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The game plan

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An in-depth look at the FSG master plan for Liverpool FC; and the direction the club is taking.

The FSG master plan for Liverpool is beginning to take shape. In recent weeks there have been a number of messages coming out of the club, and if you look at them as a whole they give very clear guidance to the direction the club is taking.

FSG attracted criticism from both supporters and the media for not having a clear plan for taking the club forwards; but in the three core areas of the club’s strategic priorities we have seen progress in recent weeks. Looking at recent announcements, this is my take on the direction the club is taking: what the ‘Liverpool Story’ looks like:

Football

The ideological structure FSG wanted in place at Liverpool was for a Sporting Director to lead a team of specialist technical experts that included the ‘first team’ coach, in a collaborative approach to decision making on all footballing issues. Each expert would have a specialist area that they would lead on; but would all form part of a ‘technical’ committee.

The purpose of the Sporting Director was to provide senior guidance and profile to the club’s global standing; it was also to provide continuity to the club’s technical blueprint and playing philosophy beyond the more results focused ‘team manager’. The idea being that if results demand a change in coach at first team level; the structure and philosophy of the club remains in place.

By appointing Brendan Rodgers FSG has made the pragmatic decision to abandon that structure in favour of a collaborative technical committee. Rodgers ideology and footballing philosophies are aligned to FSG’s vision for the club; which are probably influenced by a hybrid of the models at Barcelona and Arsenal.

The decision to abandon the Sporting Director model will give Rodgers the opportunity to prove that he can lead; and is an opportunity for him to realise his vision without a more senior, dominant personality in the background. It is a brave call by FSG to abandon a structure they have always favoured; but it is a sign of good leadership that they listen and react.

FSG still favour the Sporting Director model; and it could be that somebody still comes in either now or in the future to take on that role – but with a diluted brief. My belief is that it hasn’t been abandoned, but FSG are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach before deciding if it is right long term structural solution for the club.

The technical committee appointments are now almost complete with the appointment of David Fallows from Manchester City. Fallows is a pioneer in the scouting space; he has changed the way that scouts interact and transferred the knowledge base from individual scouts into an integrated data model. He is exactly the kind of fit that FSG favour; innovative, data driven and progressive.

The purpose of the technical committee is to reduce risk and use the power of collective knowledge in player recruitment. It is all about sourcing value and reducing risk by using statistical and data analysis hand in hand with more traditional scouting methodology to bring the right players, with the right attributes, at the right price to the club.

I expect that Pep Segura will also have a role in the newly formed ‘technical committee’ as Head of Development or Technical; his role will be to influence the playing philosophy at every level of the club so that there is a natural progression into the first team from the academy.

The style of football at the club will be influenced by Rodgers vision; which is perhaps most closely aligned to Barcelona and the Spanish side. I expect Liverpool players under Rodgers to be comfortable on the ball and possess good football brains: I expect technical ability to be the dominating attribute of any Rodgers signing.

The summary of our footballing strategy is clear:
We are looking to develop a playing philosophy that combines high intensity and tika taka football; we will recruit players that fit into that philosophy through a collaborative process that is based upon data and statistical analysis. Our academy system will be an essential part of our future where we educate and develop players from a young age into the playing philosophy, and that will continue at every level through the development journey.

Aligned to that strategy is a focus on sourcing value throughout the lifespan of a contract. We will continue to be competitive in paying one off transfer fees; but will look to recruit players yet to reach peak and reward aligned to development and value to the team.

Stadium

In a recent email to the Anfield Wrap John.W.Henry gave the clearest signal yet that a new stadium is not on the agenda. The stadium solution is often seen as the holy-grail for Liverpool in bridging the revenue gap with our biggest rivals. There is a huge gap in match-day revenue between United and Liverpool; and that will naturally translate itself into a gap in the ability to compete.

When Liverpool was sold to FSG Martin Broughton said “it was a condition of sale” that the new stadium was built. In hindsight, that was a careless statement – as John.W.Henry points out when he says “No one has ever addressed whether or not a new stadium is rational.”

What FSG have been doing is taking the time to identify options; Henry’s email was the most sensible, pragmatic analysis of the stadium situation I have ever seen. I have always believed that a new stadium is the fundamental solution to long term future of the club and the local area. Without a new stadium, regeneration becomes more difficult.

