The businessman who secured the Fenway Sports Group era at Liverpool has questioned £4billion-plus price tags on the Anfield club and Manchester United because they lack London postcodes.
Martin Broughton, a high-flying executive and former chairman at Anfield, says his experience bidding for Chelsea last summer showed that many billionaires have a preference for clubs in the capital.
Broughton says he toyed with the prospect of helping with investment at Liverpool after FSG enlisted bankers to test the market, but he added: “I would question whether they’ll [United and Liverpool] get the kind of prices that they floated.”
Liverpool’s Boston-based group ownership engaged American investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley last year to facilitate the search for external investment.
While a potential April deadline has been set for the sale of United, Tom Werner, who succeeded Broughton as chairman, says there is “no urgency and no timeframe”.
Broughton, a former executive with British Airways and British American Tobacco, is encouraging FSG to pursue a minority shareholder, because the current owners are “a difficult act to follow”.
“Liverpool will be best off taking in co-investors to ensure the current owners can work alongside them and be satisfied that these are the right people,” said the 75-year-old.
“As I understand it, they [FSG]are interested to see what the market reaction is. They could be willing sellers. They could be willing to have investors, but if they carry on owning it, that’s fine too. That’s my understanding of their position.”
Broughton, who has his own sports investment company, has not been sought out by Werner or JW Henry for his advice concerning the deal. However, he did weigh up involvement in speaking to investors.
“I did say to them at the outset that I might get involved,” Broughton said. “I never asked for any financial information.
“I did one or two inquiries with people that I thought might be interested but it didn’t go any further. Now I’m just looking at it with a keen interest.”
Broughton, a life-long Chelsea fan, served as an independent Liverpool chairman between April 10 and October 13 2010. He was appointed with a remit to sell the club as the hated previous owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, had leveraged investments which were badly hit by the financial downturn.
Broughton and the rest of the board won the right to sell the club to New England Sports Ventures (NESV) – now FSG – in a High Court case against Hicks and Gillett. The current owners secured the club for a sum of £300 million – less than the asking price – thanks to Broughton’s court victory.
Almost 13 years on, he says Liverpool and United have taken an “opportunistic” approach to testing whether there is now a market. It is unclear how much FSG would sell Liverpool for, but the Glazers are understood to want upwards of £5 billion for United. “I would question whether they’ll get the kind of prices that they floated,” Broughton said after narrowly missing out in the race to buy Chelsea last year.
Broughton was many Chelsea fans’ choice as a supporter, and had backing from Lord Coe. However, he believes his plan to install himself as chairman rather than invite Bruce Buck into the role may have initially counted against him. Buck ultimately stood down as chairman in June last year but he remained a “senior adviser” as he was succeeded by Todd Boehly, who had bid successfully to buy the club from Roman Abramovich.
Broughton has doubts that United and Liverpool are attracting the same types of interest as Chelsea did last year. So far only Jim Ratcliffe, another failed Chelsea bidder, has gone public with attempts to buy United, although there is known to be interest in the United States and the Middle East ahead of formal bids next week.
“With Chelsea – and I think Arsenal and Tottenham would fall into the same category – the people we spoke to tended to be overseas billionaires who had a pad in London and the pad in London was in Knightsbridge or Kensington, Chelsea or something,” Broughton said. “So when they came to London, they went to Chelsea. They were football fans, and they were Chelsea fans ... they’re not going to be bidders for Liverpool or Manchester United because they’ve got a pad in London and they’re not planning to move their pad to Manchester or Liverpool. So it’s a different type of buyer to the ones that we were looking for with our consortium.”
The sales of United and Liverpool offer dramatically contrasting legacies, Broughton said. “I personally think John Henry and Tom Werner are not just very good owners, but keen to have a good legacy and want to make sure that we’re passing it to good owners.
“In a sense, they had the benefit of taking over from people that the fans hated. So they had everything in their favour as long as they did what they said they were going to do, which they did. They had the following wind. They’re a difficult act to follow. To be a better owner than Fenway is quite difficult.
“At United, it’s more like the old Liverpool situation. Fans will be so pleased. Whoever buys it will have the following wind.”