Mike Ashley, the billionaire owner of Sports Direct and House of Fraser, has served Coventry City with an eviction notice ordering the Championship football club to leave its home stadium.
Frasers Group, which is majority owned by Ashley and took over the stadium last month, on Monday said the Sky Blues had no continuing rights to use the ground after the club refused to sign a new tenancy agreement it claimed was “less favourable”.
The club said in a statement: “Following the Frasers Group acquisition of the stadium from administrators, Coventry City have been told that we must agree a new licence to play at the Coventry Building Society Arena.
“We were surprised to learn of this intention by Frasers Group, given that discussions with Coventry City prior to the completion of their purchase of the arena led us to understand the existing terms would continue unchanged with Frasers Group as the new owners of the arena.
“Coventry City football club (CCFC) has an existing long-term licence to play at the arena, which was agreed in March 2021 to run until 2031.”
News of the eviction notice came after Coventry announced on Friday its FA Youth Cup game against Southampton on Saturday had been switched to Leamington FC “due to unforeseen circumstances”.
The club said after Frasers Group’s purchase of the stadium – from the former owners Wasps rugby club, which collapsed into administration in October – the new owners had said they were “looking forward to working with Coventry City football club”.
The club added that it hoped Ashley’s company would “act on those words for the good of the arena, the football club, our fans and the city and community that they are now part of”.
Frasers Group said it wanted to work with the club to secure its future at the stadium. “Frasers has, throughout all its involvement with the stadium, been supportive of securing the long-term future of CCFC playing its games at the stadium. This position remains unchanged,” it said.
“Prior to acquiring the stadium, Frasers issued a new licence mirroring the terms CCFC had agreed with the previous owners. However, CCFC chose not to sign it at that time.
“A revised proposal, together with a new licence, has been issued to CCFC and will secure the immediate future of CCFC at the stadium.
“Signing the licence would allow for more detailed discussions to take place about CCFC’s long-term arrangements at the stadium, including to accommodate a number of requests which were raised by CCFC. Frasers looks forward to working with the club to host the upcoming games.”
How can you sell something you never actually paid for? How is it possible to make profit without risk or jeopardy, or indeed any sign of expertise along the way? What is this miracle commodity, this blend of metal, plastic, turf and other people’s monetised joy?
Welcome to football capitalism 101 and the metaphysical puzzle of the Glazer ownership of Manchester United. No wonder they call leveraged buy-outs the beautiful game. It is, in the end, one you just can’t lose.
More to the point, what does it mean when not one but two members of English football’s US billionaires’ club announce they have decided to cut and run, the Glazers midway through a Gulf‑powered World Cup that has, just because it can, cut a hole in the decadent old European club season?
For now, most United supporters will have only one response to the news that the club is, probably, possibly up for sale. That response is unfettered celebration, and rightly so. It will be tempting at this point to say things like: be careful what you wish for, beware what lies beneath, there are no clean hands here, and all the rest. This is undoubtedly true. Newcastle supporters, for example, are currently required to wrestle with the contradictions of being “given back their club” by generous and competent owners; who wish, simultaneously, to use that precious entity as an amplifier for a repressive regime, something that sounds like giving back, but also like taking away.
Just wait until Bahrain gets wind of this, or the Mongol empire (Manchester thanks you, Genghis) or General Zod of the Krypton military command. For now such contortions can wait. In the meantime, why not kick back and enjoy the moment. Because whatever lies in store, at least it won’t be this.
How to summarise the Glazer era? Firstly, it’s not an era. Eras contain events, structure and achievements. This has been something else, a kind of staged congealment, with the sense of an object being expertly hollowed out from the inside.
The Glazers have been terrible football club owners. At the same time they have been very good at being terrible owners. Expertly parasitical, beautifully slick at turning Manchester United into an Avanti trains kind of club: something fundamentally shabby and grudging, all cut corners, blocked toilets, skeleton staff, the natural monopoly on their fans’ footballing loyalties stretched thin for a quick buck.
There have been three broad stages to this. The first was the late-Ferguson plateau, when momentum and managerial will allowed the ship to keep drifting forward. This was followed by the post-Ferguson chaos, during which the club spent (other people’s) money incoherently, appointed pliant placemen to key roles, and still rinsed the brand for all it’s worth with genuine skill and care.
