Liverpool FC: The Once-Mighty Football Club Has Been Struggling off the Field as Well as on It

Article excerpt

Five years ago, Liverpool FC beat AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League Final. The victory was hailed as a return to the glory days, but now the team is languishing in the relegation zone of the Premiership, having so far failed to meet expectations under manager Roy Hodgson.

While all teams occasionally suffer a dip in form, Liverpool's on-field failures have been matched by an alarming financial malaise. When Tom Hicks and George Gillett took over Liverpool in 2007, the club's debt stood at about pounds 45m. Just over two years later, it had escalated to pounds 245m.

The takeover of the club last week by New England Sports Ventures, another US conglomerate, has given fans hope that Liverpool can rise again. However, as both Liverpool and Manchester United can testify, ownership by profit-hungry US businessmen is not necessarily a good thing.

The incoming owners have, however, got off to a good start by meeting debt payments demanded by the club's bank, RBS. They have also avoided the brash statements typical of incoming owners by pledging to 'under-promise and over-deliver'.

How can Liverpool ensure that its global reputation is unharmed by the club's recent league decline and fraught takeover? We asked David Atkinson, managing partner of sponsorship agency Space, which works with Chelsea FC's main sponsor, Samsung, and Simon Freedman, head of sponsorship at O2 and former group head of marketing at The Football Association.

DIAGNOSIS

Two industry experts on how Liverpool FC can return to winning ways

DAVID ATKINSON MANAGING PARTNER, SPACE

On one level, New England Sports Ventures' (NESV) acquisition could be seen as one US misadventure to another.

US ownership in the Premiership is not a new thing (the Glazers at Manchester United and Lerner at Villa). However, it tends to make failure far more visible and spark explosive and venomous headlines.

Die-hards and financiers alike harbour doubts as to whether our transatlantic cousins truly understand 'soccer', suspecting that their motivations are wholly commercial. However, NESV has an impressive track record in the US in areas where Liverpool needs investment - licensing, sponsorship and asset exploitation.

These 'assets', at least on the pitch, also need attention. Roy Hodgson's squad has lurched from disaster to crisis amid hints of player unrest and loss of form.

The whole regime needs stability, and if that is found sooner rather than later, Liverpool's long-term future will look much more positive. …