Business

Liverpool owners ponder sports and business decisions

Liverpool caretaker manager Kenny Dalglish
Image caption The team's fortunes have picked up since Kenny Dalglish returned to the manager's hot seat

Liverpool FC's owners Fenway Sports Group say they have still to reach a deal on giving the manager's job to Kenny Dalglish on a full-time basis.

The US firm is taking a similar "wait and see" stance on whether to improve Anfield or move to a new stadium.

"The conversations are happening now with the appropriate people and the ownership," says Fenway's Sam Kennedy.

He also says sport commitments mean new Liverpool stakeholder, NBA star LeBron James, will not visit Anfield soon.

The James deal, announced earlier this week, took the sporting and business world by surprise.

It is the first time Fenway, controlled by businessmen John Henry and Tom Werner, have taken on an individual sportsman.

The US company, which owns Major League Baseball team Boston Red Sox and Fenway Racing, will now represent Mr James globally, with the Miami Heat player becoming a minority owner of Liverpool in return.

'Unique deal'

And Fenway president Sam Kennedy explained to the BBC how investment guru Warren Buffett played an unlikely role in precipitating the deal.

"LeBron James and his business partner Maverick Carter have had a personal connection with Tom Werner and John Henry since they met at a Berkshire Hathaway investment conference," he says.

Image caption LeBron James had been looking for business development opportunities

"Last autumn, we heard that they were looking for business development opportunities.

"They consulted Tom and John and came to us to discuss those endeavours, and that has resulted in this deal."

Despite talks starting six months ago, the deal was only completed last week.

"The fact someone like LeBron James has acquired a limited stake in a football club makes this deal unique, and also Fenway Sports Management group does not have individual athletes in its roster," adds Mr Kennedy.

"That makes it special, but it is likely to be a one-off."

'Great lift'

Mr Henry and Mr Werner became principal owners of Liverpool last October in a £300m deal.

Talks between them and Kenny Dalglish about the current caretaker manager's future began three weeks ago.

"We have taken a wait and see approach," says Mr Kennedy.

"The conversations are happening now with the appropriate people - Ian Ayre, Damien Comolli, and the ownership.

"But I do think he [Dalglish] has provided a great lift. He is a wonderful man, he is passionate about the club."

Mr Kennedy said Fenway had been "excited about the recent appointments" of Ian Ayre as managing director, of Damien Comolli as director of football, and of Mr Dalglish.

Image caption The new owners splashed out £23m to buy Luis Suarez from Ajax Amsterdam

"It is fun to watch Liverpool," he says, adding that "we hope to get better next season".

Since the 60-year-old Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish replaced Roy Hodgson in January, he has stabilised the team and taken them to the fringe of a potential Europa League place.

Meanwhile, Fernando Torres has been sold to Chelsea for £50m, with signings Luis Suarez, for £23m, and Andy Carroll, for £35m, becoming new Kop favourites.

'Aggressive'

As well as the manager's post, the club's owners have yet to make any firm announcement on whether to stay at their Anfield home or move to a new stadium.

If the club does build a new arena, then it will be looking for a naming rights partner, such as Arsenal did when they moved from Highbury to the Emirates.

"We will aggressively comb the world for a potential partner, and Fenway Sports Group supports Ian Ayre in his efforts on this," says Mr Kennedy.

"I can confirm there will only be a naming rights deal if Liverpool move to a new stadium. Anfield will stay as Anfield."

He said Fenway Sports Group was constantly working on potential deals for its sports properties - Liverpool, Boston Red Sox, and Fenway Racing.

And any new potential deals could have a bearing on whether the club stays at its current location.

"What we did at [Red Sox home] Fenway Park was we increased income from our sponsorship, so we did not need to go for a naming rights deal and preserved the stadium name there," says Mr Kennedy.

'Sports impact'

On other commercial matters, he poured cold water on the idea that Liverpool might look to buy Asian players simply to maximise marketing potential in East and South East Asia.

Image caption The owners confirm that the Anfield stadium name will not change

Players such as Park Ji Sung at Manchester United and Shunsuke Nakamura when he was at Celtic, helped boost those clubs' profiles in South Korea and Japan, and also in the wider region.

Club sponsors Standard Chartered had suggested this might be a route Liverpool look at going down.

"In 2007, the Red Sox signed pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka out of Japan, and everyone suggested that this was being done for business reasons," says Mr Kennedy.

"But any player that we sign for the Red Sox or for Liverpool will be signed for their impact on the sports field, not business reasons.

"Winning on the field comes first, and business issues come second. Business supports the activities on the playing field."

'Learning about football'

Meanwhile, the Liverpool faithful should not expect any visit soon from new stakeholder and basketball star LeBron James.

"He is excited about coming into a new sport and learning about Liverpool Football Club," says the Fenway president.

"He will be busy for now with the NBA, but will be rooting for Liverpool from afar.

"That means he will not be at Anfield any time soon, but he does plan to come at some time in the future though."

But football fans may be surprised by how much the 6ft 8in basketball superstar knows about the sport Americans call soccer.

"Like a lot of Americans he is still learning about the business, power and reach of football," says Mr Kennedy.

"However, he knows more about football than your average US sports fan.

"He was talking about Liverpool's 18 League Championships, and is excited to talk about Kenny Dalglish and the team he is putting together."

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