Friday, October 08, 2010

Broughton Eyes Profitable Future

Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton has aimed a swipe at Manchester City, saying his club's prospective new owners will provide a profitable future at Anfield.

The Reds have agreed in principle to sell the club to New England Sports Ventures, but co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are trying to block the deal.

The takeover battle is set to be resolved in the High Court next week with Liverpool hopeful a deal with NESV, who also own the Boston Red Sox, will be pushed through.

Broughton believes prospective new owner John Henry will provide 'rational' leadership at Liverpool and that the club will be in position for the new Uefa fair play regulations, which are set to come into effect in 2012.

"A hugely important aspect for Liverpool is [Uefa's] financial fair play rules. They come into effect pretty damn soon, and will have a massive effect on many, many clubs," Broughton said.

"Taking a rational, commercial approach to success is absolutely the right way forward, and that is what New England will do. They have demonstrated that already in their model at Boston.

"I couldn't help notice that Manchester City's wage bill for last year was exceeding its revenue. That is going to be very difficult under financial fair play. They might be able to sort it out before then but we were not looking for someone who was going to put us in that position.

"We were looking for somebody who was going to see this as a commercial business that can be commercially successful. That is what they have already demonstrated. They have made a profit by investing heavily in players and stadium development and they have delivered a winning team."

Broughton insists NESV's approach is the right one for the future and that funds will be made available to bolster the playing ranks.

Broughton added: "We weren't looking for an Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour, because we understand a rational commercial approach is the way forward in football now.

"New England's bid of around £300m will include £200m in equity to write down the acquisition debt, as we call it, the legacy of Hicks and Gillett, and there is £40m of cash to pay off various other liabilities.

"The balance is what we call assuming the ongoing working capital debt and the new stadium financing debt, and it means there will be no debt on the club, and Liverpool will actually be equity rich. The aim was always zero debt.

"Why? Because that will allow trading without debt, and vast profits coming available again to invest in the business instead of servicing loans. New England are fully committed to that, they are committed to investing heavily in players and infrastructure to boost future profits."

Liverpool's Potential New Owners To Hold Talks With Steven Gerrard, Pepe Reina & Fernando Torres

Liverpool's prospective new owners are believed to be in line to hold face-to-face talks with skipper Steven Gerrard, goalkeeper Pepe Reina and striker Fernando Torres if and when a takeover is completed.

The club is currently the subject of a £300 million takeover by New England Sports Ventures, but the current co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are attempting to block the sale as they deem the price too low.

A boardroom battle followed with the controversial Americans trying to get rid of two of their board members in the hope of putting a stop to the process. But the matter of the sale is expected to be resolved in the High Court.

In the meantime, The Mirror reports that the potential new owners will make the retention of the club's stars as their top priority following a takeover, as one-to-one talks with Gerrard, Reina and Torres have been planned.

In light of the possible change in ownership of the Merseyside club, Spirit of Shankly - a Reds fangroup - spokesman James McKenna told UK that it is "absolutely vital" that the prospective new owners speak to fans concerning their plans for the future.

And it is now claimed that the potential owners will not only speak to fans, but will also offer them representation on the board to voice their concerns.

Fuller Roles Planned For Dalglish And Fans' Figurehead

The roles of Kenny Dalglish and fans' leader Rogan Taylor will be high on the agenda of the new American owners, ESPNsoccernet can exclusively reveal.

As they wait for the legal battle to play out in court, New England Sports Ventures' (NESV) top brass, led by founder John W Henry, are busy planning the first days of their new regime. Henry and his team are keen to understand as much as they can about all the players in the Liverpool drama, knowing that first impressions will be very important when they arrive on Merseyside.

One of the key issues for Liverpool's potential new owners is how they engage with the fans and the local community from day one. NESV are extremely savvy businessmen who are acutely aware of the need to conduct themselves in a different manner from that of Hicks and Gillett.

An insider told ESPNsoccernet: "How best to engage the fans is always going to be a delicate issue after Hicks and Gillett, but it is nonetheless a major issue and one of great importance."

To that end, they are already thinking about how best to begin listening to local ideas and concerns as they look to develop their plans for the Club.

