Prior to acquiring Liverpool in 2010, Fenway Sports Group had been on the hunt for more sporting additions to their empire.
FSG, then known as New England Sports Ventures, had already delivered success with the Boston Red Sox baseball team that they had owned since 2002, ending an 86-year wait for a World Series title. The first arrived in 2004, and another came along in 2007 as John Henry and Tom Werner changed the fortunes of a storied organization that had been forced to live in the past.
In 2022 the focus for FSG’s next power play is to acquire an NBA franchise, and there is potential that an expansion team in either Las Vegas or Seattle could be that route into the world’s biggest basketball league, something that FSG partner and basketball icon LeBron James will likely front. Twelve years ago the same thoughts were in the mind of Henry and Werner as they sought to grow their empire, but a deal never materialized.
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They would soon buy Liverpool, though, and according to The Athletic, FSG’s path to ending the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett may have been aided by the presence of an ardent Reds fan among their staff in Boston.
FSG were on the lookout for new opportunities already, and the Premier League was fertile ground with its booming media rights deal and global appeal, not to mention the valuations of clubs then being far lower than it would have cost to gain entry into a major market in the US such as the NFL. And, for a company that likes to grow value, there was plenty of scope that existed within Liverpool, as evidenced by the £ 300m sum paid for the club turning into a £ 3bn valuation in just 12 years – a valuation that now stands above the Red Sox, who had been the cornerstone of FSG’s operations.
According to The Athletic, Joe Januzewski, a member of the Red Sox’s corporate partnerships team, was a huge Reds supporter and had made that known to the hierarchy at Fenway Park.
Liverpool at the time were facing a financial crisis that threatened to plunge them into administration as Hicks and Gillett’s reign unfolded and the club sailed perilously close to the financial abyss. The state of the Reds and the potential for a deal to be struck was already sowed in the mind of FSG, well aware of the place of the club among the iconic sporting teams, not to mention the historical connections that bound Boston and Liverpool through their positioning as maritime cities and strong Irish Catholic ties.
Januzewski received a call one evening in August 2010 from Larry Lucchino, then president of the Red Sox. Lucchino, a long-time trusted FSG ally of Henry and Werner, was sitting with the duo in a Toronto stadium as the Red Sox took on the Blue Jays.
“(Be) brief but tell them what’s going on at Liverpool and why it’s a good opportunity,” Lucchino told him, according to the report. The phone call then turned into an email.
“(He) sent an email to a bunch of us saying, ‘save my club’,” current Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy said.
“He’d clipped an article from the Sports Business Journal that said Liverpool Football Club is potentially headed into bankruptcy and they might have to sell the team. That was in August of 2010, and by October we owned it.”
Since then the Reds have won the Premier League, the Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and two League Cups and remain on course this season for an unprecedented quadruple, taking a step closer to the semi-finals of the Champions League with a 3 -1 first leg away victory against Benfica on Tuesday night, with a potentially title-defining clash with Manchester City to come this weekend.
It was a deal that may already had been targeted, but one that may have been given a helping hand.