Lebron James Takes His Talents to Anfield; Promoting Liverpool to the Far East as Minority Owner

Photo by Keith Allison

America’s most renowned, and often vilified, National Basketball Association (NBA) star is coming to Anfield – as a minority owner. In a first-of-its-kind sports marketing deal, Fenway Sports Management (formerly New England Sports Ventures), the American owners of Liverpool Football Club, announced yesterday that they have sold a minority share in the Reds to Lebron James. In exchange for the ownership stake, FSM – led by John Henry and Tom Werner – will become the exclusive representative for James. FSM will also receive commission on promotional deals they secure for James globally. Other financial details, such as what share in Liverpool FC James received were not disclosed. FSM purchased Liverpool for $488 million last October.

The deal marks the first time an American sports star has taken an ownership share in another sports franchise while still actively playing. However, it brings comparisons to the deal Major League Soccer put in place for David Beckham in coming to America, which guaranteed him future ownership in an MLS franchise. The two parties believe the deal will be mutually beneficial, opening up new revenue opportunities across the globe – specifically in Asia – with FSM’s business savvy, Liverpool’s global reach and James’ star power. Last summers NBA free agent bidding for James in the United States made headlines from Hong Kong to Beijing, where he has been adored and closely followed since the 2008 summer Olympics.

It is the latest in a string of moves by FSM at Liverpool FC. Since last October they have brought in Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish as Manager, Damien Comolli as Director of Football and Ian Ayre as Managing Director. Like James, Ayre and Comolli both have a history and vested interest in Asia, albeit with vastly different results to date. Ayre successfully negotiated a £80 million kit sponsorship deal with Hong Kong-based Standard Chartered Bank as Liverpool’s commercial director and formerly served as COO of Total Sports Asia. Comolli has been encouraged by its current kit sponsor to bring on Asian players and was previously responsible for signing Japanese midfielder Daisuke Matsui during his time at St Etienne and South Korean full-back Young-Pyo Lee while at Tottenham. Both transfers have been widely considered major busts.

As a minority owner of the club, James will not have authoritative power over football decisions, but he will play a major role in marketing the club in Asia and beyond. Henry and Werner plan to continue Liverpool’s hefty marketing efforts in Asia this summer, announcing today that the Reds will be traveling to there this summer for a pre-season tour. The tour, sponsored by Standard Chartered, will include games in China, Malaysia and Korea. James and his business partner Maverick Carter are hungry to grow James’ brand in Asia and other emerging markets, and believe their best bet at growing that brand is on the coattails of Henry, Werner and Liverpool.

So what does this all mean for Liverpool on the field? Globally, they’re likely to see more bandwagon fans in the short term. While this may seem like a negative thing to the most avid Liverpool supporter – who has dedicated their life to following the ups and downs at Anfield – it means more revenue for the club in the long term. With more revenue comes more wage allocation and ultimately quality signings – with a few of them likely coming in Asia.

Follow Kyle Austin’s updates on the business side of football and soccer at http://socceronomist.com and @Coach_Austin

18 thoughts on “Lebron James Takes His Talents to Anfield; Promoting Liverpool to the Far East as Minority Owner”

  1. Someone should probably clarify for Queen James that his stake in the Liverpool Football Club is infact a soccer team and not an American football team. Poor guy is going to be so confused.

    1. i think he meant a major sports team/brand. he also mentioned an american sports star, where as steve nash is canadian.

  2. WTF? How big is the stake and how much does this guy make? i can’t see his marketing ability being worth that much. Can someone explain how this is going to work?, i hardly know who this guy is, i’ve heard the name but that is about it. How is this guy going too make a splash outside of America, i didn’t think basketball was that big in Asia.

    1. Basketball is HUGE in China. In fact ,it is at least as popular as football in the country, and they recieve NBA telecasts regularly.

  3. I don’t know, I’m not a liverpool fan but i can’t see this going down well, could be the first big mistake these new owners have made. If this goes slightly wrong the scousers will be screaming for blood.

    the rags are already on to ithttp://www.newsoftheworld.co.uk/notw/nol_sport/1262361/Chris-Bascombe-on-LeBron-James-buying-into-Liverpool.html

  4. If nothing else, liverpool players will learn the finer art of faking an elbow injury when they lose an important match, and colluding with other players to join a rival club. It’s a win-win for them.

  5. Author better recognize that I’m the most renowned current NBA star – and I’ve got 5 rings to Lebron’s 0 to prove it.

  6. You’re right on Steve Nash and Vancouver. Should have clarified that he’s the first to actively own a minority share in global franchise with the reach of Liverpool.

  7. I loathe LeBron James. Such an overhyped, over marketed, assclown. I can barely watch anything on ESPN because no matter what sport they talk about, it circles back to LeBron.

    “And here we are at the women’s Final Four basketball championships. Hey Vince did you know that LeBron James never had the opportunity to date a college basketball player?”

    “No, Vern I had no idea. Well this should make for an exciting game tonight.”

    I hate the guy and now when I watch the Reds, I’m going to have to hear about him. The only person more annoying would be Bret Favre.

    I hate this move, I hate it.

  8. Liverpool are owned by a group of millionaires, who invested their money, allowing Werner and Henry to run the business. One of the stake holders wants to buy Roma. UEFA would not allow the same person to have ownership of two different teams that could play each other. LeBron is replacing that guy. That is the actual story, but is is being missed amongst all the media hype.

  9. dominjon is right that LeBron James has bought the shares of the guy who wants to buy Roma. UEFA won’t allow anyone to own major shares in 2 clubs.

    The problem I have with James ownership is that as a businessman he will be looking to making a profit on his investment and we know all to well that that usually doesn’t happen, at least not in the short term. What will he do if the club isn’t making money? I can see this thing ending badly for Liverpool.

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