Liverpool supporters want to buy…Liverpool

Liverpool FC

[Updates: scroll down for live updates and the Share Liverpool FC FAQ.]

100,000 fans buying a membership share at £5,000 each. That’s what it’ll take — at a minimum — for Liverpool fans to raise the money needed to buy back control of their own destiny (presuming they can convince Tom Hicks and George Gillett to sell, that is).

The people behind this audacious effort, the Share Liverpool FC Group, are serious and knowledgeable: they include Rogan Taylor, an academic at the University of Liverpool who heads the Football Industries Group and is Chairman of the Football Supporters’ Association, and Phil French, a former director of communications at the Premier League and now chief executive officer of Supporters Direct.

Taylor explained why the group had finally made their move — many have been wondering when a supporters’ group would “step up” and attempt to assert their voice at Anfield.

“The time is right to offer a different solution to the rising concerns that football fans have about the patterns of ownership developing at our major football clubs.

“Thousands of Liverpool fans have already demonstrated their dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. Large amounts of debt often devolves onto clubs newly purchased, but the fans know that in the end, it will be they themselves who will have to pay it off through increased ticket prices and other schemes.

“So why not simply buy the club yourselves?

“I thought about approaching David Moores about this plan about two years ago, but then everybody was sitting on the fence about buying the club. But the timing has got to be right – and now people are angry enough about what’s been happening to their club to make things work.”

It’s something of a shame this wasn’t attempted earlier, as the amount of money now needed to buy a top club makes this is a very challenging scheme. Member clubs that work at the highest level, such as Barcelona, were obviously formed when the investment didn’t take a large chunk of your mortgage to buy your share.

Can they pull it off now, then? What do you think of the idea?

Updates: More details, including a Share Liverpool FC website, are expected to be unveiled today at a press conference and at www.shareliverpoolfc.com (it will go live at 5pm GMT). We will add links as they appear. The Liverpool Echo is probably also a good place to check for updates.

Reaction: Bloomberg notes that a previous effort at Manchester United failed: “A similar share-purchase plan by Manchester United fans failed to prevent the 790 million-pound takeover of the club by U.S. billionaire Malcolm Glazer in 2005, even after Nomura Holdings Inc., Japan’s largest securities firm, offered Shareholders United a 100 million-pound loan.”

Who Ate All The Pies thinks Liverpool fans are “having a laugh” and that “this is communism at its most hare-brained.” Quite how raising a half a billion dollars in capital has anything to do with communism, I’m not sure.

Anfield Road says that “Early responses to the idea from supporters have been unsurprisingly very positive.” Management Today concurs that this is a sensible idea.

Similary, The Social Business says “Share Liverpool FC could offer us a real chance to put ownership of football clubs back into the hands of fans – and for football to be run once again for the social benefit of the many, not the financial gain of the few.”

And Reuters Soccer Blog thinks an idea that old socialist Bill Shankly would approve of — maybe it is communism, after all.

My view? Having considered it overnight, at the very least I hope this gets off the ground. Barcelona and Real Madrid are run this way; sure, it hasn’t always been peaches and cream there, if you look at the debt problems they’ve gotten into in the past. The fans-members appointing the president can lead to rather rash promises to appease the supporters. But at the end of the day, they aren’t at risk of being bought out and transformed into a money-making machine for the profit of owners who have no connection to the club. We’ve argued here before about why leveraged buy-outs are bad for football, and it’s good to see some resistance from the Liverpool fans.

It could also be a good lesson for fans of less expensive clubs that are in danger of being taken over.

Keep your thoughts coming, and post any relevant links in the comments (occasionally these might get stuck in the spam filter, but I’ll approve them quickly).

Update 2: The Share Liverpool FC has crashed under the strain, so I’m going to paste their full FAQ here for now:

 

Isn’t this a pipe dream? You’ve no chance have you?

It’s no pipe dream; its do-able. Liverpool Football Club has millions of fans across the world. Most of them will have been worrying about what has been happening to our Club lately. And they’ll be realising that life as a Liverpool fan could get much more expensive.

There may be no plans yet, but ticket prices may have to be steeply hiked in years to come to help repay debts. We’ve seen what’s happened already to season ticket holders at Man Utd. You have to commit IN ADVANCE to buy all home Cup games – without even knowing how many games that will be! It includes all League cup; FA and Champs League home games…. Say ten in total on average. That’s an extra £400 – £500 to add to the price of your season ticket at Old Trafford.

What will happen at Liverpool FC when the debts bite (and we have seen more and more debt secured on the Club’s equity)? There is around £180m of debt secured in Kop Holdings Ltd. and no answer to the question: Who will repay it when it falls due in a few years time? Our guess is that fans will bare the brunt in the end, not just in Liverpool but all round the world as the Club ‘sweats’ every asset.

So instead of us paying off the millionaire owners’ debts, why don’t we just buy it ourselves instead? Why would anyone want to pay off someone else’s debts?

Are you really going to get 100,000 people to sign up in this short a space of time?

We took nearly 50,000 fans to Istanbul – Athens too. In reality, it cost most of us between £1,000 and £2,000 to make the trip; more if we took our partners & kids along. Liverpool fans have always turned out when the Club needed them. They find the money somehow, even at short notice. And remember, there are literally millions of us round the world who really care about LFC.