Kenny Dalglish is one figure whose views they will doubtless seek. Rogan Taylor, leading local academic and head of ShareLiverpool, the group promoting fan involvement at board level, is another who may have a role to play.

"We have to remember Liverpool fans will never greet with open arms any incoming owner because they have been badly burned once,'' Rogan Taylor told the Daily Telegraph. Taylor's group can potentially bring the prospect of additional investment to the table. He said: "I think I can get 100,000 Liverpool fans to write out cheques for £500 each if they can guarantee they won't be shafted again.''

What Taylor might get for his putative £50 million remains to be seen. It is far too early to say whether there is a realistic prospect of the additional cash being deliverable or of it buying the fans anything as tangible as a seat on the board.

However, the potential new owners will arrive in Liverpool very much in listening mode. They know that it is vital not to promise too much and then fail to deliver and they want to make sure that they can build solid long-term relationships with supporters groups.

The role of Dalglish in the new regime, and how best to engage the fan base in a real and workable way, is a key issue. Dalglish is seen as a marginal figure within the Tom Hicks/George Gillett ownership, though he is an ambassador and Head of Football Development for the club.

Hicks and Gillett arrived at Anfield with plenty of hype about engaging the fans, but never attracted any warmth to say the least.

The NESV team understands how their fellow Americans failed to embrace the fan base as positively as they should have done, and how an icon like Dalglish is part of the fan culture of Anfield. It is also intriguing to note Dalglish's view that renovating Anfield should not be dismissed in the quest to build a new £400 million stadium which might be out of the financial reach of the club.

Hodgson Hoping For Major Transfer Funds

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson is desperate to receive transfer funds from the club's prospective new owners.

New England Sports Ventures, who own the Boston Red Sox baseball franchise, are attempting to close a £300million deal to take over at Anfield.

Their hostile bid is being challenged in the courts by current American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, but club chairman Martin Broughton is confident of pushing through the deal before a deadline over loan repayments to the Royal Bank of Scotland next week.

Should the deal be completed swiftly then Hodgson is hoping to receive transfer funds in time to strengthen his under-performing squad in January.

The Reds are currently 18th in the Premier League table after winning just one of their opening seven games and were dumped out of the Carling Cup by Northampton Town last month.

"We know what we must do. We need new players and investment and know we're weak in certain areas," explained Hodgson.

"These things have been the case since I arrived here and we have not had a chance to put it right.

"I ask for the fans' patience, trust and belief as we will get it right."

Liverpool To Rival Fulham For German Strike Ace

Liverpool have joined the race to sign Bayer Leverkusen striker Stefan Kiessling.

talkSPORT revealed earlier this week that Fulham were in the hunt for the 26-year-old but now the player's agent has revealed that the Merseyside club are also trying to land the forwards signature, as well as a host of other top European clubs.

Speaking in German newspaper Bild, the player's representative, Ali Bulut, said: "Milan, Liverpool, Schalke 04 and Rubin Kazan have asked for the player in the recent weeks.

"There are no formal offers at the moment. Depending on what Bayer say he could be sold in January."

Liverpool Takeover: John W Henry's New Regime Will Need Deep Pockets

Fuelled by a mixture of cheap debt and skillful financial engineering, the industry reached its recent high watermark in the spring of 2007, months before the financial crisis erupted.

Instead, Henry comes from the world of futures trading and appears to keep his company lean.

A handful of traders run his future business John W Henry & Company's computer trading programmes at its head office in Boca Raton, Florida.

When Henry, alongside Larry Lucchino and Tom Werner, won the fight for the Boston Red Sox in early 2002, it’s believed that their $660m offer was not even the highest of the six bids on the table.

But the Yawkey Trust, which controlled the club following the death of Thomas Yawkey – who had snapped the team up for $1.2m in the depths of the Great Depression in 1933 – liked the group’s plans for a club whose struggles on the field were hampering its commercial development off it.

While little is known of the finances of J W Henry as it’s a private company, its value is likely to have diminished in the past five years as larger rivals such as London-based Winton Capital and Aspect grab larger market shares.

