Back in December of 2015, Manchester City announced that CFC, a Chinese group had purchased a 13% stake in MCFC for £265m. This marked the point at which Manchester City had truly become a rival to Manchester United in financial terms. How is this relevant to Liverpool? We need only cast our minds back to the end of the 1980s, where following two decades of domestic domination and European success, Liverpool’s owners and the board decided against investing heavily in the commercial side of the club, as Manchester United were doing at that time. In the process of investing in the “MUFC” brand, Manchester United established links around the globe, and made the “MUFC” project a more attractive prospect – setting them up to be an established club for years to come, with revenue streams that still are by far the most impressive in the Premier League – with the resources to cope with a few poor seasons. Liverpool actually took a rather introverted approach – focussing on the ‘family’ aspect of the club, which whilst admirable, has cost the club in the long run, with the club failing to win a single league title since the 1989/90 season.
Now, returning to the apparent interest of China Everbright in LFC, this could well be an opportunity too great to miss. Liverpool have a huge fanbase across the world and various sponsors that stretch from the USA to Indonesia, but in recent years the financial power and lure of LFC has come into question, but more importantly so has the respect for the club too. Far too often have players, approached by LFC, decided against joining. Now whilst this could be due to a wage package lower than the player was expecting, or a belief that the player could not win titles with LFC, or even that there was a ‘more exciting’ prospect elsewhere – this is an indictment of Liverpool Football Club, and the owners should look to avoid any more instances like this again, and investment from a group such as China Everbright could go some way to fixing this issue of both respect and financial power – so that LFC could compete with clubs such as Manchester United and Manchester City in multiple aspects.
Having American owners has brought some immediate benefits to the club which are clearly visible – tours to the United States, deals with groups such as Dunkin’ Donuts and kit deals with Warrior and New Balance – with more expected in the future; however, focussing on just the American and British markets would be foolish in a financial sense, as the American market is split already with the NBA and NFL dominating American sport coverage, and with almost all football fans in the UK with their own club affiliation. China presents a unique opportunity to make links, increase revenue and grow the club and the LFC brand – so that in the long-term the club can cope with tough seasons, as Manchester United just have, and consistently compete at the top.
What would a group such as China Everbright bring to the club though?
This is not merely about financial muscle in the transfer window or the monetary value of the club, investment into LFC from wealthy foreign backers would go a long way to renewing trust in the Liverpool FC project – of which Jürgen Klopp is the figurehead. This would be the a major step in building a strong future for LFC, and definitively securing its place as a top team in both English and European football. The investment could be used to upgrade Anfield once again, or the training facilities, or the global appeal of the club – eventually leading to new sponsorship deals, more funds available for the manager, and on-field success to follow that up. The investment itself would drive up the value of the club, making it a more attractive prospect for investors – which, as mentioned above may lead to better facilities and resources – this could range from scouting, to lower ticket prices, to even more funding for wages to keep Liverpool’s best players, or perhaps to redeveloping Melwood – the investment would also allow Liverpool to keep pace with high spending rivals, and perhaps even catch up to them.
Investment from a group such as China Everbright would grant LFC direct access into one of the largest markets in the world, perhaps the most profitable one too; but as the Chinese market is thus far an untapped resource, we do not know yet of the potential yields a venture there could produce. This would also represent an opportunity to break into the Far East definitively – the Garuda Indonesia deal has gone some way to establish links, but the Far East still needs more attention from FSG for it to become a worthwhile investment – and capitalise on a market not yet monopolised by Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United.
Now even if the owners are not looking to sell the club, or if there is not a concrete deal on the table for a minority stake in Liverpool – FSG should look to attract Chinese investors, and take advantage of this rush for English clubs, as speed is paramount in opportunities like this – which do not come often. Otherwise Liverpool could end up permanently struggling in the long-term to keep pace with the top clubs in the UK, let alone Europe. Now whilst Liverpool may have missed the proverbial bus in not investing in the commercial side of the club back in the 1990s, the new Chinese market presents an opportunity to actually get ahead of the game, and if LFC and the FSG decide against making links in the Chinese market, it could well be a decision they will rue – with rival clubs sure to take advantage of such a large opportunity.
I end with a rather apt ancient Chinese proverb:
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”