The last year has seen a third stage, a panicked attempt to rescue a little gloss, with money spent in a rush and the disastrous celebrity-influencer partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Through this, the dominant note of Glazer-ism has been that branded emptiness, part haunted medieval hall, in thrall to its own ghosts, part celebrity waxwork museum, a grand old club reduced to something resembling a market stall sale of remaindered Gary Pallister dolls (may have been damaged in transit). It is entirely natural United would want to move on from that version of itself. Whatever comes next will be different. Sometimes you just want to feel something again.
Although what happens next will, as ever, be dictated by larger tides. Because something does seem to be happening here, and it’s not just a Manchester story. The usual suspects will enter the takeover chat. An ambitious nation-state. A consortium headed by a showy US billionaire. Jim Ratcliffe, who sounds acceptable because he’s called Jim and is a genuine home-loving Englishman from Monaco.
The wider note in this story, a little overlooked to now, is the fact Liverpool are also up for sale. Is this starting to seem strange yet? Are the rabbits rustling in the treeline? The two most valuable privately owned properties in English football are put up for sale within a month of one another. The key US billionaires, boarding group one, are cashing out simultaneously. This is significant enough as a standalone event. But there are no coincidences. And as ever, always follow the money.
It is hard not to conclude that this is related to the failure of the Super League. The prospect of fresh growth under that model was clearly a major part of the strategy. Many people think it will still happen in some form, but perhaps not in that same blunt and brutal way the Glazers and Fenway Sports Group had aggressively championed.
It does also feel oddly poignant that this should emerge during the Qatar World Cup. The split in European club football’s power-players has on one side loosely aligned, the nation-state clubs (Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Chelsea for two decades, Newcastle United for the next two) driven by political and soft power aims; and on the other clubs owned by private bodies interested in making a profit, along with others under some more bespoke form of ownership, chiefly Bayern Munich and the Spanish clásico clubs.
The real driver behind the ESL was the prospect of capping the power of nation-state clubs, of finding a way to compete with an entity that has no commercial jeopardy, where simply keeping up – and most football clubs are horribly reckless – means killing yourself. Its collapse, and the likely departures of FSG and the Glazers, are all signs that the nation-state clubs are winning this. The cartel is, frankly, in disarray. Barcelona have sold their future in return for a wonky version of the present. Juventus Ronaldo’d themselves in search of an illusory next level.
What does it leave? The arrival of Todd Boehly at Chelsea is evidence US investors and their partners still see major potential for growth here, that football’s value will simply continue to rise. And yet, somehow, watching Boehly it is hard to shake a slight sense of doubt. Are we through the good billionaires? Is Boehly the Liz Truss of the Premier League ownership party, the sediment at the bottom of the barrel, the comedy endgame? Does this really feel like a convincing version of the future, fit to push Abu Dhabi and Qatar?
It is still a rising tide out there, a product that is relentlessly in demand. And with the old guard on their way out this leaves seven Premier League clubs with US owners or investors. Perhaps the future is a more dynamic form of entrepreneurial growth, the kind of stuff Boehly has been sketching out: tuning the details, introducing new gimmickry, even another great pivot.
The identity of the new owners at Old Trafford and Anfield will tell us a great deal about Premier League ownership 3.0. But it is already hard to avoid two conclusions. First that this is still all within the blast radius of the Super League, collateral to that failed coup. And second, that what the Glazers will leave behind is something desiccated and emptied out, another host body for football’s own vampiric late capitalism.
With no rules around countries and their investment funds owning clubs, or on how private investors can pillage these assets, the hunt for ‘good owners’ will continue. For now the market will decide. For United fans there is perhaps consolation in the simple fact that, at the very least, it won’t be this.
At that price the dream of a fan-led buyout looks extremely unlikely, but who might have enough money to buy Man U?
Odds: Slim to none
Rewind a couple of years and Russian oligarchs would have been top of the list of possible buyers. But after Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, many oligarchs have been hit with sanctions, forcing the sale of assets, including Roman Abramovich selling Chelsea FC to a consortium led by the US billionaire Todd Boehly for £4.25bn after 19 years of ownership.
Before sanctions, the fertiliser billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev might have been linked to the club. He already owns the French Ligue 1 team AC Monaco and the Belgium side Cercle Brugge. Rybolovlev has escaped western sanctions, despite Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, calling for him to be added to the list.
