From The Athletic:
The two Liverpool Football Clubs
Simon Hughes Apr 27, 2021 86
At the Devonshire Hotel in 2017, Peter Moore tried to tell a story that illustrated the fault lines that have long existed at the club he represented.
Moore was Liverpool’s chief executive until last summer when he returned to California, the place he had called home for most of his adult life.
During his time on Merseyside, Moore enjoyed reminding people of his connection with the city where his father was born.
He did not need much of an invitation to speak about, “Cally, Thomo — those guys”, at public events.
His love for Liverpool was genuine. He had grown up watching the club become great but this level of familiarity conflicted with his own history to some extent, given that he had lived away from the region for so long.
Though those who know Liverpool a lot more than him saw desperate attempts to impress, he managed to avoid wider criticisms over the next three years, in part because he was a friendlier face than his predecessor Ian Ayre. His stripped back responsibilities also contributed to him being more accessible.
It was different, however, if he was on a stage in front of a room filled up with well-oiled locals.
At an evening that celebrated Bill Shankly’s life just a few months after Moore’s appointment, he spoke enthusiastically about Liverpool’s famous 2-0 FA Cup final victory over Leeds United in 1965.
When someone from the crowd jumped up and told him the result was, in fact, 2-1, Moore replied with something like, “oh yeah, that was Newcastle…” in reference to another cup final nine years later.
Liverpool actually won that one 3-0.
These are the sort of small but significant details Liverpudlians tend not to forget. The Devonshire proved to be one of those great nights of reflection, though one where eager listeners emptied into the cold sobering air in possession of a but…
Under Moore, the fault lines were generally a bit less obvious. He could not have picked a better time to become the club’s chief executive. Between 2017 and 2020, the team reached two Champions League finals and won one of them. Then came the first league title in 30 years. Fans were as happy as they have been at any point in living memory yet they were still prepared to stand up for what they believed was right even if it potentially pressed against the growth of the team they supported. The club’s attempts to trademark the city’s name barely a month after the second of those European finals reminded of the way things really are. So did the pushback that followed.
Moore once said that before any decision, the club would ask itself what Shankly would do and it is fair to say that a socialist hewn out of Ayrshire rock would not have taken a route that had the potential to strangulate the rest of the city’s tourism, sporting and creative sectors if new powers were ever placed in the hands of the wrong people.
Despite a wave of condemnation, Liverpool continued with their trademark pursuits before arriving at a point of failure. This had ultimately been an attempt at absolute brand control at a time when it was really becoming popular. It did not help that none of the businesses potentially affected by the move was warned before the application was made. Moore really should have known how this would go down and how it would end but so should his superiors, too.
Moore and Fenway Sports Group (FSG) benefited from the perception of a big “LFC family” but there are frustrated people within the club’s UK offices who speak of there being two Liverpool Football Clubs, one being on Merseyside and the other in Massachusetts. What happened before the ill-fated launch of the Super League encapsulated this feeling. Boston knew exactly what was happening. All but possibly one person based out of the Chapel Street office in Liverpool’s city centre did not. It is understandable why some within the club’s own organisation have described FSG in this instance particularly as kamikaze.
Even Jürgen Klopp was left out of the process. The way he has handled the fallout should remind us that both Liverpool and FSG are fortunate to have him. Few managers in the world can speak as forcefully against their employers as he did while also bringing an element of balance to such an awkward conversation. He has long accepted that football is a business and he has also long accepted that businessmen make mistakes. His domain is the training ground and Anfield. He does not take support in each of those terrains for granted and so long as he feels it is present, he is happy. This is why he seemed prepared to let go of any lingering exasperation so quickly.
There are eminent figures in football who have spent time with FSG bosses both in Boston and Los Angeles, where chairman Tom Werner lives. Such detachment can contribute towards progress, inspiring patience and helping them hold their nerve when the heat is on. Yet living beneath the enormous green canopies of Brookline or beside the swinging palm trees of Santa Monica means being too far away also threatens their judgment and therefore their authority and any respect they hold.
There is no civil war at Liverpool like there was between 2007 and 2010 under the previous owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Yet last week reminded of those rancid times: non-football staff left considering their positions; a manager placing a stick of dynamite under the owners’ desk and sharp division ensuing, albeit with no one around to argue convincingly the case of those who have created the whole bloody mess in the first place.
