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Liverpool goes it alone | Why an ‘independent’ US tour offered the club more than the ICC

  • Premier League club to face Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla, and Sporting Lisbon in summer trip to States
  • Executives wanted ability to choose teams, dates and venues to help players prepare for new season
  • Champions League glory led to short-term commercial gains but club focusing on long-term growth

Liverpool FC decided to arrange its own tour of the United States this summer, rather than compete in the pre-season International Champions Cup, because the club preferred to be “independent” and have more freedom to arrange opponents, dates and venues.

The Champions League winners are playing three games on their US tour: against Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund on July 19 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana; against LaLiga’s Sevilla on July 21 at Fenway Park in Boston; and against Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon on July 24 at Yankee Stadium in New York.

Fenway Park is the home venue of the Boston Red Sox, which is also owned by Liverpool’s parent company Fenway Sports Group (FSG). Liverpool played at the historic baseball ground on previous US trips in 2012 and 2014.

Liverpool has been a regular participant in the ICC – which is run by Relevent Sports Group – having taken part in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Yet even though ICC invitees receive fees ranging from $3.425m (€3m) to $6.85m a game, and have much of their logistics, such as hotels, arranged for them, Liverpool has decided to go its own way this summer.

The Anfield club is not alone. Other leading European clubs not taking part include Barcelona, Chelsea, Manchester City, Dortmund, and Paris Saint-Germain.

Liverpool FC chief executive Peter Moore (Getty Images)

It was gaining greater freedom of choice in pre-season arrangements that ultimately swayed the decision to not take part in the ICC. “It’s about being independent,” Peter Moore, Liverpool FC’s chief executive officer, tells SportBusiness. “We felt that we could come into the United States and pick the venues that we wanted to play at rather than what a tournament wanted us to play at…and three iconic venues they are.

“Our pre-season preparations revolve around getting ready for the season and the tour is fitted into that rather than the other way around. And for us to do that, we felt we needed to be independent. That is primary reason we are doing this ourselves. We generally don’t play against smaller teams – we like to go in hard. We’re playing Borussia Dortmund, Sevilla and Sporting Lisbon – all world-class teams and Champions League teams,” Moore says.

Liverpool has utilized its FSG connections, bringing in sports marketing arm Fenway Sports Management and publicity firm Elevate Communications to help arrange and monetize the trip.

Opportunity to showcase women’s team

Liverpool has secured a deal with Turner Sports to broadcast the games in the US on TNT and streaming service Bleacher Report Live, who also have the US rights to the Champions League and Europa League. There was competition among US media networks to gain the broadcast rights to the Liverpool tour.

“There was a great deal of interest,” Moore says. “If you think during the regular season what the traditional broadcasters pay [for Premier League and Champions League media rights], so for obviously a huge discount on that you have the opportunity to broadcast Liverpool. And we think Turner and Bleacher are great platforms for our club and our brand. Bleacher Report delivers our demographic well in the US.”

Globally, the matches will be broadcast on Liverpool’s own network LFC TV, which is available online and on linear platforms such as Sky Sports in the United Kingdom.

Liverpool expects to make a profit from the trip. But Moore says the strategic focus is engaging with the club’s growing US fanbase.

“We have 49 official supporters’ clubs here, and that’s important to us,” Moore says. “Engagement guides loyalty and loyalty guides growth.”

Liverpool FC Women could play a home game at Anfield soon (Getty Images)

Many of Liverpool’s corporate sponsors – such as Standard Chartered, New Balance, and Western Union – will be activating during the trip. Joie Baby, meanwhile, is underwriting and sponsoring Liverpool FC Women’s simultaneous, and inaugural, US tour. The baby-gear brand is the principal partner of Liverpool FC Women and will gain an on-shirt position on the tail of the team’s jersey next season, with Standard Chartered moving to the front of the jersey, as with the men’s team.

The women’s team flew out with the men’s team on the same plane and will join Jürgen Klopp’s squad on every step of the trip. They are also playing games against Cleveland Ambassadors at Notre Dame University, and against New York Athletic at Boston University.

“I’m delighted and proud that our football club had the foresight to bring its women’s team on the same plane as the men’s team and treat them as one club. To have them interact here together is phenomenal,” Moore says. “Our stance on equality, diversity and inclusion is well-known, and as a result we are hammering home the message that there is no difference between the men’s and women’s teams in their pre-season preparations.”