A UK billionaire
Odds: A good prospect
Over the years many of the UK’s top clubs have fallen under foreign control from wealthy individuals or sovereign wealth funds from America, Russia and the Middle East. This has raised concerns among fans and politicians that the country which invented the beautiful game is losing control of its own league, potentially paving the way for a UK buyer.
Jim Ratcliffe, the UK’s richest person with an estimated £12bn fortune, lost out against Boehly in the battle to buy Chelsea and has said he would have preferred to have bought Manchester United anyway as it is the team he has supported since he was a boy. Just last month he revealed he had met the Glazer family to discuss buying the club but “they don’t want to sell it”.
Ratcliffe, 70, who was born in Oldham, greater Manchester, told a Financial Times Live event: “I’m a lifelong Manchester United fan. I was there in 1999 for the most remarkable match of all time in Barcelona. So, you know, the club is deeply etched in my mind.
“It’s owned by the six children of the father. If it had been for sale in the summer, yes we would probably have had a go following on from the Chelsea thing. But we can’t sit around hoping one day Manchester United will become available.”
Ratcliffe, who made his fortune from the petrochemicals company Ineos, is an avid sports fan and already owns France’s OGC Nice and Switzerland’s FC Lausanne-Sport. He also bought cycling’s Team Sky, which he rebranded as Ineos Grenadiers. Ratcliffe has also pumped millions into the Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup’s team, which has been branded Ineos Team UK.
Jim O’Neill, the former Goldman Sachs chief economist who led the “Red Knights” consortium of Man U fans attempting to buy the club from the Glazer family in 2010, said on Wednesday that he was considering forming another consortium to bid for the club but added that the Glazers were seeking too high a price.
“[Those figures are] obviously what they’re floating, but I don’t think that’s realistic, especially as the few smart people that might be vaguely capable of putting those kinds of sums together can see the same information the Glazers can see,” O’Neill, who was born in Gately, greater Manchester, told the Manchester Evening News.
He said Manchester United fans would be “pretty hostile to anything vaguely like a repeat of the Glazers”. O’Neill said that to be successful a bid would need to come from “some imaginative buyer who basically has a better purpose behind owning United” and who would be prepared to “pay the Glazers a lot of money”.
“You can think of the number of people willing to do that in the world on less than one hand,” he added.
At the time the former Red Knight consortium included the hedge fund manager Sir Paul Marshall; the banker Keith Harris; Richard Hytner, former deputy chair of Saatchi and Saatchi, and Mark Rawlinson, a partner a former partner at lawat the law firm Freshfields’ corporate practice, who advised United during the Glazer takeover.
Nick Candy, the billionaire property developer who with his brother, Christian, developed the superluxe One Hyde Park apartment complex in Knightsbridge, also failed in a bid for Chelsea.
In his Chelsea bid application, Candy said he would put the fans at the “heart and centre” of the club and consult them on big decisions. “I don’t think we should end up like Manchester United where we have one rich family that owns Chelsea and there should be a new benchmark of owning football clubs,” he said. “Why does there have to be one rich family that the fans end up hating because they don’t invest? It should be a global consortium of the best-in-class in every part of the world.”
Candy did not reply to requests for comment on whether he was considering a Manchester United bid.
An overseas billionaire
Colin Neville, a partner at Raine Group, the US investment bank that sold Chelsea and whom the Glazers have hired to find a buyer for Manchester United, said that when Chelsea was put on the block “we had people from six out of the seven continents, all the continents besides Antarctica, looking to buy the club”.
“We had some of the richest people in the world and in countries that would surprise a lot of people,” he said at the same FT event. “In respect to assets like Chelsea there is a world of have and have not in the Premier League. There are six power clubs that really don’t come up for sale, and several of them are owned by countries at this point.”
Elon Musk, the world’s richest person and owner of Tesla, Space-X and Twitter, has been suggested as a possible bidder, with bookies quoting odds of 7-1. In August he tweeted: “Also, I’m buying Manchester United ur welcome.” He later clarified that it was a “long-running joke”, although he said “if it were any team, it would be Man U”.
A sovereign wealth fund
Rumours suggest that Dubai International Capital, the investment arm of Dubai’s sovereign wealth fund, may consider submitting a bid for the club. DIC, which is said to have about $13bn of assets under management, “almost signed” a deal to buy Liverpool FC in 2007, the company’s former chief executive has said.
