Boston Red Sox Owners To Buy Liverpool Soccer Club

The owners of the Boston Red Sox are branching out with a new sport in a new country — they are buying one of the world's most famous soccer clubs, Liverpool FC, in England. The club is already under American ownership, but the present owners are massively in debt and deeply unpopular with Liverpool fans.

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The city of Liverpool, England, is known for being home of the Beatles and for its world-famous soccer team. But that team, under American ownership, has fallen into a miserable slump.

Then, today came news that this icon of British football might be about to change hands to another set of Americans, the owners of the Boston Red Sox. Vicki Barker reports from London.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOCCER CROWD)

VICKI BARKER: Angry Liverpool fans at a recent game, chanting get out now to the team's American owners, waving banners saying thanks but no Yanks.

Owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, Jr., claim revenues have nearly doubled since they took over in 2007, but Liverpool's having its worst season since 1953, decrepit Anfield Stadium's on its last legs, and the leveraged takeover left the team drowning in debt.

Now the board has voted to accept a $477 million offer from New England Sports Ventures, the owners of the Boston Red Sox. But that's barely enough to cover Liverpool's debt, leaving Hicks and Gillett with nothing. So they're trying to block the sale.

Club chairman Martin Broughton claims that violates their solemn promise to leave Liverpool in safe hands.

MARTIN BROUGHTON: That's what they promised to do. That's what they said all along they wanted to do. And at the last minute, when it doesn't pay them what they see as enough, they've chosen to fight it.

BARKER: So far, fans have welcomed the prospect of yet another set of American owners with weary and wary resignation. Liverpool Doctor Rogan Taylor tried to engineer a buyout with 100,000 fellow fans.

ROGAN TAYLOR: Our problem is: will they understand anything about the way it actually works here and the kind of culture on which this stuff grows?

BARKER: Sean Hammill teaches management at London's Birkbeck College. He says the real culture shock will be financial. Liverpool's one of four Premier League teams now under U.S. ownership, he says, but the economics of British soccer, where there's no collective bargaining and no cap on players' pay, make it almost impossible to make money.

SEAN HAMMILL: There's a systemic problem in English football about lack of profitability at the elite level. And, you know, changing owners may resolve the problem at Liverpool in the short run, but it doesn't deal with the fundamentals.

BARKER: The team's next debt payment is due October 15th. If new owners with deep pockets aren't in place by then, then one of soccer's most exalted names may be thrown into bankruptcy.

For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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