Was new stadium the centre of Hicks & Gillett’s grand plan?

George-Gillett-and-Tom-HicksArsene Wenger talked recently about the footballing philosophy of his club compared to others. He mentioned how Arsenal and Chelsea have a “completely different” approach to achieving footballing success. According to Wenger:

We spend the money we get, which is not the case at Chelsea. We live within our resources, something the other clubs don’t do. It is the same when you listen to the clubs that build new stadiums. I want to see them show me a new stadium, pay £25 million back every season, and stay at the top. I want to see that. These clubs trying to get planning permission for new stadiums, it is basically because they want to sell the club not to move the club to a higher level.

Now is this a dig at Hicks & Gillett and Liverpool? If it is, it’s certainly an interesting accusation worth exploring. The facts are that ever since George Gillett and Tom Hicks joined the club as co-chairmen in 2007, their priority has been to build a new stadium. It has been a promise which has been broken on many occasions, most infamously when both Hicks and Gillett promised work would begin on the ground in “60 days.” Then excuses about redesigning the stadium and the credit crunch put pay to any new stadium in Stanley Park in the near future, and nothing of real note has happened since.

So where does this theory of Wenger’s fit in? Many Liverpool fans have rightly assumed that the new stadium was a con due to all of these failed promises that Hicks and Gillett have made over their two year stay at the club, but they may well be yet another twist in the tale. As I said above, both Hicks and Gillett have expressed their desire to build a new stadium right from the start of their time at the club. Why? Because to make a quick profit on the club they believed building a stadium would increase the market value of the club and make it more attractive to buyers. A quick buy and sale seemed to be on the cards.

So what went wrong? It seemed Hicks and Gillett lacked the investment to get the stadium build up and running straight away, a subsequent redesign of the stadium put back any chance of a quick build as well increasing the costs and the American owners then found themselves in the midst of a credit crunch. Without any means to increase the market value of the club, the Americans were left with a club that could only sell at a loss. Both the club and owners were saddled with a 300m debt that somehow needed financing, and according to Managing Director Christian Purslow 245m weighs solely on the club’s shoulders.

There however maybe some light at the end of the tunnel. Information about selling the naming rights to the new stadium has emerged in recent weeks. There is a hope that £250million can be raised from such a sale, a sale which should bring half the amount needed to build the new stadium. The American owners believe that the figure is realistic and is in the line with the global marketing potential of Liverpool, who have millions of fans around the world. A potential already being tapped by the new record shirt sponsorship with Standard Chartered, which at £80m is a massive leap from previous sponsors Carlsberg. Hicks was quoted as saying:

Naming rights are a global market. We likely will partner with someone wanting global branding, unlike the US stadiums, which only worry about TV appeal in the States, similar to why Standard Chartered chose to partner with us on our shirts.

The naming rights would be the biggest stadium sponsorship deal in sporting history, even eclipsing the recent deal which CitiGroup struck with New York Mets for Citi Field, which was worth an estimated £240 million over 20 years. Previous shirt sponsors Carlsberg were interested in the stadium rights but the asking price may be too high for them.

So does this theory of Wenger’s hold true that clubs are building stadiums to make their owners a quick buck? If the American owners at Liverpool do get their funding for the new stadium, let’s see how quickly they scarper.