“We would have been the first to do it out of this region. As soon as they won the Champions League in 2005, we got serious about due diligence in 2006 and almost signed in January 2007,” Sameer al-Ansari told Arabian Business magazine in 2014.
“What delayed us is because everyone knew [I] was a lifelong fan of Liverpool, including His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al-Maktoum. So we did three times the amount of due diligence as I had to prove the business sense and there were very few clubs frankly where you can make a business sense.”
Newcastle United was last year bought for £300m by a consortium led by Saudi Arabia’s PIF sovereign wealth fund and Manchester City is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.
The Glazer family has announced it is “commencing a process to explore strategic alternatives” for Manchester United, potentially bringing an end to its 17-year ownership of the club.
On the day it was also confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo had left Old Trafford by mutual consent, a statement from United on Tuesday night revealed plans to identify new investment that could lead to a potential sale. The club said the process led by their American owners will consider a number of options “including new investment into the club, a sale, or other transactions involving the company”.
The Raine Group, which oversaw the sale of Chelsea earlier this year, has been appointed as the exclusive financial adviser.
“The strength of Manchester United rests on the passion and loyalty of our global community of 1.1 billion fans and followers,” said the executive co-chairmen and directors, Avram Glazer and Joel Glazer. “As we seek to continue building on the club’s history of success, the board has authorized a thorough evaluation of strategic alternatives. We will evaluate all options to ensure that we best serve our fans and that Manchester United maximizes the significant growth opportunities available to the Club today and in the future. Throughout this process we will remain fully focused on serving the best interests of our fans, shareholders, and various stakeholders.”
United were most recently valued at £3.75bn but would expect to fetch far more given that a consortium led by the US businessman Todd Boehly paid £4.25bn for Chelsea in May.
The Glazer family can expect to attract a number of interested suitors as the successful bidder would have the opportunity to markedly increase the club’s value.
Sky News said United’s share price immediately rose by 17% after reports the glazers were considering a sale emerged, adding almost $400m (£335m) to the club’s market capitalisation.
Old Trafford and the vast land that surrounds the stadium has the potential to undergo a development that would transform it into a destination venue similar to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Spurs’ £1bn investment includes a Michelin star grade restaurant, a complex of high end stores, a Grade II-listed building, an art gallery and Europe’s largest club shop.
In August, Jim Ratcliffe, the UK’s richest person, expressed an interest in buying United. “If the club is for sale, Jim is definitely a potential buyer,” a spokesperson for him said.
Last month, though, Ratcliffe claimed he had met the Glazers and they did not wish to sell.
“We can’t sit around hoping that one day Manchester United will become available,” the Manchester‑born businessman said.
“We have an exciting sporting franchise [the Ligue 1 side Nice], but the one thing we don’t have is a Premier [League] team. The most popular sport in the world is football and it is the sport we were brought up with and it’s the one most close to us. We really should have an asset in the sporting franchise.”
While his interest might now be revived, the sizable constituency of United fans who are hostile to the Americans will be delighted if they do decide to sell. The Glazers have faced serial unrest since Malcolm Glazer bought United in 2005 via a leveraged financial model that loaded a debt on the club that still stands at around £500m.
Fifa has increased its World Cup revenue by more than $1bn (£840m) after taking the tournament to Qatar, the governing body has revealed.
Gianni Infantino, the subject of widespread criticism on Saturday after a provocative opening speech, shared information regarding the record income with his national associations on Sunday.
Revenue generated by the four-year cycle of the Qatar World Cup (from 2018 to 2022, including an extra five months because of the winter schedule) will reach $7.5bn, compared with $6.4bn for the previous cycle in Russia.
With television rights deals agreed a decade ago, the Guardian understands much of the uplift has been created by a recent increase in sponsorship and there has also been a reduction in costs because of the compact nature of the tournament.
Sponsorship has been boosted by a series of lucrative deals with Qatari companies, including the announcement in March of the state-owned oil and gas company QatarEnergy as tournament partner. Qatar Energy joined the state-owned Qatar Airways on the top tier of sponsors, and the telecoms company Ooredoo – which is 68% owned by the state – was named in the same month as “official global connectivity services provider”. The Qatari National Bank group – joint owned by the state and the Qatari public – is the “official Middle East and Africa supporter” and “official Qatari Bank” of the tournament.