Yes, but £5,000 is a lot of money. Won’t many Liverpool fans be effectively priced out of something they’d love to take part in?

Take your point. We don’t want to see any Liverpool fan excluded. We will seek to provide opportunities for groups of fans to purchase one ‘member share’ (carrying one vote) between them, providing they can nominate one individual to represent them.

Why shouldn’t I just wait and see what happens, without putting up any money?

You could miss out badly. The list will close. Also we will propose giving the first 20,000 people to respond special staus and possibly enhanced advantages for ticket purchase. Those who commit first deserve some reward for their enthusiasm.

Modern sports clubs can’t be run like this, can they?

Why not? Many people know that Barcelona and Real Madrid are owned by their fans. So are German clubs, apart from Bayer Leverkusen. In fact, teams owned by their fans like this have won the European Cup 6 times since it became the Champions League in 1992. Even in USA, the NFL Green Bay Packers are run by a not-for-profit company; they’ve won the Superbowl 3 times despite having by far the smallest population of any NFL team.

That’s fine, but in Britain, especially if you need a new stadium, you need a sugar-daddy. That’s the reality, isn’t it?

No. Look at Arsenal. They’ve no sugar-daddy. The club costed up its plans, secured loans and convinced people to lend to them at a fixed-rate. The Banks trust the club’s finances will be well-run and that fans will continue to watch the club.

If we could show how much fans of this club care, and how they’re prepared to back their faith with hard cash, then everything changes. We don’t need a sugar daddy – we ARE the sugar daddy – because most of the money comes from us in the end anyway.

How do we get investment in the future or cash to buy players?

If we have a well run, debt free Club to start with, there will be money to buy players (how much do you think is spent servicing the Club’s debts?). Also the elected Board may wish to raise money (as any business must sometimes). At Barca, very rich individuals stand for election with promises of further investment. But it doesn’t mean they ‘own’ any part of Club.

But surely this way of running things ‘mutually’ belongs to the past?

The Co-operative group, with shops, a bank, insurance and undertakers is run like this. It’s
got a turnover of £8 billion a year, and buries 1 in 4 of us! It is also the biggest farmer in the country and the biggest retail co-operative in the world. It‘s owned by over 2 million customers, all owning one share.

What if we don’t get the £500m?

Lets say we only get £100m – the equivalent of 20,000 fans signing up. At that point we would ask the 20,000 ‘members’ what they want to do. Some of us might want – as a group (Supporters’ Trust) – to buy a significant portion of the club’s shares. Certainly, at that point, any individual member who wanted the money returned would be entitled to it.

Can I sell my share later on? What if I need the money back in a rush?

The simple answer to the first question is no. There will be no ordinary‘trading’ in individual shares – no profit can be made from selling them – (otherwise the Club would be permanently ‘up for sale’ – just like Man Utd was). However, if a member can find someone who does not already own a member share, then a transfer at the original price may be arranged through the elected Board.

Nobody will be asked to part with a penny until a detailed Constitution is presented in which all necessary details are made plain.

How do we know we’ve hit the target?

We will have a partner Bank where the monies will be kept until we reach the target. We will ask the two Bishops of Liverpool to act as verifiers for us – they’ll see the bank accounts, have access to all the books and be able to speak to the bank to certify that it’s all there. We will also ask the Liverpool City Council Treasurer to act as a scrutineer.

So, if we don’t make the targets and we all take our money back, what about the interest the money has earned?

We’ll donate it to a Charity of your choice, less any deductions for verifiable expenses incurred in running the ‘Share Liverpool FC’ operation (website server charges; legal costs to draw
up a Constitution etc.).

What will we get to vote on?

Members will elect the Board of Directors for Liverpool FC, for a term to be decided by you. (Barcelona elect their President every four years.) After an Election, just like the Government, the Board will have executive control of the Club, but they may want an elected ‘Fans’ Council’ to advise them. The Board will know that – in a few years time – they will be judged on their performance by the owners – YOU.

Will we get a vote on the team or the manager?

No. The elected Board has executive responsibility for running the Club.

Will members be guaranteed a ticket if they want one?

With 100,000 members? You’re kidding!

Has anyone ever done this in UK before?

No, though there have been many formations of ‘Supporters’ Trusts’ at professional clubs in the past decade– and three Football League Clubs are run by a majority shareholder Supporters’ Trust. Liverpool would be the pioneers in completing a ‘members’ buy-out.

What we propose would probably start a ‘revolution’ in Club ownership structures in UK. But then, Liverpool fans have often been at the vanguard of changing the culture of football.

Rogan Taylor, live on BBC Radio Liverpool right now:

“Liverpool fans have got an amazing way of raising money when they need it…What you get for your 5k is ownership of Liverpool FC, no-one can ever own more of it, forever.”

“We’re simply testing the waters. We’re not asking for money right now. We’re asking for indication right now. Once we get a feeling for that, we’ll then go forward.”

“One member, one vote. You will have the right to elect the Board of Directors.”

“A debt-free club would be something we haven’t had for decades…We wouldn’t have to pay interest, that’s a pretty significant pot to start with. There is no greater gift we could give to our club.”

“I’ve had calls from all over the world, from the chairman of the Chicago branch of Liverpool FC. We will have the opportunity for group ownership, even a pub could buy a share.”

“It is do-able. There are enough of us.”

Photo credit: nomad831

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