Following the hugely successful Women’s World Cup in France this summer, it was announced that a number of FA Women’s Super League teams will play games at the venues of their men’s teams, including Manchester City WFC v Manchester United WFC on Sept. 7 at Etihad Stadium, and Tottenham Hotspur Women v Arsenal WFC on Nov. 17 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Moore says he is looking into staging a Liverpool FC Women’s game at Anfield in the near future.

“If there is a game that would warrant playing at Anfield then absolutely [we’ll do it],” Moore says. “I’ve seen some of our Premier League partners and clubs have made that statement – we’re just looking at the fixture list right now. We can do that pretty quickly should we decide that’s appropriate.”

Liverpool FC Women currently plays and trains at Prenton Park, the home ground of Tranmere Rovers, in Birkenhead, Merseyside.

Focus on long-term growth, not short-term spike

Klopp’s squad have come to the US on the back of winning the Champions League final against Tottenham Hotspur in Madrid on June 1, which has, unsurprisingly, led to significant commercial gains.

The club – which also reached the final in 2018 – received approximately $110m from Uefa in prize money and broadcast fees for winning the competition, and will earn more for participating in (and potentially winning) the Uefa Super Cup (against Chelsea in Istanbul in August) and the Fifa Club World Cup in December in Qatar.

Without giving away any figures, Moore says that merchandise sales and social-media interest all skyrocketed in the 72 hours immediately after the victory at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.

“Leading up to the final, and then the day of and the week after, there was a big spike in merchandise sales. It coincided with a kit launch prior to that, so the new kit from our new partners at New Balance sold out very quickly,” Moore says. “We saw [social media] engagement levels go through the roof for 48 to 72 hours after the game itself and that has continued as you roll into the transfer window and now here in the United States, generating content and engagement.”

The club has also announced sponsorship deals in the past fortnight with MG Motor, EA Sports, and online betting company 1xBet. This followed a training kit sponsorship with insurance company Axa in May.

While Moore naturally welcomes the commercial uplift that comes from on-field success, he is focusing on ensuring that the club’s revenues are not dependent on trophies.

“We’re a club with a 127-year history and a history of winning over the decades and from that perspective it’s very difficult to put a price on [winning the Champions League],” Moore says. “We have LTV – long-term value – and that is something we treasure as it’s sustainable and it’s more than just one particular event or one particular product. We are ultimately a massive global brand and every time you win a piece of silverware certainly of the magnitude of the Champions League that adds to your reputation and adds to your brand.”

Moore insists the most recent sponsorship deals would have materialized regardless of how the club performed. And he points to long-term relationships, such as an ongoing 28-year alliance with Carlsberg and a shirt deal with Standard Chartered poised to run 13 years, that have lasted through many peaks and valleys over the years on the pitch.

“The [recent sponsorship] deals would have happened win or lose, final or not,” he says. “When you think of the brand with Liverpool FC and the style of football we play, our manager, our history, our reputation, all of that comes together and regardless of what had happened in Madrid those deals were all ready [to be announced].

“There isn’t a day goes by where we don’t get interest from around the world…global brands, regional brands, feel us out for one of the [sponsorship] opportunities and that’s the benefit of being a global club, rather than being a very good regional club. It is part and parcel of Liverpool FC.”

Liverpool players celebrate winning the Champions League with a parade in the city (Credit: Getty Images) 

A renewed revenue stream for Liverpool is staging pop concerts at Anfield after Liverpool City Council’s planning committee awarded the club a two-year license to stage six concerts at the venue. This summer Pink, Bon Jovi, and Take That played at the stadium, which has been redeveloped in recent years to allow such events.

“When we think of our football club and serving our community, Liverpool is a massive music city that didn’t have massive music venues. These kinds of acts would never have come to Liverpool before because [the M&S Bank Arena], whilst a great venue, only holds 11,000 people, which simply isn’t big enough for the really big acts,” Moore says.

“Plus we need to monetize our stadium. In any given year we have 25 matches in 365 days a year…so it drives revenue for us. The three concerts were sold out and it was interesting to see a different demographic at Anfield than a football demographic. The plan is to have another three in the summer next year and see how it shapes up and maybe get bigger acts,” he says.

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