‘More worry than excitement’: five Liverpool fans on FSG’s plans | Liverpool

Matt Ladson, editor of This Is Anfield

Liverpool fans know to be sceptical about any change in ownership; we’ve been burned once before, so it’s certainly a case of more worry than excitement regarding Fenway Sports Group’s possible sale of the club. While FSG have their critics and have made mistakes, on the whole they are good owners. The only thing Liverpool need really is for their owners to be a little more risky in the transfer market, something Jürgen Klopp has even admitted recently.

So where do you find owners like FSG but who are just a little more risky/willing to put their own money in to keep up with Manchester City and co? It’s certainly not an easy find. Any new owners open up a lot of questions, such as ticket prices, transfer meddling, and plenty more besides. There should be worry.

Personally, I’d prefer FSG to continue to hold a majority stake while selling some shares, allowing for an injection of cash that would enable Liverpool to compete financially with their state-owned rivals. But that could be just as hard to find as an investor with a good human rights record that has £4bn to spare.

Pep Lijnders: Liverpool owners are ‘acting in best interest of the club’ – video

Neil Atkinson, presenter and CEO of The Anfield Wrap

I don’t really care who owns Liverpool as long as it isn’t a state, isn’t fascists, isn’t attention-seeking weirdos giving it the big one, isn’t someone looking to raise their profile to avoid political assassination, or looking to launder money, and is an organisation which wants to develop the club on and off the pitch, including the women’s side, and is committed to hiring good people to work at all levels of the club and doesn’t take cash out of the club.

Bar a significant blip on the women’s side, which is hopefully in the process of being corrected, FSG have broadly managed to clear those low bars; most Premier League owners have fallen foul somewhere along the line. It’s important to acknowledge FSG haven’t turned your stomach, have been part of making Liverpool very competitive and when they have been wrong – which they have – they U-turned quickly when the opposite case has been forcefully made. But who wants to put an owner or ownership of all things on a banner? Yack. Also stomach turning.

So what’s next if not them? The percentage shout is someone who will further erode at least one of the above. The smart shout is to return to the Crouch review and ask again about having a far greater set of rules and regulations and, if need be, legislation regarding who should get to own the enormous cultural institutions that are our football clubs.

Liverpool supporters stage a walkout during the Premier League visit of Sunderland in February 2016 over FSG’s proposal to introduce £77 tickets at Anfield. The decision was quickly reversed
Liverpool supporters stage a walkout during the Premier League visit of Sunderland in February 2016 over FSG’s proposal to introduce £77 tickets at Anfield. The decision was quickly reversed. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA

On the surface this could be a tribute act to when Liverpool’s then-owner David Moores was trawling the waters for investors 20 years or so ago, offering 10% of the club to the likes of Steve Morgan and Granada Television in exchange for bags of money and little significant say in the direction we would be travelling. Alternatively, we are maybe looking at the first step toward FSG’s endgame at Anfield. That said, I’m not convinced this is anything other than speculative, considering they are mid-rebuild of the Anfield Road end. Who builds a new stand if they have a premeditated eye on the exit door?

Either way, FSG have sent a clear message that they are happy to listen to interested parties. Should they soon be taking their leave of the club then nobody could seriously argue that they wouldn’t be leaving us in a significantly healthier position compared with where they found us. They haven’t been perfect though, and when they have got it wrong it has often been spectacular, yet they have been willing to do U-turns.

Any prospective new owner remains as hypothetical at this point as FSG’s departure, but I wouldn’t want us to go down the same path as Manchester City and Newcastle United. I’d class myself as being within a low-level state of trepidation.

Amar Singh, sports marketing expert

This week’s news has some Liverpool fans – particularly the younger ones – dreaming of a state-funded sportswashing consortium swooping in and signing Kylian Mbappé and giving us the spending power to match Manchester City. My message to those fans is simple: be careful what you wish for. For those of us who remember the state the club was in 12 years ago after the disastrous ownership of Hicks and Gillett, FSG will go down as saviours.

They have not been perfect owners; their role in the Super League debacle is a significant blot on their copybook. But Liverpool have won every trophy going during their tenure. Furthermore, they have invested heavily in Anfield, the new training ground in Kirkby and have helped the club grow its commercial revenue exponentially. FSG also made one of the most significant decisions in Liverpool’s history – hiring Klopp.

Liverpool have a deep history and a fanbase with a very clear set of shared values. If it was ever to be used as a tool to further the agenda of a nefarious state with values and laws that run contrary to what the club stands for, many of us would find it hard to stomach. So if FSG are selling up, it’s more important that the new owners aren’t using the club for geopolitical interests than whether they sign Mbappé.

Jürgen Klopp (second right) at Liverpool’s trophy parade in May.
Jürgen Klopp (second right) at Liverpool’s trophy parade in May. The manager was hired by FSG. Photograph: Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images

Ian Salmon, playwright and author

I’m torn. I’ve no desire to see my club owned by a nation-state and used for influence in a way that sits badly with my politics, nor become the latest hobby of an oligarch; and I don’t want any hint of creative accounting to stain our achievements. The reality, though, is that if you want to compete at the top of the Premier League you need the limitless funds of owners willing to invest heavily and frequently rather than work toward self-sufficiency.

I’m not sure what actually constitutes a “good” owner now: I don’t think free-spending ethically sound billionaires in it for the love of the game exist, and I think we may be about to find out that FSG were preferable to many alternatives. They are owners who have made major mistakes in various areas but have achieved to a high level without being as problematic as we as a supporter base may view others.

Some fans are saying this could be the moment they can no longer support the club. I can’t see that as an option. My first game was five decades ago; it’s the club my grandfathers supported. I can’t let that go.

FSG’s steady, successful stewardship has brought Liverpool a long way | Liverpool

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.

There was also Project Big Picture, the attempt to furlough around 200 non-playing staff at the start of the pandemic, which was abandoned amid fierce criticism 48 hours later, the ticket price hike that prompted a mass walkout by fans in 2016, and was also quickly abandoned, and failed attempts to trademark the word “Liverpool”.

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.

Liverpool owner FSG tests water on value for a crown-jewel football brand | Liverpool

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.

Mohamed Salah lifts the Champions League trophy in 2019.
Liverpool won the Champions League in 2019 and Premier League title a year later, with trophies essential currency in building commercial revenues. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

“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.”

FSG, then New England Sports Ventures, snapped up Liverpool for a bargain £300m in 2010 as the club teetered on the brink of administration.

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.”