Bill Shankly famously once said: "The socialism I believe in is everybody working for the same goal and everybody having a share in the rewards. That's how I see football, that's how I see life." So how ironic it is that Liverpool’s current Managing Director, Ian Ayre, a scouser, born just a stone throw away from Anfield, should recently suggest something so fundamentally to the contrary.
Ayre’s view that Liverpool need to seriously consider the possibility of seeking a larger slice of the overseas TV rights money given their inflated status abroad, is a monumental shift away from the very socialist ideals that the club have been built on since the Shankly years. The city itself has always been seen as a staunch left-wing constituency and therefore this very suggestion from one of its more high profile sons seems rather odd to say the least. Whether Ayre’s comments are representative of a wider strategic approach driven by the club’s new American owners, who would no doubt find the existing ‘all for one and one for all’ TV deal rather alien, is one for debate. Nevertheless, his comments have caused a bit of a storm amongst his peers and have left him, the club and its owners rather isolated given the lack of vocal support for his idea from any of the other 19 Premier League clubs thus far.
Ayre, who was previously the club’s Commercial Director during the tenuous Hick/Gillette era, has an astute business brain, with considerable experience in the sports media field, built up mainly from his time overseeing various sports media operations in Asia. He also successfully negotiated the current shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered Bank, which to this day is one of the most lucrative in the history of English football. There can be no doubt that Ayre has a valid point in saying that many of the overseas followers of the English Premier League, particularly in regions of the world such as the far-east, have a principal interest in the Premier League’s elite few such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea. Similarly, in Spain, despite the apparent high level of technical ability shown by many of the players within La Liga, if Real Madrid or Barcelona are not playing, watching it becomes something of a turn off. Hence the reason why those two clubs have been able to successfully negotiate their own independent TV rights deals, which Ayre was quick to point out. It is also true that Liverpool are a huge global brand and have not been anywhere near as successful in exploiting this as their rivals and near neighbours in the red half of Manchester. The new UEFA financial fair play directive will also change the landscape of how football clubs are managed and require creative strategies for generating sustainable revenue streams in the future.
However, the strength of the Premier League brand is surely built on the key fundamental principles of the English game, such as its high tempo football, highly charged atmospheres and passionate fans. That is something that is generated by and replicated at all stadiums and not just the elite few. Also, this remains one of the few leagues (certainly within Europe) where the bottom placed team can beat the top of the table team over any given 90 minutes, which again sets it apart. With this in mind one suspects that Ayre is missing a crucial point. In this respect, Liverpool and all of the other so called big boys are as dependent on the ‘smaller’ clubs to keep the league and therefore their clubs as marketable and attractive as anyone else. His views seem a tad arrogant and disrespectful to the other clubs and the Premier League as a whole. They go against everything the club has stood for the past 50 years or more. It is also ironic that it was a former Liverpool Managing Director Rick Parry, who was the inaugural Premier League Chief Executive that rubber stamped the existing set-up which effectively means that at least 14 club Chairmen need to agree to any changes to the TV rights deal structure. This, one suspects, will ultimately result in any serious future proposal by Liverpool being kicked into touch.
To hear those type of noises coming from a club with Liverpool’s history and traditions for fairness is further evidence of how football in this country has become engulfed in greed and protectionism. One only hopes that Liverpool are able to fulfill their ambitions on the pitch. Ten years ago very few would have predicted that a football giant like Leeds United, having reached the semi-final of the Champions League just a year previous, would have slid into the abyss of the third tier of English football. Should Liverpool find themselves in such an unfortunate position one day in the future, then one will look back on Ayre’s comments and be forgiven for saying ‘you should have been more careful what you wished for mate.'
Football has changed a lot and with Man City and their millions we need a new way to compete. This may not be best for the Premier League but is it best for Liverpool? If that answer is yes, should we be so selfish?
I'm not sure and I'm certainly no expert on these matters but I don't see a problem for Liverpool FC just a problem for the Premier League.