4 Ways John Henry and FSG Have Transformed Liverpool FC as a Business

Vince Siu@vincetalksfootyFeatured ColumnistOctober 13, 2011

4 Ways John Henry and FSG Have Transformed Liverpool FC as a Business

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    This Saturday, October 15, features a lunchtime kickoff at Anfield between Liverpool and Manchester United, one of the biggest games of the season.

    It also marks a year to the day that John W Henry and Fenway Sports Group (then New England Sports Ventures) completed their takeover of Liverpool FC.

    To many Liverpool fans, this was a significant day in the club's illustrious history. Under the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, the two Americans that promised so much but delivered so little, Rafa Benitez's Liverpool turned in some stellar performances, but the on-field successes were always matched, if not overshadowed, by off-field controversies. And when it became clear that Liverpool wouldn't be sustainable as a long-term business, in stepped Henry and his team.

    What followed is a series of footballing decisions that supporters will remember fondly: the replacement of Roy Hodgson as Liverpool manager by club legend Kenny Dalglish; the signing of Luis Suarez, Liverpool's new No. 7; the record sale of Fernando Torres, erstwhile club hero who'd been angling for an Anfield exit.

    As Liverpool approach a year under John W Henry and FSG's stewardship, let's temporarily cast aside the on-field changes and set the spotlight on a few ways they've transformed Liverpool FC as a sporting business, a corporation.

Business Structure

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    The first steps to establishing an organizational structure at Liverpool were taken in earnest by Rafa Benitez.

    He overhauled the Youth Academy, taking full control of the club's youth development. He brought staff in to take up managerial positions, and he most notably brought Kenny Dalglish back, first to spearhead Liverpool's youth recruitment drive, and latterly as a Club Ambassador, in newly-created roles.

    John W Henry inherited this relentless drive for structural improvement by appointing a continental-style Director of Football, Damien Comolli. He also extended Benitez's backroom revolution to other parts of the Liverpool business.

    Amidst all the managerial additions, a double signing announced in July grabbed the headlines. Andrew Parkinson became Liverpool's first ever Operations Director. Following Ian Ayre's promotion to Liverpool's managing director, former Nike Sports Marketing Director Graham Bartlett joined the Anfield ranks.

    While John W Henry has recently proclaimed not to have known much about Liverpool and English football prior to his takeover bid, he has certainly injected his business acumen and is starting to establish an American-style corporation at Liverpool.

Corporate Social Responsibility

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    Liverpool are famous for being a family-friendly and community-oriented football club.

    Since striking up a corporate partnership with Standard Chartered Bank, a financial institution with extensive global reach and experience in corporate social responsibility, Liverpool have stepped up their game in the community, and FSG's arrival has only boosted this kind of high-profile involvement.

    Free football clinics in the Liverpool area. International coaching sessions in Korea. Summer camps for disabled children both in Asia (while others were busy promoting business interests) and in Liverpool. Even if these may have been conducted prior to Henry's takeover, Liverpool have certainly increased their promotional efforts on this front, especially towards major news outlets and on their official website.

    These campaigns are a win-win-win combination.

    They sustain Liverpool's image and reputation within the footballing community. They help the players and staff understand the community better and thus form a stronger bond with Liverpool Football Club. And they bring commercial opportunities in previously untapped areas.

    Case in point: Club officials are already in talks to establish Liverpool-themed cafes and lounges in India after setting up an academy there.

Worldwide Marketing

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    Using their connections in the US, FSG have been actively working on capturing the lucrative American market.

    The Boston Red Sox, Henry's other major sports investment, have been compared to Liverpool, and there are express plans for a money-spinning summer trip to the US for Liverpool. Imagine the fervor that would greet Gerrard, Suarez and co. as they run out onto the Fenway Park pitch.

    Liverpool's highest-profile marketing acquisition has been that of LeBron James, who has taken a minority share. The 2011 Liverpool tour of China included a chance for Chinese Reds fans to win a meet-and-greet with the basketball star.

    The recent shirt sponsorship agreement with Boston-based kit manufacturers Warrior Sports will bring in £25 million a year, a record for English football.

    And FSG haven't forgotten about Asia. This past summer, with the help of Standard Chartered, they put together a massively successful Asia tour, complete with a tour-specific website and extensive media coverage of all the players' football and sponsorship activities.

Customer Experience

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    But it’s not just the dollar signs and star brand-names that show Liverpool's transformation as a corporation.

    Ultimately, a football club is about the fans. And the new regime has been paying its utmost attention to the Liverpool fans and their opinions.

    Shortly after completing his takeover, John W Henry met with a supporter's group to listen to their concerns and suggestions. At the turn of the year, Liverpool announced the launch of an Official Supporters' Committee, allowing supporters selected from an applicant pool to engage in discussions with Liverpool officials.

    And it's not only the fans that Henry has been listening to.

    In Pepe Reina's first meeting with Henry, he prepared a list of questions and wanted Henry to sell him a vision of Liverpool's future under FSG. Instead, Henry was the one who asked most of the questions, ensuring a frank exchange between player and owner.

    Liverpool fans will be hoping that continued interaction between all parties will bring about a revival in fortunes on the Anfield pitch.