However, his ownership of the Boston Red Sox suggests Henry, Lucchino and Werner know how to increase the value of a brand — something that will prove key given Liverpool’s global reach.

New England Sports Ventures has overseen a doubling in the value of the Red Sox from $426m - that valuation excluded the debt it assumed when buying the club - in 2002, to $870m this year, according to Forbes data. In the same period, the club has gone from nursing an $11m loss to being $40m in the black.

The Red Sox have overtaken the New York Mets and LA Dodgers in Forbes’s annual Major League valuation table and are now only second to the New York Yankees, their closest rivals.

“They have transformed a mundane franchise into one of the most successful in the business,” according to a leading sports banker, who has worked with Henry.

“They have diversified their revenues by selling advertising and other spin-offs, and improving the concessions at Fenway Park,” he said.

“They also enhanced their media exposure and improved the experience in the stadium. You cannot get a seat at Fenway Park any more.”

He said he was confident the tycoon could replicate the success at Liverpool but that this would require substantial investment.

And serious questions remain for Henry, including the possible building of a new stadium – something that Hicks and co-owner George Gillett never managed.

“There are big questions,” the financier said. “Liverpool needs a new stadium, which would cost about £700 million.

“And the success of the product starts on the field. You need to build a very good team and there is no limit to how much you can spend on players.”

While not a financier reliant on debt, Henry is still likely to find restoring Liverpool’s fortunes on and off the pitch will require him to dig heavily into his pockets.

Liverpool Supporters' Group Seeks Talks With Prospective New Owners

Liverpool fans are demanding talks with the club’s prospective new owners to discover their intentions and ask them to explain their plans.

Spirit of Shankly, the supporters’ group that has campaigned aggressively to oust Tom Hicks and George Gillett, have welcomed the agreed sale of the club to New England Sports Ventures, owners of baseball’s Boston Red Sox.

But they remain ‘extremely skeptical’ as the Hicks and Gillett era draws to a close and are desperate to avoid a repeat of the catalog of mistakes made since the Americans took over three years ago.

“As fans we are worried that the next set of owners will be just as bad,” SoS spokesman James McKenna told UK. “It is absolutely vital that the new owners talk to supporters to alleviate our many concerns.

“The main things we need to know are their plans to invest in the team and for the new stadium. [Chairman] Martin Broughton has been talking to them for a while and we want to know, what are your plans? What will you do about the stadium? Where is the money coming from?

“We want them to engage with us and use the fans as a positive. After Hicks and Gillett we are extremely skeptical so we need to know that the next owners are the right owners.

“We accepted the last owners too easily and we won’t be doing that again. If they are the right people for the football club they will sit down and talk to us rather than chase PR and photo-shoots while ignoring the supporters.

“The issue fans face these days is that we find it hard to trust the integrity of these people. All supporters will be watching very carefully to see their intentions for the football club and they need to talk to us.”

The sale is now subject to Premier League approval and a legal wrangle between Hicks and Gillett and the three independent directors after a sensational boardroom split emerged on Tuesday.

The Americans’ desperate attempts to cling on to power comes as no surprise to Spirit of Shankly, who believe the most important thing is for the club to be in new hands.

McKenna added: “It’s been a nightmare for Liverpool supporters and we've fallen behind the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea because of the debt, the lack of a stadium and their failure to invest in the team.

“The main thing is that this matter is resolved sooner rather than later so we can start concentrating on what is happening on the pitch rather than a poisonous situation in the boardroom.

“The club needs to be managed properly on and off the pitch – we will wait with baited breath until Hicks and Gillett are out and we can start a new era for the football club. We are cautiously optimistic.”

The Boston Red Sox bid is led by another American – John W. Henry – who is believed to value the club at around £300 million.

That would be enough for the club to repay in full their £282m loans to the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia, and leave a little more for investment in the team.

Hicks and Gillett believe the offer undervalues the club and on Tuesday attempted to block the deal by trying to replace managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre with Mack Hicks – son of Tom – and Lori Kay McCutcheon, vice-president of Hicks Holdings.

The deadline to repay the bank debt is October 15 and Tom Hicks in particular is expected to try to raise the capital to make his own offer to repay the bank debt.

