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Liverpool Echo
Liverpool Echo
Dave Powell

FSG have already made telling move behind scenes that hints at Liverpool plan

In the not too distant past Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group had been looking at ways they could expand their football interests.

Having acquired Liverpool in 2010 for £300m and spent the next decade trying to grow the club into a global powerhouse once again, FSG are now assessing what the future holds for their Reds tenure, opening themselves up to expression of interest from those with very deep pockets who wish to take a controlling stake in the club.

The ECHO has been told that the FSG stance remains one where investment through a 'strategic partner' would be preferred, but with offers of $4bn (£3.3bn) and above for the full shareholding likely to be at least listened to the potential for a sale remains in play.

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FSG had tried to bring about structural change to football in recent times, with both their involvement in the hugely unpopular European Super League plot and the Project Big Picture Premier League plan both falling flat. For FSG principal John W. Henry it was the latter that was the hardest pill to swallow, a vision where the biggest clubs sought to put more money into the EFL but where the concessions would see a Premier League of reduced size and competitions such as the Carabao Cup kicked into the long grass.

The failure to implement such radical reform has led to something of a step change, and while the enormous value of Liverpool to FSG's empire remains of importance, the desire to further entrench themselves in football is something that is understood to have dwindled somewhat, at least in Europe.

Multi-club models are something that have become increasingly prevalent in football in recent years. Manchester City's Abu Dhabi-based owners City Football Group have been adding new teams almost annually since they acquired the current Premier League champions back in 2008. Under the CFG umbrella sits more than 10 teams, including the likes of New York City FC, Mumbai City FC, Troyes, Girona, Lommel and Montevideo City Torque.

Energy drink manufacturers Red Bull used football to not only promote their brand but also to tap into the efficiencies that lie within the multi-club model, with their clubs seeing players move between the teams and adopting a uniform style among clubs. That has led to RB Leizpig taking up the mantle of their beachhead team, with teams like Red Bull Salzburg, FC Liefering and New York Red Bulls, among others, all operating as part of the system.

Liverpool's owners are known to have been admirers of the Red Bull model in the past and its ability to produce quality players through a defined strategy, either using those players to enhance their own teams or selling them for manor profit. Liverpool have signed the likes of Naby Keita, Ibrahima Konate and Takumi Minamino, now of Monaco, from Red Bull teams in the past, while ex-Red Sadio Mane plied his tried in the Red Bull system with Salzburg. Plenty others have been linked with the Reds in the past, such as Dominik Szoboszlai, Timo Werner, Konrad Laimer and Dayot Upamecano.

Leicester City have other clubs within the same ownership group, with Belgian side OH Leuven having a link-up, while Chelsea, under new owners Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital are wanting to add more teams to their group now that they have acquired the London club. David Blitzer, co-founder of Harris Blitzer Entertainment, the group linked with a Reds investment bid, also runs Global Football Holdings which has Brondby, ADO Den Haag, Estoril Praia, FC Augsburg, SK Beveren, and AD Alcorcón a part of it.

Chelsea co-owner Behdad Eghbali, when speaking at the Sportico Invest in Sports conference in New York in October where the ECHO were present, said: "We think that there is a global pool of talent, and where that comes into play with multi-clubs is that you have pathways for players, where you're managing your content, you're managing your costs much more effectively and not buying the 30-year-old free agent.

"We think there is certainly a path to manage labour costs and, frankly, still produce a winning product using data and using the multi-club model.

"Multi-club, by the way, is an interesting tool for player trading. The ones that we have looked at who've done it successfully, Red Bull, £15m, £25m maybe £40m payroll for their largest clubs, they generate £50m to £100m per year in profit from player trading and player sales."

But while for some of their rivals there remains a desire to pursue such expansion, that is understood to have dimmed somewhat within FSG, the focus and energy instead on acquiring more North American sports assets where there are greater media revenues to be had and more cost certainty owing to salary caps and the absence of promotion and relegation across the major sports. There is also the absence of the transfer market, something that has become an increasingly difficult situation to manage for FSG given their preference for balancing the books and the deep pockets of some of their Middle Eastern-backed rivals bloating the market year on year.

There was some interest in the Brazilian market with the domestic league set to change structure and become something of a 'Super League' for Brazilian teams. That would have seen a new media deal come on board and an 'in' to one of the most passionate if untapped domestic markets in the world. It would have also allowed for FSG to gain a foothold when acquiring young talents early and aiding their transition to the European game, either to Liverpool or by being sold for profit to other European teams.

The Brazil idea is understood to have taken something of a backseat in recent times with a lot of focus being put on the acquisition of an NBA expansion franchise. The ECHO has been told by well-placed US sources that the overriding desire is to have that team in Las Vegas and for FSG minority partner LeBron James, 37, to run it when he finishes his playing career.

No expansion team is set to arrive imminently though, with NBA commissioner giving no update on timescales, although it is likely to be dependent on the securing of a new media deal and will have to get the approval of current 30 NBA teams, a purchase price of $2.5bn to be spread out among the existing teams. Another expansion franchise, tipped to be in Seattle, is also set to come on board.

Much noise has been made around the desire for an NBA team purchase being linked to the potential sale of Liverpool, although the ECHO has been told that there is no direct link between the two. There have also been erroneous reports of FSG wanting to acquire the Washington Commanders NFL team that is currently up for sale, but with any private equity ownership prohibited at present in the NFL, and with FSG part owned by private equity through minority sales to RedBird Capital Partners, Arctos Sports Partners and CAZ Investments, they would not be allowed to make such a play right now. Henry as an individual, however, would be permitted to invest in the NFL.

Major League Soccer, America's elite football competition, is growing and is experiencing something of a boom in interest, set to continue with the 2026 World Cup to be held in the US. There is understood to be the possibility that FSG would be "opportunistic" over such a move for an MLS team in the future, but as things stand it remains that their next major move is set to be the acquisition of an NBA franchise.

Liverpool has long been the outlier for FSG, their only sports team outside of North America. They already own an MLB team in the Boston Red Sox, an NHL team in the Pittsburgh Penguins and NASCAR team in RFK Racing, and with the NBA next on their list that would point to the logical step of the NFL after that, something that will likely be open to them in a couple of years time with the regulations around private equity expected to eventually be relaxed.

But when it comes to expanding their football portfolio that is understood to have taken a back seat. While they are exploring a potential sale of Liverpool they are by no means set on an imminent exit, with sources saying that Henry was less inclined to sell but that there may be other minority partners in FSG who wouldn't be averse to having their shareholding purchased by a new investor.

None of this is far down the tracks, though, and Liverpool remain FSG's most valuable asset in their $10bn empire as things stand. Their stepping away from adding more European teams may be telling in the longer term, though, with the expectation being that if they do part with Liverpool they will pivot and turn their attentions to a solely North American operation in the future. For now, though, Liverpool remains an important part of their operation, although it carries a price.


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