“This ain’t a scene, it’s a g*d**n arms race!” – Fall Out Boy

One of the most interesting, and controversial, parts of Michael Edwards’ return to Fenway Sports Group is his announcement that FSG’s agreement to acquire another top-flight football club was essential to securing his return. Supporters have been understandably weary. While many clubs’ ownership groups, including Chelsea, Aston Villa, and Red Bull, have pursued multi-club ownership (the concept is explained nicely by our own Harry McMullen), it is most (in)famously associated with Sheikh Mansour’s City Football Group. CFG owns 12 clubs on 5 continents. Given the role of Manchester City’s creative business practices in the 115 financial doping charges Man City faces, it is understandable that Liverpool supporters are skeptical of having their beloved club walk down this road. But in the modern football financial arms race, the options are to keep up or get left behind.

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Can’t Cry Poverty

Liverpool FC is backed by American billionaires, with John W. Henry (commodities trading) and Tom Werner (Hollywood producer) having amassed vast fortunes before joining with hedge funds to build their sporting empire. But billionaires are far from the biggest fish in the FIFA sea.

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While Russian and Russian-affiliated oligarchs are finally being forced out of England (Abramovich at Chelsea and Usmanov at Everton) since Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, petro-dictatorships continue their assault on sports. The UAE (City), Qatar (PSE), and Saudi Arabia (Newcastle) are simply not going away. No club can afford not to utilize all the tools available to fight them. It’s about the money, at least in part.

FSG hasn’t added 15,000 seats to Anfield out of the goodness of their hearts. Rather, it has been necessary to get attendance on par with our EPL rivals City, United, West Ham (London Stadium holds 62,000), and Spurs to prevent them from having a competitive advantage in match-day revenues. FFP and PSR make it essential that we keep up with the Joneses. But of course, these rules require that each club only spend what it earns, so the new club can’t just be a piggybank for LFC.

The True Arms Race

A new acquisition is also about the players. Brexit has made it harder for players to secure UK work visas. This leaves English teams to grapple with losing talent to the Continent. Through multi-club ownership, FSG would be able to steer developing talent who can’t yet secure UK visas into a Continental club where they can gain experience and, through a Byzantine bureaucratic process, raise their ratings to a place where they can qualify for the UK while developing under coaches who understand the system and specific needs of LFC. That’s a valuable advantage and one that cannot be conceded to our rivals.

Liverpool has seen what happens when the club fails to adapt before. In the 1990s, Liverpool was famously stubborn in the face of the growing commercialization of football. Manchester United raced to monetize its brand, embracing corporate sponsorships and partnerships in all corners of the world.

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These deals filled United coffers and Sir Alex Ferguson’s war chest, helping the Red Devils dominate English football. Meanwhile, Liverpool was a dinosaur. The club was slow to embrace the modern era and diverse commercial revenues. While this was far from the only factor behind United’s and LFC’s divergent outcomes on the pitch, being left behind financially certainly played a major role in our being knocked off our perch.

History can’t be allowed to repeat itself. Multi-club ownership may seem distasteful, or even worse. But that’s the reality of 21st-century football. This ain’t a scene, it’s a g*d**n arms race!

Another Monday of looking for answers as we look at the recent struggles but put all of it in perspective as we talk about the 35th anniversary and what it means to us
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