Liverpool FC, one of soccer’s biggest brands, is for sale

The American owners of Liverpool FC, one of soccer’s most storied teams, have hired Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to explore a sale of the club, a six-time European champion, according to two people with direct knowledge of the team’s plans.

The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the potential sale.

Word that Liverpool’s owners are mulling a potential sale comes only months after a group led by the California-based investment fund Clearlake paid a record $3 billion for Liverpool’s Premier League rival Chelsea. That deal was forced after Britain’s government slapped Chelsea’s former Russian billionaire owner with sanctions, but the sale price was high enough that it may have reset the market for the world’s biggest soccer teams.

Fenway Sports Group, which also owns the Boston Red Sox, the anchor of its portfolio of sports holdings, resurrected Liverpool into a dominant force after acquiring the team following a forced sale in 2010 by its lenders as Liverpool teetered on the brink of bankruptcy.

That 300 million pounds price tag (roughly $400 million given exchange rates at the time) was described by its previous owners as an “epic swindle” that year. It now looks like a steal in the other direction, with the club’s valuation soaring on the back of significant increases in broadcast and sponsorship income as Liverpool returned to the summit of domestic and international soccer.

In 2019, under the guidance of its inspirational German coach, Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool added its sixth European Cup, before adding its first Premier League title a year later. That was a trophy its fans craved more than any other, as it came 30 years after the last of its previous 18 English league championships.

Last season it fell just short of winning both when it lost the Premier League to Manchester City by 1 point and was defeated by Real Madrid in the final of the Champions League.

Liverpool FC Liverpool FC players in action. (Twitter/@Darwinn99)

FSG, led by financier John Henry, has been exploring selling strategic stakes in Liverpool for much of the past half decade. Last year Redbird, a private equity company with stakes in several other sports teams, secured an 11% share of FSG for $735 million. At the time, the owners talked about looking to secure further growth opportunities without putting its most valuable asset up for sale.

News of the potential sale was first reported by The Athletic, a New York Times company. Liverpool’s response later Monday only fueled more speculation about the ownership’s intentions.

“There have been a number of recent changes of ownership and rumors of changes in ownership at EPL clubs and inevitably we are asked regularly about Fenway Sports Group’s ownership in Liverpool,” the club said a statement. “FSG has frequently received expressions of interest from third parties seeking to become shareholders in Liverpool.”

“FSG has said before that under the right terms and conditions we would consider new shareholders if it was in the best interests of Liverpool as a club. FSG remains fully committed to the success of Liverpool, both on and off the pitch.”

Forbes values Liverpool at $4.45 billion, about 10 times what FSG paid.

The Boston-based group has also invested in the team’s infrastructure, revamping its historic Anfield stadium with two new stands and also built a new practice facility.

But there has been growing concern privately among the ownership about whether the team can continue competing at the top of the league and in European competition against teams owned by Gulf states. Manchester City, which has been the dominant English team for much of the past decade, is owned by the brother of the ruler of the United Arab Emirates, and recently Newcastle was purchased by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund. Qatar has powered Paris St.-Germain’s rise to superiority in France.

City’s spending has been particularly hard to match, with Liverpool among a group of Premier League clubs frustrated at the pace of an ongoing investigation into allegations City breached the league’s financial rules to fuel its success.

Should a sale go through, Liverpool would yield an enormous profit for FSG, which has invested relatively little into the club compared to its biggest Premier League rivals in the decade it has owned the team. Sound management, smart appointments and success in the often fickle player trading market have instead allowed the team to compete atop English and European soccer.

Since hiring Klopp, the team has managed to compete with City by improving its roster largely through money raised by selling other players, a process that has not been universally popular, with some fans believing the ownership’s prudence has stunted prospects for sustained success.

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