Many rightly point out that it isn’t the club’s role to drive and pay for regeneration; but Liverpool FC is a community football club, and it does have a social responsibility to consider the impact of its decisions on the long term future of the community. There is also the issue of infrastructure and travel solutions. All of these things will be more difficult if a redevelopment of the Main Stand is the reality of the stadium solution.

Henry’s email also makes it clear the economic realities of a new stadium build in Liverpool v’s London. The cost of season tickets at Anfield has risen significantly over the past ten years without any stadium improvements. There have been league games in recent seasons that haven’t sold out; there is very little leverage left in raising prices.

All of this is a challenge. For a new stadium to be economically viable it would need to generate a guaranteed level of income; and it maybe that the economic realities don’t add up. Of course, there is also the issue of naming rights, which Henry mentions as still being discussed with ‘interested parties’. The level of sponsorship required to make a new stadium viable would have to be in the region of £150m, and in his climate, that is a tough but not impossible ask.

There are as many complexities with the redevelopment of the Main Stand, with residents and the council a barrier. Henry’s tone suggests that is the most economically responsible solution; but it will not be a quick process.

Reading between the lines of Henry’s email; he is setting the scene for supporters that the stadium issue is a long term one. There will not be a quick and easy solution or decision. FSG have done the research, they are incredibly well informed, and will not gamble the clubs long term future without a very robust model.

We should welcome that Henry has given an open and honest response to an emotive subject; and that FSG are not making brash promises and are dealing with the reality of the issue. I do expect that there will be a solution to the stadium issue: but it will have to be when the timing and economics are right.

Commercial

Without the revenue a new or redeveloped stadium can bring, Liverpool will need to be innovative in the commercial space to bridge that gap. They will need to look at all existing revenue streams, and make sure they are the leaders in those areas. But, the most important part of the club’s commercial strategy will be finding new revenue streams.

The appointment of Billy Hogan is a progressive step. FSG inherited a fantastic sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered; and have secured a lucrative deal with Warrior. These ‘big ticket’ deals all help to position the club as leaders in the commercial space; and they will contribute to bridging the revenue gap.

But the key for the club is to leverage its worldwide support. They need more supporters’ spending money outside of the ‘match day’ experience. If you look at the club’s digital footprint it is hugely impressive. Its social media presence alone has almost 10m likes on Facebook and 1m followers on Twitter. If every single one of the club’s Facebook fans spent £25 on Liverpool a year that would translate into revenue of £250m – dwarfing the gap in match day revenue.

The upcoming Fox documentary is an indicator of where the club is heading in commercial strategy; FSG are incredibly strong in media and channels. I expect Hogan to focus on the club’s digital footprint as the basis to increasing commercial revenues. I also expect that Jen Chang will be involved in this, and will be a big influence in the evolution of the clubs commercial activity.

Last season Ayre addressed the subject of clubs negotiating own TV rights; it didn’t go down well, but you can see his point. I don’t think that will ever happen; but I expect to see far more ‘high value’ friendly games form a part of the commercial strategy.

Without a stadium that is fit for purpose in today’s game, we need owners that are innovative in generating revenue. I think we are in safe hands with FSG as we continue to lead in the big ticket deals and find new revenue streams that will put us on the front foot until the stadium issue is resolved.

Summary

Whilst some of this outline is speculative, it is also formed on messaging that has come out of the club in recent weeks. It is clear to see that the club is improving its communications output; and I was delighted to see the excellent Anfield Wrap as the channel for the stadium update – I said in a recent article on This is Anfield I believe the club should use key opinion formers in the fan base as a channel more often, so delighted to see it happen.

It is an exciting time to be a Liverpool fan; I think that FSG are taking the right decisions to build a sustainable future. The club has been through digression to transition and now progression.

The above is an outline of a very clear plan. I also have a strong belief that this is the beginning of a new Liverpool Way (article on Tomkins Times); one that is blending our traditions and heritage with a progressive vision.

And finally, one of the best things about FSG and John.W.Henry is that they recognise that not every decision they make has to be popular, but it has to be right. In any walk of life, that is a sign of outstanding leadership.

