Red Sox group set for takeover
Whatever you do, Liverpool fans, don’t call your prospective new American owners the Yankees.
The owners of the Boston Red Sox are trying to buy the financially ailing Liverpool football club for 300 million pounds ($477 million) – about half the asking price of the current American owners.
If approved, it would unite two of the most storied franchises in sports – the soccer Reds, one of the most decorated teams in old England, and the baseball Red Sox, the oldest pro team in New England.
They have a lot in common.
Both have red uniforms – in fact, Liverpool players also wear red socks – and both have a proud heritage that includes championships and long periods of agonizing failure.
Each has its iconic symbols: from Fenway Park to Anfield; from the Green Monster to the Shankly Gates; from "Sweet Caroline" to "You Never Walk Alone"; from the Citgo sign to the "Welcome to Anfield" sign.
The Red Sox also had the Curse of the Bambino – the sale of slugger Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees – that was finally snapped when they won the World Series in 2004 after a wait of 86 years. They won the title again in 2007.
Liverpool fans hope John Henry’s New England Sports Ventures can spark a similar revival of their debt-riddled club, which has fallen on hard times since winning its 18th and last English league crown in 1990. Liverpool is off to its worst start since 1953 and is in the relegation zone after losing last week to Blackpool.
As major port cities, Boston and Liverpool also share a rich history and strong Irish links. After the famine in Ireland in the mid-19th century, many Irish headed for the thriving port of Liverpool, and from there sailed to Boston. By 1851, it was estimated that a quarter of the populations of both cities was Irish.
For all that, though, the Red Sox owners might not be so fab in the home of the Beatles. Liverpool fans were already angry that the team was owned by two other Americans, Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., and now comes another U.S. group intending to take control.
"These Yanks are making us look like a laughingstock in the Premier League and in Europe," said Paul Tremarco, a season-ticket holder for 35 years. "We don’t trust the Yanks anymore. They just asset-strip companies."
Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton said he understood the "instant reaction about them being American. But being American is not a problem. Leveraged ownership of a football club is the problem."
Serious financial issues have to be settled to conclude the long and bitter boardroom battle over the club.
The Boston ownership group is headed by Henry, a financial trader, with two other principals: Tom Werner, who made his money producing hit TV shows such as "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne," and Larry Lucchino, a longtime baseball executive.
The New York Times Co., parent of the newspaper, is among the investors in the Red Sox ownership group. The Times said last year it was trying to sell its shares. In April, the Times announced it had sold a small portion of its NESV ownership stake.
The Red Sox owners’ offer is only likely to cover the debts and bank charges stemming from the leveraged 2007 takeover by Hicks and Gillett. They are fighting the NESV bid, saying it "dramatically undervalues" the club. Hicks wants to sell for about 600 million pounds ($954 million).
Rival members of the Liverpool board, which accepted the Boston bid, are set to go to court to force the sale through before the Oct. 15 deadline set by the banks to repay the club’s debt.
Liverpool is one of four Premier League clubs under American ownership, along with Manchester United, Aston Villa and Sunderland. Most prominent are Malcolm Glazer and his sons, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who took over Manchester United in 2005 in a leveraged buyout worth $1.4 billion. The Glazers are deeply unpopular among United fans, with groups of supporters regularly protesting and calling for their ouster.
Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber said the Red Sox owners know how to take a franchise forward.
"There is something called the Red Sox Nation, a brand supported by fans going back generations, similar to Liverpool supporters," he said. "The ownership has not only graced that but enhanced it."
Liverpool fans will need to be convinced.
"It’ll still be important that these people come out and engage with supporters and tell us what their intentions are," said James McKenna, spokesman for the Spirit of Shankly, a fan group named after Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who won three league titles, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup from 1959-1974.