Fifa has made substantial cost savings from scheduling a tournament essentially in one city. All eight World Cup stadiums are within a 50km radius of Doha, which has allowed organisers to use a single set of tournament infrastructure – including media facilities and hotels – and cut down substantially on travel costs for which Fifa is liable.
Fifa officials estimate the windfall will generate an extra $700,000 in investment for the game, with $300,000 accounted for in emergency Covid funding. The next four years will also see an increase in funding for Fifa’s forward programme with $200m to be spent each year on international talent development, a project overseen by Arsène Wenger. Fifa says that more funding will also be accompanied by an increased oversight on spending.
Infantino has been urged by a coalition of charities and NGOs to commit to paying $440m, equivalent to the pool of World Cup prize money, as compensation to migrant workers who were harmed in building the World Cup in Qatar and to the families of those workers who died. Infantino addressed the topic on Saturday, saying a fund would be established but that “the amount will be decided after the World Cup” and that “anyone who wants to invest shall invest”. It is understood the topic was not raised during Sunday’s meeting.
Infantino, the subject of mockery after he compared himself to a migrant worker in his address to open the World Cup, has received some support from the Welsh first minister, who is in Qatar for the tournament despite complaints at home.
Mark Drakeford said that while the Fifa president’s speech reminded him of the former chancellor Denis Healy’s first law of holes – “when you’re in one, stop digging” – he thought Infantino had made valid points about the need for western countries to confront their own history before criticising the contemporary failings of others.
“Wales is an outward-looking, inclusive nation where people’s rights really matter to us,” Drakeford said. “But it wasn’t always like that. In our own history, we have had times when things that we have done, including things that we have done in other parts of the world, wouldn’t measure up to the sorts of beliefs and standards that we hold ourselves to today. So to take a moment to reflect on our own histories, it’s not a moment wasted.”
The Coventry owner, Sisu Capital, has agreed to sell a majority stake to local businessman Doug King in a deal which will leave the club debt free.
The Sky Blues were placed under a transfer embargo at the end of October while they repay money owed to HM Revenue & Customs but King taking an 85% share will clear all current debts.
As a result Coventry are also to make an equity bid to acquire the CBS Arena, after the owners Wasps Rugby Club went into administration this month and were soon followed by the stadium’s operating companies applying to enter administration.
A successful stadium bid will ensure Coventry remain able to play home games in the city.
“It is no secret that Coventry City FC has faced challenges in recent years,” said King, the chief executive of the Stratford-upon-Avon-based Yelo Enterprises which recently invested more than £70m in the region through the construction of a state-of-the-art oilseed processing facility to generate renewable energy.
“Working together we want to deliver a new start, beginning with securing our home in Coventry. We know fans, and others across the region, want long-term security and the guarantee of playing football in our city. This is critical to our ambition.
“We have made it a priority – and one of our first acts as majority owners – to submit a bid to acquire the CBS Arena. We are keen to meet with Coventry City Council representatives and others as soon as possible to set out our vision, which includes the regeneration of the area.”
The deal is subject to English Football League approval but Joy Seppala, chief executive at Sisu Capital, is confident it is in the best interests of the club. “This is a fantastic moment for Coventry City FC and the city. I know that Doug has long been an admirer of the Sky Blues and will be a powerful steward of the club moving forward,” he said.
“I am looking forward to a bright new future working with Doug, and all our partners across the city.
“The sale of the CBS Arena does provide short-term uncertainty and with Doug on board we intend to set out a robust bid for the stadium which, if successful, will provide a platform for long-term success.”
Whatever the outcome of Fenway Sports Group’s search for new investment in Liverpool, the sales presentation that Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are conducting on its behalf will look far more attractive than it would have done when John W Henry and co acquired the club in the high court 12 years ago. They can sell Liverpool, part or whole, in a much better state than when they found it.
Another towering stand is currently under construction at Anfield that will take the stadium’s capacity above 61,000 when completed in time for the start of next season. The new Anfield Road stand is costing around £80m, £20m more than anticipated before the Covid-19 pandemic, and is the third major development overseen by Liverpool’s owner. The three most expensive capital projects in the club’s history – Anfield Road, the £114m main stand and the £50m AXA training centre in Kirkby – have all taken place on FSG’s watch. In the process it has resolved stadium and redevelopment issues that had dogged Liverpool and the wider Anfield area long before their arrival.