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Professional communicator and fanatical Liverpool fan. I write for This is Anfield, Paul Tomkins (The Tomkins Times) and Liverpool FC.
  • ray

    The logic John Henyt employs to this issue is sound but can I ask you Si would there be a possibility of using another ground to watch the home matches simultaneously vis satellitee – for example say Tranmeres ground ?? If this was permissable there would be plenty of fans willing to purchase a season ticket at say £20 a game – and in my view upwards of 10,000 would be possible for every game .I am not saying it has to be at this location but I hope you get my drift ?? I also realise that Sky might have to be sounded out etc . But would Sky object to say 15,000 stadium being built in Stanley Park – this would give LFC – 65,000 Capacity – for much less outlay than building a brand new stadium whilst at the same time Anfield area would get regenaration – possibly used as an athletics track as well – What do you think – Would Mr Ayre consider this proposal ??

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Don-Clark/100001108477144 Don Clark

      I am sure the club could play all of their home matches at other larger stadiums throughout the world and fill them, earning maybe twice the revenues they do at Anfield. But then the club wouldn’t be a Liverpool club anymore, would they?

      • eskimo

        true story, but the idea to have an additional place at stanley park where people can watch the match sounds interresting. not sure if people would be prepared to pay that match for a ticket though

        • http://twitter.com/LFCPortland LFC Portland

          More to your point … what about opening official LFC branded “experience centres” throughout Asia and the Middle East. Punters in those countries would pay top quid to watch LFC matches via satellite in LFC branded pubs / restaurants, etc. Just bollocks of the top of my head but this is the direction JWH is taking us in as witnessed by the Standard Chartered and Warrior deals. I, for one, am happy to see someone finally clever enough to realize the power of commercial success. Moores & Parry should have done this after the winning the CL in 2005 but they were too stupid. H&G would have bankrupted us building a stadium if the credit markets didn’t try up before hand. I have faith that JWH knows what he is doing. YNWA

  • Paul.philosophy

    Good article, one I’m sure won’t fit all LFC fans as it deals mainly with the framework of the club going forward. I’ve been happy with FSG since the take over, yes sometimes from a result view-point its all moving too slowly, but faith in the process (when done right) is very important.
    I like the whole model being built, the idea we have to compete not only on the pitch but in business terms is a must.
    We have a clear future ahead, no, it will not be based on short-term money dumping by a wealthy sugar daddy, but empire building based on sound investment and attractive football … yes it will take time but expect to see positive change this coming season, but lets be careful to not let our dreams take over reality, at least not yet :-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/jay.blindside Jay Blindside

    This is all a little like the ” if it’s in the Daily Mail then it must be true” side of life. If Henry says it then it is all okay. Okay it’s his club I grant that but he has absolutely no idea of the ins and outs of football. Liverpool is small he says so we don’t need a large stadium – well thanks for that! I am a 73 year old Liverpudlian and he can stuff his opinionated manner where the sun don’t shine!!!

    • mdonald1987

      73 years old? You sound like a 7 year old! JWH may not know the ins and outs of football but that is the reason he is hiring the very best people; to run the footballing side of the club. As for the commercial side of things, it will be difficult to find any owner who can compete with FSG in terms of raising sponsorship revenues. You only have to look at what he has done at the Red Sox to see this. And there isn’t a huge amount of difference in running the commercial side of things in football and baseball. And how anyone can call him opinionated is beyond me. The email to TAW is one of a very small number in which he has given. Did you read it by the way? He didn’t say Liverpool was small. He said the people of Liverpool can’t compete for prices with those based in London. And it’s true. Imagine Liverpool having an average ticket price of £70. Even in a new stadium the tickets wouldn’t sell. It’s very simple economics. If you take the time to actually read these articles instaed of jumoing the gun, you may learn something. Even at 73!

      • j75j

        Henry mentioned the 3 NFL teams The New York Jets and Giants whose shared stadium cost $1.7 BILLION
        Dallas Cowboys Stadium cost $1.4 BILLION
        Can stadiums that cost that much and ticket prices be used in comparison to a stadium that will cost $470 million?
        Is it really any surprised they had to put up ticket prices?

