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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 February 2007, 14:44 GMT
US business duo at Liverpool helm
By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

George Gillett (left) and Tom Hicks after taking over at Anfield
The pair have promised to pump in new cash on and off the field

After seeking a suitor for more than three years, the board of Liverpool FC has finally secured the deal it believes will allow the club to compete financially with the richest football names at home and abroad.

George Gillett Jnr and Tom Hicks have had their 218.9m offer accepted, and promise much-needed investment for the Anfield club enabling it to move to "the next level" that chief executive Rick Parry wants to reach on and off the field.

The two will split the cost of injecting "fresh money" into Liverpool, paying 5,000 per share, or 174.1m for the total shareholding in the club, and 44.8m to cover the club's debts.

They have also said they will provide capital for a new stadium, with work due to start on that within the next 60 days.

"How we intend to finance the stadium, frankly it's too early [to say]," said Mr Gillett.

The new 61,000 seat stadium at nearby Stanley Park will enable Liverpool to grow match-day revenues through increased capacity - and will also provide extra transfer funds for manager Rafa Benitez.

"They understand the importance of investing on and off the field," Mr Parry, who will stay on as chief executive, said at a media conference at Anfield.

'Hard-nosed'

The deal comes three years after George Gillett - who called it a "complicated transaction" - started taking advice in London on the UK soccer industry, and potential takeover opportunities.

GEORGE GILLETT JNR
Fortune estimated at $860m
Owns sports franchises and meat production firms
His firms sought Chapter 11 protection in 1992
Owns ice-hockey team Montreal Canadiens

Tom Hicks is one of the founding fathers of the leveraged buy-out in the USA.

"These are hard-nosed businessmen," says Harry Philp, an analyst at Hermes Sports Partners, which advises clubs and businesses on football finance issues.

He said they would do what the Glazers have done at Manchester United - greater tiering of ticket prices, and sponsorship deals renegotiated.

He said eventually the takeover would more closely match the takeover by the Glazer family at Old Trafford than the free-spending Roman Abramovich ownership of Chelsea.

However Mr Gillett said: "We have purchased the club with no debt on the club."

He also said that if selling naming right to the Anfield stadium would provide one new world class player they would "look at that as an option".

Mr Gillett - who at one stage referred to the club as a "franchise" - said that Rick Parry would be visiting the US next week, after which a closer look would be taken at future financing ideas.

The US duo will be co-chairmen and they will each have a son on the board.

'Alarm bells'

In many ways Liverpool have been left with no option but to go along with the US proposal, after Dubai International Capital (DIC) withdrew their interest after the club requested more time to talk to Mr Gillett and Mr Hicks.

Mr Parry said the addition of Mr Hicks to the Gillett team had "changed the complexion" of the US bid.

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard (r) and Peter Crouch
Cash will be made available to bring in new players

US commentators have said that Gillett, who owns the NHL's Montreal Canadiens, and Hicks, owner of the NHL's Dallas Stars and the Texas Rangers, are not slow to provide funding for their Stateside sports teams.

However, critics among Liverpool supporters point out that the duo's teams have not been greatly successful on the field of play.

And fans may not take too kindly to any debt being placed onto the club - as the Glazers did at Manchester United - as part of the final cost of stadium construction.

"Arsenal have done it to finance their new stadium and they are doing fine, and Manchester United have done it without any major problems, says Mr Philp.

"In fact it is sort of sound corporate wisdom, but to fans it rings alarm bells."

Many are just relieved the takeover appears to have been completed, after a series of stalled talks with a number of suitors around the world.

TV money

UNSUCCESSFUL SUITORS OF LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB
Ex-Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra
Building magnate Steve Morgan
Hollywood producer Mike Jefferies
US billionaire Robert Kraft
Dubai International Capital

Stephen Kelly, author of several books on Liverpool FC and a close Anfield watcher, said he was glad that a deal now seemed to have been agreed.

"It is inevitable that in today's football world that a foreign investor could come in and buy," he said.

"On the field of play I would hope there is cash available for players to take Liverpool to the level of Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea."

The move comes in an era of foreign takeovers at Premier League clubs, partially enticed by a new lucrative TV deal for the top league.

The TV deal for 2007-10 will see a 65% increase in Premiership TV money for every top flight club, according to Barclays Capital.

George Gillett, owner of the Montreal Canadiens
Mr Gillett has been looking to invest in British soccer for three years

As well as TV money, the other major growth in income for Premier League clubs in recent years has come from increased gate money.

Manchester United's Old Trafford Stadium can hold 76,000 fans and has a vast corporate hospitality operation.

Liverpool makes an estimated 2m less from every home game than United because of its smaller, 45,000 capacity, stadium.

'Step forward'

United's consistent financial success off the pitch was one of the factors which attracted the Glazers, and even the most die-hard Liverpudlian could not say the same of Liverpool's marketing efforts.

Liverpool football writer Stephen Kelly says: "Hopefully they will bring an even greater professionalism and commercialism to the club. It will mean more revenues coming in from a new stadium.

"I also believe it will mean a step forward in merchandising, as Liverpool has tended to seem very much the village shop compared to the supermarket of Manchester United."

For now, former owner and fan David Moores will be glad to cash in his majority stake, and chief executive Rick Parry will be relieved his globe-trotting finally appears to have come to fruition.




SEE ALSO
Lawro & Hansen on takeover deal
06 Feb 07 |  Eng Prem
Anfield of dreams
02 Feb 07 |  Liverpool
Liverpool takeover: fans' reaction
06 Feb 07 |  Football
US pair agree Liverpool takeover
06 Feb 07 |  Liverpool
Football takeover trends
06 Feb 07 |  Eng Prem

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