Liverpool Football Club today announced that they would be extending Anfield and expanding capacity at the hallowed ground into a 60,000 all seater stadium. This is a decision that has been over 20 years in the making and represents a breakthrough that could, in time, save the club a fortune.
When previous Anfield owner David Moores made his decision to sell the club, back in 2005, it followed years of deliberation about the best way to maximise game revenue and the capacity at Anfield. At the time it was considered neither practical, nor possible, to extend Anfield with the ground sandwiched in the middle of a housing conurbation and congested residential area. The only option looked like being an entirely new Stadium, meaning Liverpool leaving behind over 100 years of Anfield memories.
Moores did not have the resources to fund a new stadium and knew that this meant his beloved Liverpool FC, a member of the Moores family for decades, would need to be sold to an owner with the funds to build a new ground. In stepped Tom Hicks and George Gillett, with the famous promise to build a new space age arena and ‘put a spade in the ground within 90 days’. That spade never came and, after today’s announcement, it seems Liverpool fans may, in the long term, be grateful that the ground was never broken.
As Arsenal have discovered, new stadiums don’t come cheap. Manchester United have not had to fund one, Manchester City were given theirs as a legacy of the Commonwealth Games, Tottenham and Chelsea both continue to deliberate their next moves and Everton have failed twice with plans to build a new arena. Today Liverpool moved ahead of some of their rivals in confirming that the club’s future lies at Anfield, the plans to expand the ground are now viable and the work will take place over the next three years.
The news that their team is staying at Anfield will be what many Liverpool fans have been waiting to hear since the debates first began. After all, you cannot just move the ‘This is Anfield’ sign from the tunnel and put it in another one – some things don’t travel well. It is the same with the Kop. It was always going to be difficult to re-create the iconic stand, let alone transfer the memories and the atmosphere that goes with it.
Just as important as the heritage is the financial rationale behind today’s announcement. The Anfield expansion is likely to cost £150m. This is almost a quarter of the true cost of building a new stadium, with both versions still only seating 60,000. While Liverpool may have been able to secure a sponsor for any new build, the additional cost would have impacted transfer budgets for years to come. Perhaps those fans that wanted to see Liverpool create a new vanity stadium need to cast an eye South towards Arsenal. Ask their fans how they feel, as they have become a selling club who appear unable to compete in the transfer market as they pay for the cost of the Emirates super stadium.
The announcement today, exactly two years since Fenway Sports Group took over at Anfield, is a decision of substance over style. A new stadium was viewed as a must prior to John W Henry arriving at Anfield; it was something Hicks and Gillett saw as key to winning over the fans and securing the future. In business though, all factors must be considered and FSG have rightly took the time to make this judgement call. Given the current economic climate, it may be a decision that looks like it was made out of necessity but, the more you assess the choice that has been made, the more it looks like the right one.
Liverpool has a waiting list for season tickets stretching into the tens of thousands. If the management chose to do so, they could sell the additional 14,000 seats to those in the queue, generating an immediate return of £10m plus. This is without considering the additional match day revenue from those attending games which is often double that figure. A return of £20m per year means a pay back of 7.5 years on an outlay of £150m. These numbers look much more sensible than an outlay of £600m for similar returns.
So the decision has been made and it looks like the most pragmatic one, not only for the footballing romantics but for the hard-headed accountants too. Would we have expected FSG to achieve anything other than that? They promised that their ownership was here for the long term. They assured fans that they would make decisions for tomorrow, not just for today. The made a commitment to building on the heritage and to never again mortgaging the future of the club. Today’s decision looks like it ticks all of those boxes.
The stadium issue has vexed FSG since they took over. It has been the biggest headache facing John W. Henry who understood the enormity of a decision you only ever take once and can never take lightly. Now this one has been put to bed, matters will return to on-the-field action and Liverpool fans can rest assured that the future of the club has been secured, and it is a future that most fans will have been hoping for.