President Mike Gordon is supposed to be the conduit between Boston and Liverpool. Yet in his conversations last week with disappointed high-level, Merseyside-based officials, he was told by more than one person that FSG would never have contemplated attempting to pull off such a move if one of them lived within driving distance of Anfield.
As Moore learned in 2017, closer geographical ties increase your chances of knowing exactly what the score is.
When John W Henry made his apologies after the fall of the Super League, one of the recipients was “Billy…”.
Billy is Billy Hogan, an American who moved into Moore’s seat last summer having spent most of his career driving revenues for FSG, starting with the Boston Red Sox in 2004.
He is described by separate Chapel Street sources as a figure “who has driven in the back seat for years” but has “always been highly influential in a lot of decisions”.
It is hard to believe that Henry or Gordon would not have confided in him over at least some elements of the Super League proposals, not least because of the length of their association but also because it surely would have also been in FSG’s interest to appreciate exactly what the Super League meant for the club’s commercial revenues, which is Hogan’s specialism.
Even though Hogan wrote in an email to staff the morning after Liverpool committed to the Super League that the new competition “will be the future of European football”, senior Chapel Street sources have since claimed that Hogan was left in the dark about the project until less than 48 hours before it was announced.
The Athletic also understands that although it does not necessarily mean he did not offer advice on the matter, Hogan was not involved in any of the calls for Project Big Picture, Henry’s earlier controversial plan to reform football.
Hogan finds himself in an uncomfortable position because he is loyal to FSG, which values him deeply, but equally, he cannot afford to ignore the depth of feeling on Merseyside. Before the latest Henry-inspired furore, he had spent part of his previous working week liaising with fan groups in preparation for Anfield’s reopening next season and the Super League was not on the agenda then.
His approach with supporters has been different to that of his predecessor. There is a sense that like Moore, he will pick up the phone but rarely will he reach out himself. There is a view, however, that Moore sometimes said and did things because he thought it was what fans wanted to hear.
Currently, there is a workable relationship but it is said to be one-way. Following the launch of the Super League, for example, there was no phone call to any of the people he was speaking to the previous week in an attempt to explain what was happening. Those who talk on his behalf from inside the club are insistent that even with his breezy statement to staff, this is because Hogan remained ill-informed himself.
On Monday night, after a six-day period of reflection that involved a poll of its members, the Spirit of Shankly (SoS) group called for elected fan representation on Liverpool’s board. “…we cannot trust what the owners and the board say when we meet them,” a statement read. “The relationship we thought we had was false.”
Last night, Hogan replied to SoS via email, acknowledging the need for “positive, meaningful changes to occur”. He began a “town hall” zoom meeting earlier in the day, originally scheduled for last week before it was postponed because of the fallout from the ESL, by telling staff at Liverpool that the decision to enter the competition was taken alone by the club’s owners but he apologised on their behalf, admitting, “we need to heal and rebuild”.
This would have been an even bigger calamity for FSG had Hogan emerged as one of the fall guys less than a year after taking his most important role within the organisation yet, having been trained for this moment for so long.
Though he had been Liverpool’s chief commercial officer before succeeding Moore, he was mainly in the club’s London offices situated above the Heal’s furniture store on Tottenham Court Road. The address might sound unpromising, but it was popular. Until January 2019, Deliveroo’s headquarters were in the same building.
According to staff there, Hogan was viewed as a charismatic figure whose drive and focus mean he is highly regarded by Liverpool’s owners. “Billy represents the club well,” says one source. “He’s a charming guy,” says another.
The London office’s working environment was like a silo when Hogan was there. Rarely did staff pitch up on Merseyside, unless they were hosting clients at Anfield. There was an isolation from the club and a focus instead on driving up revenues among the twenty-or-so staff, which was dominated by the research insight team who analysed and targeted the companies Liverpool were attempting to engage with.
The global sponsorship managers operated in pods of two and worked according to regions: Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Africa, and Hogan tended to be involved when business really mattered, both at points of introduction and when photographs were taken when contracts were concluded. Once deals were done, new partners were passed on to client managers based in Chapel Street, which has overtaken Anfield as the club’s day-to-day base. Across three floors, there is the in-house media operation, ticketing, accounts, retail, licencing and hospitality.