Of course, without the success that Jürgen Klopp has delivered on the pitch FSG would not be in a position to expand Anfield Road to meet increasing demand, or sound out potential investors in a club valued at around €5bn (£4.3bn). It was upon seeing an estimated crowd of 750,000 welcome Liverpool home as European champions in 2019 that FSG’s president, Mike Gordon, scrapped the original plans for Anfield Road in favour of a more ambitious scheme.
The deft hand of Gordon has been behind many of the key decisions that have restored Liverpool after the almost ruinous reign of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, two names that will make any fan shudder when a change of ownership is mentioned at Anfield. The appointment of Klopp, the sale of Philippe Coutinho, the protracted signing of Virgil van Dijk, the infrastructure projects and untapping Liverpool’s vast commercial appeal have all been directed by Gordon who, while Boston-based, is heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the operation.
The FSG president has developed a close personal and working relationship with Klopp that should not be overlooked whenever talk of a new owner surfaces. It has been instrumental in encouraging the Liverpool manager to sign three contract extensions, the last only seven months ago, supporting the view that negotiations with Klopp would not have been so swift, or so successful, had a full sale of the club been on the horizon.
In an inconsistent season for Liverpool, when much-needed midfield signings failed to materialise in the summer and Klopp made the rare admission that he wished FSG would take more risks in the transfer market, the owner’s frugal investment in the squad – though not on the wage bill – has encouraged criticism of their sporting model. But it was always one based on the strict implementation of financial fair play rules. FFP’s limitations were exposed long ago and so, as FSG struggles to compete with oil‑rich owners, the search for fresh investment has intensified.
FSG’s steady, successful stewardship of Liverpool has not been without its mistakes. The venture capitalists were prime movers behind the scandalous Super League project that ultimately brought little in the way of punishment but damaged reputation. It did, however, lead to the creation of a supporters’ board – with fan representation at main board and executive level. Pertinently, the club’s articles of association now include a commitment to maintain that representation in the event of a change of ownership.
The bigger picture that bankers are now looking to sell to would-be investors, however, includes a modern, upgraded Anfield, a team that have reached the Champions League knockout stages for six successive seasons and one of the most celebrated managers in the game. For some critics it will never be enough but it is a long way from Roy Hodgson and Paul Konchesky.
The tantalising prospect of buying a slice of one of the world’s few crown jewel football brands – just as prestige clubs get set to cash-in on a post‑pandemic commercial boom – has analysts speculating that Liverpool could be valued at as much as $7bn.
Fenway Sports Group, the owner of Liverpool FC, has kicked off a process exploring whether to sell a minority stake to a new investor, a well-timed exercise designed to put a price on a club enjoying on-field success in recent years that have seen their already huge global fanbase surge.
Roman Abramovich’s £2.5bn ($4.25bn) sale of Chelsea to US investors this summer – the enforced nature of the sale following the Russian oligarch being hit with sanctions following the invasion of Ukraine notwithstanding – provided a multibillion-pound yardstick for the ballpark value of a prestige English Premier League club.
The subsequent collapse of the pound to record lows against the US dollar following the disastrous “mini-budget” introduced by the former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has created bargain Britain for overseas buyers seeking bang for their buck.
“They are one of the big legacy clubs in the most popular and commercially successful league in the world, an opportunity like this doesn’t come up very often,” said Tim Crow, a sports marketing consultant. “Given the price Chelsea achieved, an auction Liverpool’s owners Fenway [Sports Group] would have watched with huge interest, an investor in Liverpool could give it a valuation as high as $7bn.”
Chelsea’s bankers worked through 200 indicative bids before a deal was reached with a consortium, led by US financier Todd Boehly, underlining the huge global interest in Premier League teams.
Liverpool’s “sales deck”, which is being handled by advisors Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, will make for financially pleasing reading for would-be investors in the club.
Under their head coach, Jürgen Klopp, the club won their first league title in three decades in 2020, following a Champions League win the year before, with trophies essential currency in building commercial revenues.
For the 2020-21 season Liverpool signed a new kit deal with Nike said to be worth more than $39.5m annually, in a deal that included a 20% cut of all sales which the club have indicated will take them past the $100m annual earnings mark.
Last year, Liverpool’s official social media presence on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter shot through the 100 million follower mark – excluding the popularity of individual players’ accounts – cementing their position as one of the top 10 most popular clubs in the world.