    • Dan

      I commented above about how this article was well written and unbiased and rational. This is exactly what I was referring to in terms of flippant comments; cropping up time and time again. As Mcdonald1987 says Football is a commercial business and I don’t think anyone can argue JWH is uneducated or lacking experience. He has been far from ‘opinionated’ remaining pragmatic and realistic.

      Just think back to the two cowboys who owned the club. They were opinionated, promised much and delivered debt, chaos and are the reason we went from 2nd to 7th in three seasons. I don’t think he ever said Liverpool was small. But if you want to argue it is anywhere near the size of London good luck fella!

    • DLF

      Put it this way, to get the same revenue as Arsenal we would need a stadium twice as big because they can charge twice as much. If London were a country it would be the 9th richest on the planet. So, you tell me, is a stadium going to be our ‘competitive advantage’ over Arsenal or do we need something else, our global presence perhaps? Hmmm.

  • http://www.thisisanfield.com This Is Anfield

    Only thing I would mention in regards to the new stadium, Broughton actually said that the new owners had “committed to a 60,000 capacity stadium” — but that no decision was made on whether that was to be new Anfield or redeveloped. The 60,000 is the only ‘promise’ from the sale process.

    • Intelligent Fan

      These Yanks are like Hicks & Gillette – full of false promises and have no cash either!

      • http://www.facebook.com/sharad.acharya.18 Sharad Acharya

        Wow you are intelligient..you even know how much mney third richest owner of pl hs right…and if you dont back the owners whom do
        yo back? Saf? And when did they make false promises? They saved our club remembe spammer

        • karl

          yer your right they did buy the club, and if they didnt someone else would have, look at what they have done !! sacked kenny who got our players playing and makeing more chances, than any other team. and brought brandon bloody rogers!!!!!!! who now is buy bloody swansea players. yer great move. if you dont know what your talking about keep your thoughts to your self!!!!

          • DIllon

            Sigh,you dont know anything do you. One he cant buy any swansea players as part of an agreement. Two. He was one of the best managers last season also plays beautiful football. Its obvious your one of those “fans” that just want us to buy someone worth plenty money and spend money on players like man city cause thats the only way…..please…

      • j75j

        How can they be the same if they aren’t willing to put the club back into debt? The £300 million Warrior deal in place where we now have full control of merchandise blows Hicks and Gillete right out of the water. There business plan will take another 2 years though before we start seeing the coffers rolling especially if Rodgers does well hopefully sooner.
        There are some similarities! £120 million on new signings £70 million splashed out by Hicks in there first season followed up by tightening of the purse strings is the main one which is slightly worrying but we are under no pressure to sell like under Hicks and Gillete.

  • Sebby

    John Henry is the man.. Keep it up sir – also please get rid of the “excess baggages” who kept playing rugby with the ball. The goalmouth isn’t that high and wide.

  • elphil

    that is not a plan , it looks more like desperation ,a plan should have a clear aim and i dont see that,however it is better than what we had before .How do the fans get this message as they must be the most important ,and where will we be at the end of next season that’s what we want to know will we be real contenders for the prem league ,will we be in the champions league some positive answers would be good ,at the moment i don’t see that coming from the club with any confidence

  • LFChris

    The modern game is all about plowing money into the club and buying world class players if we dont do that we might as well forget about the top four.

    • John

      no mate, thats how a few clubs go about it. barcelona and man u (i hate to admit it) dont plough that much in, they top up with world class players when needed but the majority is built through their academies and developing outstanding youngsters from elswhere (ie ronaldo, rooney, etc). barcelona are/were regarded as possibly the best team to have ever stepped onto a football pitch, nearly all of them are developed through the academy.

      as much as i really do hate to hold united up as a good example, they were at the top of the prem for a very long time for a very good reason, and have only been knocked off due to absolutely stupid spending by city, and even then only just.

      also dont forget that financial fair play is due to come in very soon, which will screw man city, PSG, real madrid, as well as many other clubs. if we can get the stadium issue sorted we will be probably the 2nd most well off team in the country, we have the highest paying kit sponsors and kit manufacturing deal (standard chartered and Warrior) as well as really good international following. if we can get a stadium the same size as the emirates then the only people ahead of us will be (once again, i hate to say) man united, with their 75k capacity stadium.

      i am aware i do sound like a fergie bummer at places, sorry. i hate the bloke as much as any of you.

