|Liverpool is one of four Premier League clubs under American ownership [AFP]|
Liverpool’s board have agreed to sell the debt-ridden Premier League club to the owners of the Boston Red Sox, but may have to take legal action to force out the existing American owners.
Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr, the current co-owners, said on Wednesday, that they will resist both the bid from New England Sports Ventures, which owns the Red Sox, and a separate bid from Asia.
Hicks and Gillett said the Boston bid – and one from an unidentified Asian investor – “dramatically undervalue” the 18-time English champions.
Martin Broughton, the Liverpool chairman, said the Red Sox owners have offered to pay $477 million, which is only likely to cover the debts and bank charges stemming from the leveraged 2007 takeover by Hicks and Gillett.
Hicks and Gillett own all the shares in Liverpool, but the American offer was accepted by the three non-owner board members: Broughton – who was hired by Hicks and Gillett in April to sell the club – plus Christian Purslow, the managing director and Ian Ayre, the commerical director.
The Premier League said it should be ready to approve the takeover by Friday.
Broughton is set to go to court next week to reinforce his authority over the sale and challenge the owners’ attempts to remove Purslow and Ayre from the board. Broughton said he expects the sale to be completed in about a week.
Broughton said Hicks and Gillett have “flagrantly abused” written undertakings made to Royal Bank of Scotland, which holds the bulk of Liverpool’s debt.
“We need to go to the court to … declare that we did act validly incompleting the sale agreement, and then the buyers can complete the sale,” he said.
Liverpool is one of four Premier League clubs under American ownership, along with Manchester United, Aston Villa and Sunderland. The most prominent American owners 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.
Hicks wants to sell Liverpool for about $954 million, a figure that has forced several investors to end their interest. The owners bought the club for $276 million, taking on $71 million of liabilities.
“The owners have invested more than $270 million in cash into the club,” Hicks and Gillett said in a statement.
“And during their tenure, revenues have nearly doubled, investment in players has increased and the club is one of the most profitable in the [Premier League].
“As such, the board has been presented with offers that we believe dramatically undervalue the club.
“To be clear, there is no change in our commitment to finding a buyer for Liverpool Football Club at a fair price that reflects the very significant investment we’ve made. We will, however, resist any attempt to sell the club without due process or agreement by the owners.”
The turmoil comes after Liverpool lost to newly-promoted Blackpool on Sunday, continuing the club’s worst start to a league season since 1953. Liverpool have not won in five matches in all competitions and are currently in the Premier League’s relegation zone.
The team were recently knocked out of the League Cup by Northampton, a club struggling in the fourth tier of English football.
Broughton acknowledged the ownership turmoil has affected the squad.
“You can see one or two of the players playing with the world on their shoulder – there will be money for investment in the squad,” Broughton said.
“There has been this huge amount of negativity around Liverpool – the fans demonstrating against the owners.”
Those protests have been led by the Spirit of Shankly, a fan group named after legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, who won three league titles, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup from 1959-1974.
“It’s just another part of the ongoing soap opera at Liverpool,” James McKenna, the group’s spokesman, said. “We just want a resolution to it sooner rather than later. It leaves fans wondering what’s going to happen next.”
Red Sox ‘revived’
Broughton is encouraged by how the Red Sox ownership group revived the baseball club’s fortunes after buying it in 2002 for $660 million.
The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, their first since 1918, and again in 2007.
“If you look at the Boston Red Sox as a massive example of taking a major, historic team which had seen better days and restored them to glory, it is a parallel which demonstrates action,” Broughton said.
The Red Sox ownership signaled its football interest last summer by hosting a friendly between Celtic and Sporting Lisbon at Boston’s Fenway Park.
The ownership group is headed by financial trader John Henry, with two other principals: Tom Werner, who made his money producing hit shows on US television, and Larry Lucchino, a longtime baseball executive.
One of the priorities at Liverpool will be to replace the 45,000-capacity Anfield with a newer and bigger stadium, but Broughton said the Merseyside club could emulate the Red Sox by refurbishing an existing ground.
“At Fenway they chose not to build a new stadium – they will want to make sure that they do the right thing, [but] we will have a stadium which holds 60-odd thousand,” Broughton said.
“Whether that is the new stadium as designed or not, that is not a commitment, but will we have stadium development? Yes.”