Liverpool will be among the clubs targeted by would-be owners and investors from North America and the Middle East due to potential major changes to the European game in the coming years, according to one of the figures who played a role in the creation of the Premier League in 1992.
Reds owners Fenway Sports Group have been willing to listen to expressions of interest in a full takeover of their shareholding in the club, engaging major US investment banks Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs to help aid the process, although it is understood that a partial sale to a “strategic partner” remains the preference, especially of principal owner John W. Henry and some key partners.
But their willingness to listen to offers over and above their $4bn (£3.3bn) valuation did kick start movement on the ownership front at other clubs, with the Glazer family at Manchester United more active in their desire to exit Old Trafford and close on a sale. Paris Saint-Germain have also sought to sell a 15 per cent stake in the club to raise some capital for a new stadium, while the French outfit’s owners, Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), have been linked with interest in acquiring a minority stake in Tottenham Hotspur.
Valuations of Premier League clubs have risen exponentially over the past decade, with FSG’s own purchase of Liverpool now worth some £3bn more than they acquired it for. Booming media rights and the increased globalisation of the game have helped, and while there are some signs that valuations are slowing down from their steep incline, the industry view is that there is still plenty of runway left for further monetisation and investment return, with the rise of streaming likely to impact traditional broadcasting deals over the next decade or so, when clubs may be able to offer more direct-to-consumer content.
It is the view that the ‘bubble’, which has long been suggested would burst, still has room to grow that will be attractive to both US investors and those in the Middle East, with the latter suggested by Jon Smith, one of English football’s first ‘super agents’ and the current executive chairman of Sport Media Ventures Ltd, as potentially driving another Super League plan in the future.
Speaking in his column for CaughtOffside.com, Smith said: “Looking around, there is still a swirl of ownership changes. There’s a lot of American money floating around.
“There’s going to be a lot more movement because I can see some interesting patterns forming. The fact Gianni Infantino has now lived in Qatar for six months and considering how successful their World Cup was this winter, I can’t see Qatar not funding expansion into global football. How that may look, I’m not sure, but they could obviously help FIFA with their plans to extend the Club World Cup because that would slightly marginalise Aleksander Ceferin and his plans to expand the Champions League.
“Beyond that, there’s a swirl of Middle Eastern money, along with American money, that is being lined up to globalise sport and football is at the very top of that list. I think at the very top, fans could see another Super League breakaway attempt, potentially funded by those in the Middle East, as opposed to the previous attempt that was backed by JP Morgan.
“There is definitely going to be some big global movements, which is one of the reasons why I think American investors will be looking to position themselves at some of the biggest clubs, Man United included. Their potential sale is still in the works. There’s a lot of American interest, but when it comes to valuation – I’d be very surprised if the eventual price didn’t begin with a number five.”
While there has been much reported interest in Liverpool, with names such as multi-billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Steve Ballmer linked along the way, the ECHO has been told by well-placed sources in the US that there has been no “real interest” to this point and that little has materially changed since it was first revealed by The Athletic at the start of November that FSG would be open to selling the club.
The stance in Boston is understood to be one of little urgency over an sale or investment, the focus predominantly being one of finding the right kind of partner that could provide the strategic capital that FSG are seeking for a minority stake, and also be able to bring expertise to the table to aid growth, potentially accreting a minority stake into a controlling one over time. Such a move would remove risk for FSG, provide them with a clear exit strategy, inject capital and avoid them leaving money on the table with an early sale at a time when valuations continue to grow and changes may be afoot to increase the amount of revenue that clubs of Liverpool’s size and stature may be able to generate.