The ongoing obsession with the Beautiful Game

Yesterday I picked up the Sunday Times to see that Liverpool FC were being linked to a mystery Syrian bidder. This morning the mystery Syrian bidder has turned in to a Chinese businessman named Kenny Huang, according to reports in the Liverpool Echo. This set me wondering what might possibly be the attraction of owning a Premier League Football club other than bring able to fulfil childhood dreams of being a footballer – or if not a footballer then certainly a football club owner – and perhaps the mindset of ‘if I can’t play for the team I can certainly be involved in the running of the team’.

If you look at the Premier League clubs for the forthcoming season, they have been involved in deals where a controlling stake has changed hands some 29 times totalling $3.6bn of completed deals since 1997. This excludes the additional 89 deals where a minority stake has changed hands and doesn’t even begin to consider clubs which are not in the Premier League in the forthcoming season.

There is no doubt that the launch of the Premier League brought huge levels of revenue into the English game and certainly it could be argued that, like other industries, times were very good for companies controlling football clubs up until the onset of the global downturn. But many of the football transactions since credit crunch and subprime have been the result of owners needing to either deleverage highly-leveraged clubs or move away from the game completely.

As an aside to the financial downturn, being a Premier League football club CEO or chairman must be one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Your “market”, whilst undoubtedly loyal to the overall brand, is most certainly fickle in its view of the management team and the strategy of the business. Disappointing seasons, unsatisfactory transfer activities or misdemeanours of highly paid and ever higher profile employees – aka footballers – are more than enough to turn satisfied and relatively consistent spending customers in to customers who are not afraid to be demonstrable in their dissatisfaction. Just think of the green and gold scarves of the anti-Glazer movement at Manchester United and the demonstration against the owners of Liverpool football club in July.

Even with all this – if you believe what you read – there is still no shortage of foreign owners who are longing to be involved.

Filed under: UK, football