Council Ready To Block New Liverpool Owners' Plan For Anfield Redevelopment

New England Sports Ventures, the company bidding for control of Liverpool, is on a collision course with the city's council over plans to redevelop Anfield. The Liverpool chairman, Martin Broughton, has confirmed the club's prospective new owners NESV – which has a track-record in redeveloping a sports stadium with the Boston Red Sox – will consider upgrading Anfield if a £300m offer to gain control from Tom Hicks and George Gillett is accepted in the high court next week. It is understood that a commitment to put £100m towards a new stadium had previously been a condition of the sale.

The leader of the council, however, insists a U-turn on the stadium would be unlikely to gain approval. "I would discourage them [NESV] from redeveloping Anfield and would encourage them to stick to the commitment that is already in place because I think that is the best solution for everyone – for the club and the city," councillor Joe Anderson said.

NESV's offer was accepted after it increased the equity involved to £240m, matching a rival bid from Asia, and Anderson believes the new stadium must be the priority for the club as he attempts to safeguard the area's regeneration.

Other sources say the same planning obstacles that prompted the former chairman David Moores and the then chief executive, Rick Parry, to propose relocating across Stanley Park still exist, leaving NESV facing the potentially greater expense of a new build.

NESV had to commit to a stadium project during negotiations with Liverpool and still intends to revisit existing plans for a new 60,000-seat arena on nearby Stanley Park. However, considering upgrading Anfield represents a radical departure from the past decade of club and council policy. As far as the council is concerned, that policy has not changed, and with much of the present stadium landlocked in a residential area NESV would have to overcome major obstacles to increase Anfield's capacity to its desired figure of 60,000-plus. These include the purchase of nearby houses to make way for new stands, which Liverpool have already done to some degree, improving public access and objections to a development that would tower over local properties.

A separate, though fundamental, reason for the council's desire for a new stadium – which has planning permission that is due to expire in April 2011 – is to see the creation of the proposed Anfield Plaza on the site of the existing stadium. The Plaza, containing shops, offices and restaurants, is intended to provide a public link to the new arena, but also an estimated 1,000 jobs in one of the most deprived local authority wards in Britain.

This was a key condition in Liverpool obtaining permission to build on public land in Stanley Park and, despite the change from a Liberal Democrat to a Labour council at the last election, it remains a priority for local politicians and residents.

Cllr Anderson, who welcomed the potential change of ownership as "a huge relief", said: "It has been suggested to me that NESV would be willing to meet at the earliest possible opportunity in the event of the takeover and I would urge them to do that to give me the opportunity to find out exactly what their intentions are, because the stadium is a key part of our plans to regenerate north Liverpool.

"Those plans haven't been held up entirely by the stadium situation and it would be wrong to say that they have. But they have had an impact and we just want to be in a position where we have a clear sign that the stadium issue will be resolved one way or another, something Hicks and Gillett failed to do despite the string of promises they made."

NESV members have paid several visits to Liverpool in recent weeks but, with control of the club not yet sealed, have not reached the negotiating stage with the council. They have, however, held discussions with the Royal Bank of Scotland over funding any stadium plans and, unlike Hicks and Gillett, who made themselves hostage to fortune with a promise to "put a spade in the ground within 60 days" of their takeover in February 2007, are reluctant to commit to one proposal at this juncture.

John W Henry the principal investor in NESV, overcame major difficulties to redevelop the historic home of the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park, although at the cost to the fans of vastly increased ticket prices. Broughton said: "They are going to look at a new stadium but they have experience at Boston of redeveloping an old stadium and just want to be sure they have exhausted all options before deciding on which one, but the commitment is they will do one or the other."

Liverpool's need for improved revenue streams from a new stadium is pressing and was a principal reason why Moores sold his majority shareholding to Hicks and Gillett in 2007. Club accounts for 2008-09 financial year showed Liverpool made £42m from gate and matchday income. In the same period Arsenal made £100m at the Emirates Stadium and Manchester United generated £109m at Old Trafford.

Liverpool is a host city for England's 2018 World Cup bid but with Anfield's capacity over the 40,000 threshold, and NESV committed to some form of rebuilding, that status is not at risk.