The board of directors of Liverpool FC have agreed to sell the club to New England Sports Ventures, the ownership group of Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox, it was confirmed today. Over the objections and last minute machinations of current owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Liverpool's board was able to retain the votes to approve the sale.
Those machinations include a late Tuesday attempt to replace board members with people favorable to keeping the club in Hicks and Gillet's hands. According to reports, the duo attempted to have board members Christian Purslow and Ian Ayre replaced with Hicks' son Mack and Hicks' associate, Lori Kay McCutcheon.
Though Hicks and Gillett's withholding of approval means perfunctory legal proceedings may be required, New England Sport Ventures could be in control of the club by the end of the week, a delay which did not prevent club chairman Martin Broughton from taking to the club's website to express his pleasure.
"I am delighted that we have been able to successfully conclude the sale process which has been thorough and extensive. The Board decided to accept NESV's proposal on the basis that it best met the criteria we set out originally for a suitable new owner. NESV's philosophy is all about winning and they have fully demonstrated that at Red Sox.
"We've met them in Boston, London and Liverpool over several weeks and I am immensely impressed with what they have achieved and with their vision for Liverpool Football Club.
"By removing the burden of acquisition debt, this offer allows us to focus on investment in the team. I am only disappointed that the owners have tried everything to prevent the deal from happening and that we need to go through legal proceedings in order to complete the sale."
On October 15, the club faces a deadline to repay £282 million in loans due the Royal Bank of Scotland and Wachovia Bank. That deadline created pressure on Hicks and Gillett to sell the team, and with Broughton's April appointment having relegated the duo to a minority vote on the board of directors, the club was able to confirm the sale without the approval of their previous American benefactors.
According to Broughton, the ultimate price for the club was £300 million, with £200 million going to underwrite preexisting debts.
Tom Hicks heads a group that owns the National Hockey League's Dallas Stars and previously owners Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers before that club ended up filing for bankruptcy. Gillett is the former owner of the National Hockey League's Montreal Canadiens.
Both owners have been vilified by Liverpool fans since their arrival at Anfield. Initially, that ire resulted from the duo's inability to follow through on promises to produce a stadium to replace Anfield Park. Concern grew as ownership was unable to significantly pay down the debt on which the club was bought, with perception holding servicing that debt was constraining the club's ability to procure talent.
Of late, the club's performance on the pitch has been of greater concern, with Liverpool falling to seventh last season amidst speculation then-manager Rafa Benitez lacked the resources required to maintain the club's standing. Benitez has since moved to Italy's Internzaionale while current manager Roy Hodgson has the club in 18th place.
Much of the criticism toward Hicks and Gillett has been loosely cloaked in the term "American owners." Whether that's served as a convenient shorthand or an indication of a deeper resentment will be tested with the sale to a new set of Americans, an ownership group which come to Liverpool with an impressive record of revitalizing fledgling icons.
New England Sport Ventures brought the Boston Red Sox, one of Major League Baseball's cornerstone franchises, back to competitive prominence winning two league titles since they took-over. However, the group headed by John Henry and Tom Warner may fall under relatively close scrutiny as they follow the failures of their countrymen.
While the importing of another set of American owners may lead to caution, the benefits of seeing "the backs" of Hicks and Gillett are likely to outweigh the detriments of any short-term trepidation:
Meanwhile the Liverpool Spirit of Shankly supporters group, which has led protests against the current owners, reacted with "cautious optimism" to news of a possible deal.
"I think there is cautious optimism and hopefully the football club will finally get rid of Hicks and Gillett," the spokesman said.
"After three troublesome years supporters will want to see the back of them quickly."