“In terms of Premier League clubs if you are looking at the size of the fanbase then Liverpool would be up there with Man United as the two biggest in the business,” says Crow. “They are a long way ahead of everyone else. Purely from the point of view of the attention economy and global fanbase to tap into to monetise, Liverpool is one of the biggest brands in football.”
Following an estimated £120m revenue hit due to the Covid pandemic, Liverpool are in financially fine fettle. Analysts at football business website Off the Pitch estimate that Liverpool are on track to make a record £602m when they report their next financial results early next year, overtaking rival Manchester United, up a quarter on their last officially reported figure of £487m.
The club are also expected to bounce back into the black, a £4.8m loss last year is forecast to turn into a pre-tax profit of as much as £76m this year.
The commercial lifeblood for football clubs remains TV rights deals and Premier League clubs are reaping the benefits of an international boom in popularity and income. Last year, the US broadcaster NBC paid £2bn for Premier League rights for the next six years – almost double the value of the previous deal.
The World Cup is set to be held in the US in four years time, a huge promotional and commercial opportunity for the sport in the world’s biggest media market. And the Premier League has said that global TV income for the rights to air matches from 2022 to 2025 hit £10.5bn, with international deals with broadcasters outside the UK rising 30% to £5.3bn to overtake the value of the UK market for the first time.
Liverpool are increasingly tapping into the digital, and international, future. The club have opened stores in Thailand and Singapore and in their last financial year said that mobile transactions increased by 89% at their online store.
James Kirkham, founder of the marketing consultancy Iconic and former head of the football agency Copa90, said: “We’ve moved from the time where a club value within the wider world might have been predicated on how many seats it had in its stadium, and whether it could sell merchandise. Now the biggest clubs are becoming hyper-connected, multimedia entities who need to satisfy the insatiable appetite of worldwide consumers.”
Shrewsbury Town’s fans had long since filed out of the Montgomery Waters Meadow stadium after the defender Chey Dunkley had scored an injury-time winner against Exeter, when Brian Caldwell looked angrily skyward. The League One club’s chief executive was unimpressed to see the ground’s floodlights still burning bright.
Caldwell is among the football executives trying to limit the financial pain from huge energy bills. Faced with an even bigger surge in his annual costs, Caldwell was forced to settle for a £100,000 increase, to £180,000, when signing a new energy contract in April. “It’s a massive dent in our finances. Football clubs are not normal businesses, they’re set up to break even and put the money you can into the playing budget,” he said.
While Premier League clubs will doubtless be dismayed by rising bills, they spend the vast amount of their budgets on player wages, meaning power makes up a relatively small portion of their costs.
The debate has taken place lower down the pyramid, and has centred on floodlights. With scoreboards and advertising hoardings using low-power LEDs, the glaring lights that shine over stadiums are clubs’ most visible use of energy. (Caldwell’s groundskeeper, in his defence, needed the lights on late to divot the pitch.)
A survey by the reform group Fair Game showed 63% of smaller clubs would consider earlier kick-off times to save on floodlight costs. Mansfield Town brought forward their League Two fixture against Walsall last Saturday by two hours to 1pm. The club said an assessment of the savings and effect on crowd sizes was ongoing.
Three in four supporters are in favour of clubs moving kick-offs earlier, Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) research found. Just 12% said they would attend fewer games if timings were moved.
“Clubs face some difficult questions on what to do for the best. Our data shows attendances would be marginally affected if kick-off times were brought forward to reduce the need for floodlights, but as the nights draw in this measure will have less impact,” said Andy Walsh, the head of national game at the FSA.
In Germany, which was more reliant than Britain on Russian gas, authorities and companies have been more proactive in limiting power usage. The second division club Nuremberg will not be playing evening games in the near future after the city council said floodlights could not be used after 9pm.
Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena is already heated by air-source heat pumps but the serial champions have cut in half the illumination time of its striking stadium LED lighting. Meanwhile, SC Freiburg’s Europa-Park stadium has 6,200 solar panels on the roof, which generate 2.4 megawatts of power at their peak, part of the club’s effort to “make itself independent of price fluctuations” through “sustainable energy”.
