Liverpool are ready to quit Anfield for a new stadium. But to finance the move from their historic home they will have to sell the naming rights to the ground, a move that is sure to cause upset amongst their more traditional fans.
The club’s American owners are under pressure to make a decision – and quickly, with planning rights extended only until September.
Liverpool’s owners have considered the future of the famous old ground since they took control eight months ago, and it was first thought they were leaning towards a redevelopment of Anfield, a stadium that was initially erected in 1892.
From the start, they made clear their idea that boosting Liverpool’s gate receipts through an increased capacity is central to their plans to develop the club, and return it to previous heights.
In recent weeks though, the Americans have come to realise that a significantly increased capacity is more easily realised by building a new stadium on nearby Stanley Park, despite the massive associated costs.
Previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett had promised to build a hi-tech new stadium, but when costs soared through they £400million barrier they were simply unable to keep faith with that commitment. The prohibitive cost is also a formidable barrier for new owners Fenway Sports – especially given the short-term planning deadline.
Liverpool City Council this week extended their agreements allowing a new structure to be built on Stanley Park, but only until September, and that has added increased tension to the search for funding.
The club may well upset many fans with the switch to a new ground after more than 100 years of tradition at Anfield.
And they will alarm even more by the need to sell the name of the stadium in return for the sort of revenue that will allow them to meet construction costs. But that seems the only way forward, as extensive analysis has disclosed the impracticality of re-developing Anfield.
As early as March of this year, Chief Executive Ian Ayre had admitted that while they would never rebrand the current Anfield ground, a new stadium would require the sale of naming rights.
And in the light of news yesterday of Manchester City’s deal with Etihad , the government backed Abu Dahbi airline, Liverpool know they need a similar deal to finance the stadium.
Recently, Billy Hogan, who is the managing director of the Fenway group’s commercial arm, insisted that the club would command an unprecedented figure if they sold naming rights for a new stadium. “We see Liverpool as a truly global proposition from a marketing standpoint and a naming rights partnership with Liverpool Football Club is really unlike any other thing there is out there,” he said.
“It’s something we’ve seen some interest in and we’ll continue to have those conversations.”
Hogan explained that the final decision on whether to develop Anfield or build a new ground would “rest on which opportunity allows us to keep generating revenue to compete with the rest of our competition in the Premier League”, but now it seems the new build is the most viable alternative.
The deadline imposed by the planning authorities, though, means that the club faces yet another tense deadline, as the search for funds continues.
Planning consents ran only until June 19, but have now been allowed to stand until the September deadline, with Liverpool needing a final decision before then.
Clearly, Hogan’s comments suggest talks with interested parties are well underway, but they will require a deal massively beyond the previous highest deal for a football club, struck by Arsenal for the Emirates Stadium back in 2004, when they raised £100million from the Gulf airline.
City though, will smash that record when they formally announce their agreement with Etihad, their current shirt sponsors.
They are thought to have struck a deal that will bring them £150million over the next 10 years, which will go some way to addressing their massive budget deficit, which threatens their future under UEFA’s new financial fair play rules.
Liverpool would require similar, but that would still be less than the current world record for a sports franchise, a £245m, 20-year deal agreed between Citigroup and Major League Baseball’s New York Mets, whose new stadium is called Citifield.