The newest undertaking for the ownership group of the Boston Red Sox is an international one.
New England Sports Ventures (NESV) officially purchased the Liverpool Football Club — one of the most tradition-laden teams in the English Premier League — for a reported $480 million Friday, October 15. NESV, led by Red Sox principal owner John Henry, bought the storied soccer team following a contentious court battle with former Liverpool owner Tom Hicks.
The purchase of Liverpool wipes away its debt with the Royal Bank of Scotland, which had been estimated at $377 million, and gives it the fresh start it could never get under Hicks, whose leverage-fueled empire has crumbled over the last two years. Hicks, who bought Liverpool along with George Gillett in 2007, declared bankruptcy earlier this year and was forced to sell the Texas Rangers, who have reached the American League Championship Series under a new ownership group headed by former Rangers pitcher and Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan.
Liverpool joins NESV’s stable of sports entities that includes the Salem Avalanche minor league baseball team and the NASCAR team Roush Racing in addition, of course, to Fenway Park and the Red Sox, each of which Henry bought in December 2001. NESV also oversees sponsorship sales for the Boston College athletic program, the Deutsche Bank stop on the PGA Tour and Professional Bull Riders.
There are some remarkable similarities between the purchases of the Red Sox and Liverpool. Like the Red Sox at the turn of the century, Liverpool is a tradition-rich franchise that has fallen on hard times: Though it has earned 18 championships, tied for most all-time, it hasn’t won it all since 1990 and was 18th in the 20-team league at the time of the ownership change. Continued struggles by Liverpool would put it in danger of being “relegated” to a lower division.
Like he did with the Red Sox, Henry is asking Liverpool fans to be patient as he finds the right people to build up the team and its brand and turn it into a regular championship contender. “We are committed first and foremost to winning,” Henry told reporters after the sale was completed. “We have a history of winning, and today we want LFC supporters to know that this approach is what we intend to bring to this great club.”
Under general manager Theo Epstein, the Red Sox rebuilt their farm system, won their first World Series in 86 years in 2004 and won it again in 2007. The Red Sox have never won fewer than 86 games since Henry bought the team and have reached the playoffs in six out of nine seasons. They have also played to 631 straight sellouts at Fenway Park, the longest streak in Major League Baseball history and the second-longest run in the history of the four major American sports. In addition, the team has a lucrative secondary ticketing deal with Boston-based Ace Ticket.
And like the Red Sox transaction, the purchase of Liverpool was not without controversy. Hicks, who had filed a temporary restraining order prohibiting the sale of the team, said Liverpool was worth $1 billion and declared the sale an “extraordinary swindle.” He also said it was a conspiracy perpetuated by the Royal Bank of Scotland and independent directors selected by the Bank after Hicks defaulted on his loan payments last spring.
In 2001, the Yawkey Trust — which was overseeing the sale of the Red Sox — accepted Henry’s bid of $700 million even though two other men, Miles Prentice and Charles Dolan, made bigger offers.