Should Henry and LFC be thinking bigger?

Talk of Liverpool’s supposed new stadium seems as old as the league itself, with more too’ing and fro’ing than a tug-of-war competition between Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks. Just like The Clash once so eloquently asked, their major question, as ever, remains: Should they stay or should the go?

Speaking recently Liverpool supremo and principle owner John W. Henry spoke openly about his first 10-months at the helm of the club and again, seemed to answer honestly when questioned about the future possibility of moving from Anfield and building a new stadium. It has previously been reported that Liverpool may be looking to build a new 60,000 capacity stadium, but with current home Anfield already able to hold 45,000 fans, Henry questioned the financial logic of such a build.

‘If Anfield cannot be expanded a new stadium is wonderful choice. But the fact is we already have 45,000 seats. If a new stadium is constructed with 60,000 seats you’ve spent an incredible sum of money to add just 15,000 seats.’ Henry answered when asked about the progress on building a new ground, adding: ‘If the cost is £300m for an extra 15,000 seats, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Liverpool isn’t London, you can’t charge £1 million for a long-term club seat.’

So is Henry right? For the sake of just 15,000 extra seats would it be wise and logical to place the financial burden on the club for not much extra gain?

Give Henry is due. He seems to have the club’s (as well as FSGs) best interests at heart and answers questions in a straight-forward, open manner. A far cry from many other owners who trumpet their arrival with brash and outlandish statements that leads to unfulfilled promises. Much as many Liverpool fans don’t wish to leave the spiritual home of Anfield, times and football has changed. In order to stay competitive, the extra revenue from the extra capacity will help massively. Whilst there has been talk of staying and redeveloping Anfield (the best option for a lot of fans, I know), Henry seemed to state this was no longer on the cards: ‘We would love to expand Anfield, but there are enough local and regulatory issues to keep that avenue stalled for years with no assurances that once begun it would bear any fruit.’

The next bugbear with many fans is the naming-rights issue. Again, romantically, Anfield means more to most than any new corporate branding with all its financial rewards could bring, however in this day and age in the world of football business, the financial gains are exactly what most now need in order to survive into the future and challenge for honours. Finally, probably most vehemently fought is any potential ground-share with the neighbours across Stanley Park – Everton. Whilst it seems financially logical, it is severely opposed by both sets of supporters as Henry acknowledged: ‘There’s no doubt that if a new stadium were to be built in Liverpool from a financial perspective – which is the major issue – a ground-share would be helpful for both clubs. But there doesn’t seem to be any support for that from Red or Blue fans – at all. So how could that ever happen?’

So, if no ground-share is to happen, Anfield cannot be redeveloped, and a 60,000 seater stadium isn’t financially logical, what options are left? Stay at Anfield, with a 45,000 capacity? Not if the club wants to move forward. That leaves building a new stadium, with probable naming-rights. However, as indicated from Henry himself, the capacity would need to eclipse the muted 60,000 for a build to be viable, but would, say, a 70,000+ stadium reach capacity?

Liverpool FC is one of the best, well known clubs in the world, and in business terms, a world-wide brand with global reach. The waiting list for a season ticket at Anfield passed beyond the 10-year mark some time ago and many have no doubts that this is one of only a few clubs that could regularly fill a stadium of that size. Of course, if building a stadium with extra capacity is sought, the need for more investment is crucial: enter the stadium naming-rights deal, which looks ever more likely. A suitable partner to fulfil this end of the deal is being hunted by the head honchos at the club, indicating that Liverpool, and Henry, are thinking bigger.

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