      • j75j

        Man U Ronaldo,Rooney cost £38 million to develop. Young £18 million Jones £16 million Dea Gea £18 million Valancia £18 million Berbatov £30 million. Barcelona still spend big even with their conveyor belt of young talent. £50 million on Fabregas,Sánchez
        David Villa £30 million and Mascherano £20 million.Sorry to tell you but Barcelona and United till spend big.
        United have had no real success with their academy since 96!
        The reason they are both successful is that they hold onto their best players and know when to release a player like Ronaldo and Beckham and Barcelona with Eto and Ronaldinho and have then brought the correct player to replace them.

  • Dan

    Well written, informed and insightful piece. Refreshing to see a rational approach to interpreting the FSG long term plan; not riddled with inaccuracies, bias or unfounded criticism. It’s fair to say we as fans have had to be patient for a VERY long time now (around 4 years) since the promising season of 2008. New owners, the loss of key players and changes of manager/backroom staff have all weakened the structure of the club and its movement forward toward success. For once I am neither a sceptic nor an advocate for our new manager. I now realise that as a fan of Liverpool nothing is ever likely to pan out as it would on paper. Look at Hodgson and Dalglish. Hodgsons sides are notorious for being organised, but at Liverpool were all over the place. And King Kenny’s side couldn’t score goals! Unbelievable!

    Whether Rodgers can implement what would seem to be Tiki-Taka football at Liverpool remains to be seen. I worry now that some of our players will not adapt. Adam is slow and looks to play the long ball. Carroll again isnt really a short passing player. And we’d need a new set of wingers with flair and skill.

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.midghall Michael Midghall

    Whilst this all sounds pragmatic and laudible there are concerns. Lets look at the last two points seperately. The issue of a ground being the means to increase revenue and Henrys assertion on the cost implications in relation to London – Liverpool I would agree with. However didnt he realise this 16 months ago, when the commitment was made to build a 60k stadium? To suggest now that the issue is revenue rather than capacity is stating the obvious. My point would marry the two aspects together. A larger capacity stadium increases revenue in other areas…..but clearly John H knows this and is attempting to maximise potential. However the fans tradition has always been about transparency so JH should be clear for everyone, unless theres another oilrich oligarch type or a community partnership the cost of building a new stadium is prohibitive in the present ecconomic circumstances. Lets hope investment goes into the team as our success in europe also adds to revenue, and that is an area where FSG can gain a return direct to investment.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sharad.acharya.18 Sharad Acharya

      We cant charge more for the same seat can we? So look for the future mate..build a 60k stadium later expand it to 90k

    • mario

      I tend agree. I also think FSG are working towards establishing a profitable permier sports brand which they can then sell at a profit to DIC within the next 5 – 10 years.

  • ray

    My suggstions regrding a big screen arrangement itanley Park has beencompletey dismissed – FAI ENOUGH -ut plse thinkoother viable alternaties because I ctely nowtnew tadiumis a non starter and knowing the Liverpool Council ground extension will be like pulling teeth – IDEAS PLEASE

  • S Emmo

    Just seen our fixtures, might have punt on Rodgers as first to get the sack. If he is not given any money the players we have now will not do any better than last year.
    Skertl Carra Hendo Spearing Carroll Kelly are not good passers of the ball and will struggle if we try to play possession football.
    I am seriously worried about the direction of the club, kicking the stadium into the long grass has eerie Echos of the Gillet and Hicks disastrous reign

  • kopshirts

    ‘If every single one of the club’s Facebook fans spent £25 on Liverpool a year that would translate into revenue of £250m.’ Wakey wakey! Social media followers aren’t necessarily consumers of the brands they follow. Furthermore not all of those international followers may have the disposable income to spend £25 on ‘merchandise’. Finally, followers may be ‘following’ for news. To give you an example, Mercedes Benz has 7M followers but not all of those 7M are likely to make a purchase of a Merc anytime soon. Sounds simple but it ain’t Simon.

    • DaveIndieRed

      True, but there are a lot of us who spend in excess of £250 per year on LFC which clearly compensates for those who won’t spend a penny on the club.