It is five years since FSG took control of Liverpool FC and a good time to look at what’s happened since…
David Moores’ decision to sell Liverpool, in 2007, was prompted by his belief only new owners and major investment could fund a much-needed new stadium in Stanley Park. Unfortunately, the sale to Hicks and Gillett eventually threatened the actual viability of the club and delivered nothing more than hugely expensive drawings and the fabled spade-in-the-ground-in-60-days promise.
Finally, after years of deliberation, it was decided LFC should remain at Anfield and FSG have embarked upon expansion of the existing stadium. Yet, questions remain.
The Main Stand development won’t come close to meeting season and general-admission ticket demand, although there is hope that an anticipated increase of the Anfield Road End will help some of those waiting to join a 25,000-strong season-ticket waiting list, currently closed to new applicants. Meanwhile, supporters have expressed fears that the completed expansion will make improvements to other stands, particularly the cramped Lower Centenary, impossible. The final capacity also does little to address the issue of an ageing matchday support and lack of access for younger fans – most poignantly those from the Liverpool area.
FSG introduced tiered ticket pricing three seasons before even one stand was appropriate for ‘stretch pricing’. Spirit of Shankly have voiced concern that the introduction of higher priced tickets in certain areas of the ground has done nothing to alleviate the financial burden on fans. In addition to facing Category A prices at every away game, home supporters face an average ticket price of £45.74 – 52% higher than the Premier League average of £30. Even the cheapest tickets at Anfield, £37.50, are 25% higher than the Premier League average. The club’s none-too-impressive record of just one Champions League campaign under FSG was compounded by the club charging the highest ticket prices in the group stages. And it is still not possible for youngsters to buy an under-16 concessionary ticket unless a full-price adult ticket is bought at the same time. As a consequence, Spirit of Shankly has welcomed the formation of the Ticket Price Working Group and will continue to work with the club and other supporter representatives to deliver lower ticket prices.
Much is made of the relationship our new manager, Jürgen Klopp, had with supporters of his former club Borussia Dortmund, particularly those who make up the “Yellow Wall” on the Sudtribune. All Liverpool fans hope we can replicate this on the Kop at Anfield and bring back the atmosphere we once took for granted. However, it costs just €16,70 to stand on the Sudtribune, and a maximum €54,40 for a Category 1 halfway-line seat. There are €10,90 concessions and seats at €21,90 for under 18s. It is clear, Dortmund’s success was a result of more than Klopp’s technical prowess in the dugout.
Liverpool are, undoubtedly, in better financial shape than they have been for a long while. The Hicks-and-Gillett shaped hole in the club’s accounts has been filled and commercial revenue is healthy and growing. The club live within their means and the threat of financial failure, or administration as faced in 2010, will not rear its head under FSG stewardship. Spirit of Shankly’s concern is that FSG’s ownership model limits the club’s potential to grow and regain its place at the top of the game. In fact, by retaining the benefit of the club’s capital growth for their own purposes, such as providing a stake for Lebron James in order to facilitate a deal with Fenway Sports Management, FSG are also living within the club’s means.
This approach precludes the release of equity, created by LFC growth and driven by LFC resources, to benefit the club itself. The value of the club sits on FSG’s balance sheet to provide leverage for their business, not to generate investment for Liverpool. This position was confirmed when a proposal to release equity to contribute towards the stadium redevelopment by way of a share issue to supporters – tabled by Spirit of Shankly at the LFC Supporters Committee – was rejected point blank.
So five years on, we have FSG’s third managerial appointment; more than £402million spent on players, almost £280million recouped on sales; and a solitary top-four position. The club are in a better place commercially, but supporters are paying more than ever and those from Liverpool’s working-class neighbourhoods pay the world’s highest ticket prices proportionate to household income.
FSG have benefitted from obtaining the club in what amounted to a fire sale; and continue to benefit from the growing value of the club on their balance sheet. Spirit of Shankly believe that we the supporters and the club should share this financial well-being, supporters through lower ticket prices, the club through equity to fund investment.
Let us all, the fans and the club, live within our means.