Sources have told The Athletic that staff in London were set aggressive revenue targets. Most of the brands Liverpool were trying to impress had already been in front of rivals, Manchester United. Yet Hogan ensured commercial growth year on year. Latterly, one of his key decisions was the appointment of Matt Scammell, the commercial director who joined from United where he had spent nine years in their Mayfair office.
This came amid a long period of internal restructuring at Liverpool, which started just as the club became a major European player again. In 2018, Deloitte was hired to conduct an audit and this resulted in the “cutting away of loose fat”, according to one source.
The audit lasted for almost a year. Liverpool’s success on the pitch meant growth off it. This needed to be managed carefully. Established staff were doing jobs that were not under their remit while it was felt that too much money was being spent on roles that had become redundant.
Lots of high-level department leaders left and so did lots of staff. The process has been described by separate sources as “stressful” and “cut-throat”, yet there is an acceptance that it had to happen to allow the club to take the next step. Those making the decisions never lost sight of what needed to happen to help the club grow.
A phased approach took almost 18 months for the headcount to mount up. What also followed was the Americanisation of commercial positions. Out went the head of sponsorship and in came the VP of Sales.
The release of the Football Rich List each year was eagerly awaited because Liverpool were squeezing the gap on those clubs they were trying to catch up with.
“Liverpool looked at what had already happened at United and restructured themselves according to what they saw,” says one source who was close to the process. Liverpool would have much lower numbers across the office floor but aside from that, it was “a copy and paste job”.
The instigators of the Super League hired a publicity strategist only two days before the 12 clubs signed a contract that threatened to rip up football. Given how terribly executed a plan it was, it might be tempting to see the whole thing as a moment of madness. At Liverpool especially, however, it is part of a pattern.
There is madness in agreeing to a new pricing structure that places the highest ticket at £77 and results in a mass stadium walk-out even though it would have only made the club less than an extra £25,000 a year. But FSG did that in 2016.
There is madness in Ian Ayre, then the CEO, almost threatening fans in front of the cameras even though he warned the owners against ploughing on with the idea, albeit without enough conviction. Yet Ayre and FSG did that as well.
There is also madness in Moore trying to save a few quid by being the first CEO to stand up for furlough in a Premier League meeting in front of other executives. But he did that last year and soon enough, he found himself out of a job.
“FSG test the boundaries because their whole business model is based on saving money where they can and generating as much revenue where there is the opportunity,” says one financial advisor with experience of the inner workings of several Premier League clubs. “They are successful venture capitalists. That doesn’t happen if you overspend and sit on your hands. Through the ESL, they are attempting what all successful venture capitalists would do.”
Yesterday’s financial results explain why FSG was so keen to play a leading role in the Super League — a competition that would have removed the prospect in the future of dealing with the financial consequences of what is effectively a relegation should Liverpool, as expected, fail to qualify for the Champions League.
Apparently, Henry looks at this season’s semi-final draw in the same competition and asks himself whether this is the future: Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain — a winning relationship between the few untouchables and those with bottomless pits of money. Will the Champions League become a closed shop — the monopoly that the Super League threatened to be anyway? He also asks his critics to identify sporting integrity when Liverpool can rise to the top, winning each of the most lucrative prizes, but still can’t afford to consistently compete economically with City and Chelsea. He feels totally let down by UEFA and its lack of steel concerning financial fair play.
Henry believes radical change is needed in football and eventually, it will come, one way or another. Over the last few months, The Athletic understands that Henry has considered republishing Project Big Picture, even proposing that it might be a good thing if he gave up some of the controls he would have gained had the original plan been successful. Though chairmen and owners from the EFL were prepared to discuss this with him, his attention soon lapsed.
It is telling that Ed Woodward — until very recently leading United, of course — was able to work so closely with Henry over Project Big Picture. Woodward would sometimes send Henry WhatsApp messages in the morning with amendments to the plan. Henry would then regularly call him back almost straight away despite the unearthly hour in Boston. He did not use his secretary, writing the whole thing himself and Woodward formed the impression that because he’d spent so much time on it, working on it non-stop, others would value his ideas as much as him.
If only he’d more recently taken the advice of figures from inside his own club who know more about the way such schemes are received. Instead, he succeeded in reminding of old fractures that have never healed. Without bringing people with him, it is hard to see how Henry’s revolutionary thoughts will ever change the world as we know it.