However, Dale Vince, the chairman and owner of Forest Green Rovers, believes the floodlight debate is a non-starter. “It’s an idea that, on the face of it, has merit, but it’s got no grounding in actual numbers.” He said shutting off the floodlights for three hours saved just £100 at the New Lawn ground. “It’s nothing – the equivalent of one steward for a matchday.”
The serial entrepreneur said the roughly £2,500 that would be saved over a season was a fraction of the overall energy bills, and he believes the savings could be wiped out by travel expenses. “If you have to travel across the country for a 12.30pm kick-off and the sports science now says the players need to eat three hours before, you’re likely to need a hotel stay, which now costs £5,000 – far more than the £600-£700 the lights might save.”
However, the economics will vary from club to club. Fair Game’s chief executive, Niall Couper, said: “The further down the leagues you go, the bigger the proportion that an energy bill will take of your costs. In the context of the pandemic and the cost of living crisis, it’s a massive concern.”
Teams are also more likely to have hospitality packages based on traditional 3pm kick-offs, such as lunches in corporate suites.
The impact of energy bills will be felt beyond just the matchday. The Fair Game survey showed 60% of lower league clubs were considering halting ground improvement work as a result of the pressures, while 38% were preparing to look at their non-playing staff budgets. Clubs may also close certain stands, as already happens in poorly attended cup games, to save money.
Clubs will be eligible for the government support scheme to cut business energy bills, but there are question marks over how generous the discounts will prove to be.
An anticipated fall in matchday revenues is unlikely to help. About one in four fans expect to attend fewer fixtures over the winter period, and away attendance could halve, the FSA survey showed.
Vince said: “We haven’t had the crowds that we had expected after being promoted into League One, even though we froze our prices. Even that hasn’t been enough to offset this problem, which is understandable given what people are facing.”
The energy headache will exacerbate what for many clubs are long-term financial woes. Of the 85 clubs that filed accounts for 2020, 44 were technically insolvent, reliant on a wealthy benefactor to survive.
The effects of the pandemic – when fans were not allowed to attend matches – will have further dented balance sheets since. There are fears that plans for an independent football regulator, seen as vital in improving clubs’ attitudes to financial risk, could be shelved by the new regime in Downing Street.
Couper said: “When a football club enters administration, it has a huge effect on the local area – the modern-day butcher, baker, candlestick maker is the plumber, caterer and printer. If the club goes, all of those go out of business.”
A small group of Barcelona fans have quietly begun a process that could bring about seismic change in European football, after they went to court over the transfer of Lionel Messi to Paris Saint-Germain.
On Tuesday lawyers appeared before a senior judge at the European court of justice to argue that Messi’s move from Catalonia to Paris broke European laws on state aid, and call for the European Commission to investigate the transfer.
The session in Luxembourg lasted three hours in front of Judge Marc Jaeger, a former president of the court. The hearing was effectively an appeal, after an original claim against the European Commission was rejected. A verdict is expected within two months.
Messi joined PSG last summer in perhaps the most high-profile transfer of modern times. The eight-times Ballon d’Or winner left on a free transfer and agreed a contract reported to be worth £94m over three years. Last month Uefa found PSG to have been in breach of its financial fair play (FFP) regulations during this time and demanded €65m by way of financial settlement.
The supporters’ case argues that the French football authorities should never have allowed the Messi transfer to go through and that it distorted the competitive environment in continental football. But in calling for an investigation into the deal by the European Commission, they are also hoping to bring the world of football finance away from the game’s governing bodies and into the scope of Europe’s lawmakers for the first time.
According to notes provided by the European Court, the full claim by the fan group would see the original decision by the court overturned and the commission instructed to “order the French Football Federation (FFF) to immediately cease any … distortion of competition and to bring itself into compliance with Uefa club licensing and financial fair play regulations”. It also calls on the commission to instigate proceedings against the French government, for “illegal state aid to PSG and the French football clubs in national and European competitions”.
The case was heard against the backdrop of a dispute over the future of European football. Despite the collapse of the Super League last year, there is constant tension between clubs, competitions and their governing bodies. The three remaining ‘super league’ clubs – Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid – have taken Uefa to court claiming the governing body acts as a monopoly.
PSG have insisted the signing of Messi did not breach FFP regulations and on Tuesday a source said: “There is nothing to comment on – PSG isn’t even a party to the case.” The Ligue de Football Professionnel, which runs France’s major leagues and operates under the authority of the FFF, was approached for comment.