Liverpool plans to reclaim record from Man United

Liverpool plans to reclaim record from Man United

Published May. 13, 2011 5:04 p.m. ET

As Manchester United prepares to celebrate surpassing Liverpool's haul of 18 English league titles, the American owners of its Anfield rivals are searching for the deals that will fund their bid to reclaim the cherished record.

Fenway Sports Group believes the cash will come rolling in after increasing Liverpool's commercial potential by offering deals in conjunction with the rest of its American sports portfolio.

Not only does John Henry's group include baseball's Boston Red Sox and the Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR team, but now NBA's two-time reigning MVP LeBron James has a small stake in Liverpool.

''What we are really focused on now is supporting efforts in the sponsorship area, especially North America,'' Fenway Sports Group president Sam Kennedy said in an interview with The Associated Press.


''We are in the early stages of the development of Liverpool in the United States. There are opportunities in sponsorship, retail and broadcasting ... and in having Liverpool come over to North America at some point.''

The takeover by FSG at Liverpool halted the team's steady decline, with the return of Kenny Dalglish as manager also helping revitalize fortunes on the pitch.

Dalglish delivered Liverpool's last championship crown in 1990, but United is a point away from capturing a 12th title since 1992 and toppling its fiercest rival as the most successful club in English league history.

FSG, which rescued Liverpool in October by ending the heavily indebted regime of Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr., is already planning its response.

''We've been able to stabilize things from a business perspective by removing the debt of the team first and foremost,'' Kennedy said. ''But we haven't achieved anything yet at Liverpool other than taking steps to stabilize the club.''

Even though European clubs will be restricted from spending more than they earn under UEFA's new financial rules, Henry had already resisted deficit-spending at the Red Sox.

So for any spending spree on players or lucrative deals for Liverpool's existing talent to happen, the onus falls on the commercials teams working both in New England and old England.

''We are going to aggressively market the team and pursue commercial revenues at the Red Sox and at Liverpool so we can reinvest in the player payroll at the Red Sox and the playing squad at Liverpool,'' Kennedy said.

The battle to catch Man United is not just happening on the pitch. Kennedy is working with Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre on how to emulate Man United's commercial operation, which has successfully a string of negotiated country-specific sponsorship deals around the world.

While Man United generated 286.4 million pounds ($469 million) in the year to June 2010, Liverpool's revenue between August 2009 and July 2010 was 184 million pounds ($301 million).

''They may be our rivals but we have to respect them - they are setting the standards that we have to follow,'' Dalglish said, referring to Liverpool's title-record being surpassed. But his comments also apply to Liverpool's off-field operations.

Liverpool will have to cope without tens of millions of pounds of Champions League income for a second straight season in 2011-2.

But Liverpool is negotiating with Boston-based Warrior Sports to replace Adidas as its kit manufacturer in a deal worth a reported 25 million pounds annually.

The club has been financially hamstrung by its aging 45,000-capacity Anfield stadium, where there are just 34 luxury suites and few amenities to generate funding to enhance the squad.

Manchester United's Old Trafford can fit 76,000 fans and Arsenal moved from 38,000-seat Highbury into 60,000-seat Emirates Stadium in July 2006.

FSG is yet to decide whether it is economically viable to build the replacement for Anfield on the nearby Stanley Park. Hicks and Gillett abandoned the $800-million project due to the global financial crisis.

Key to reviving any plans will be if a naming-rights deal can be secured. Arsenal secured a 15-year deal with Emirates airline worth 100 million pounds.

''We are combing the earth looking for a potential naming rights partner for a new stadium,'' Kennedy said. ''If we were able to get a naming rights partner that would certainly factor into our analysis and will help as we look to make a decision on a refurb (of Anfield) versus a newbuild.

''That process has just gotten under way and we are out there talking to folks around the world.''

If they decide to revamp Anfield, FSG will look to emulating the overhaul of Fenway Park and look for sponsors for different areas of the ground, recognizing that it is difficult to re-brand an iconic venue like Anfield with a sponsor's name.