driving the local area into dreadful decline” since the 1990s, which David Conn has uncovered in his revealing Guardian column.
The club apparently “used an agency to approach some residents, while some houses were bought by third parties then sold on quickly to the club. That left residents with the belief…that Liverpool were buying up houses by stealth, to keep prices low,” a tactic that has not gone down well with local residents.
But as Ayre and the club have published their plans publicly and also apparently been in dialogue with the local councils and residents with their Anfield redevelopment plans, the chance is there for FSG and the current hierarchy to redeem errors made in years past and commit to a bright future for the local area and the local community.
The public consultation of fans’ opinions on the Anfield redevelopment, through a public online survey on their official website, is a good start. The right opportunity has finally arrived for FSG to leave a positive legacy in the city of Liverpool, far beyond just bringing the football club back in the green.
Looking Ahead to a Promising Future
This week’s announcement of the Subway partnership is the latest sponsorship arrangement Liverpool Football Club have landed in 2014 alone: The likes of Vauxhall and Dunkin’ Donuts all joined the Liverpool corporate partner list this calendar year.
Following the money-spinning and multi-year deals with Standard Chartered Bank and Garuda Indonesia, an airline, Liverpool may even solicit financing for the expansion of the Main Stand via a “lucrative naming rights deal with a major sponsor,” according to James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo. Following Macron’s naming-rights announcement with Championship club Bolton Wanderers, announced this week as well via BBC Sport, naming rights may well and truly have entered the English football mainstream—Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium are but two famous examples.
For Liverpool, it’s been a story of financial rejuvenation, underlined by Ayre’s comments regarding the long and difficult journey of infrastructure-building at the club since FSG’s takeover:
When I came here seven or eight years ago, there were all these stories of the club shop being closed the day after the  Champions League final [win over AC Milan in Istanbul], and only having a couple of sponsors. Over a long period of time, we have been trying to lay the foundations and build the infrastructure that services a great club like Liverpool.
As the club look to cash in on their successes in the Premier League this season—they confirmed, with their win over Norwich City last Sunday, a lucrative return to the Champions League next season—and continue to bear the fruits of their commercial exploits, their highest-ever annual turnover of £206.1 million this past year will surely be eclipsed considerably in a year’s time.
Add to that the image of the club as a young and energetic force, spearheaded by a visionary young manager in Brendan Rodgers and featuring a host of young stars in the team, as well as the rejuvenated Anfield stadium and surrounding area—confirmed to go through this time—and you have, for the first time in many a season, a healthy outlook for Liverpool Football Club for years to come.
To think that the Reds were “seconds from disaster” before John W. Henry and Fenway Sports Group swooped in for their rescue act.
What a roller coaster it’s been—and long may it continue.
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