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Expert on global sports tycoons: ‘If Henry can’t transform Liverpool, nobody can’

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By Nick Harris

13 October 2010

America has finally woken up to the power of football, and that’s the reason for the global expansion of sporting tycoons’ interests. So says Professor Chris Brady, the dean of the BPP Business School in London, an expert in sports business who has spent years studying the major American and European leagues and how they function.

And if the sale of Liverpool goes through as planned to the New England Sports Ventures group headed by John W Henry of the Boston Red Sox, then Liverpool fans should be delighted, Brady says.

“I know someone who is close to Henry and knows what he’s like personally and in business,” Brady told sportingintelligence. “The verdict on what Henry can do with a sports club was emphatic. If he buys Liverpool and it’s not a huge success, then nobody in sports business is capable of making it a success.”

Brady sees the trend of American owners moving to the Premier League as hard evidence that football rules. The Glazers at Manchester United have been followed by Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, Stan Kroenke at Arsenal, Liverpool’s Tom Hicks and George Gillett (albeit chaotically) and now Henry and his compatriots from NESV. Outside the Premier League there are also American owners at Derby and Millwall.

“Look at wider business and see what’s important in the economy, see where the inward investment is within the City of London,” Brady says. “Financial services is at the top, and after that its leisure, including sport.

“What these incomers have realised is that the biggest business opportunities in the next 100 years are going to revolve around what we do with our spare time. And these guys, who’ve been sitting on their investments in the NFL, albeit profitably, have actually realised that in global terms nobody actually gives a rat’s arse about the NFL. They’ve realise football is the most popular sport in the world and the Premier League is its showcase product.”

In the features section of sportingintelligence, we look at six leading sports tycoons with global portfolios featuring teams and / or clubs in multiple sports in more than one country. It’s notable that all of these men (and they are all men) have at least one football club among their interests (or will have).

Kroenke was long involved in MLS soccer before buying into Arsenal, Phil Anschutz of AEG effectively started the MLS, Paul Allen is now behind its most popular team (the Seattle Sounders), while Dietrich Mateschitz of the New York Red Bulls bought a side and named it after his product.

On that subject, Prof Brady sees the Mateschitz / Red Bull model as a pure marketing tool, albeit an extremely successful one for the drink brand and for the teams who benefit from the cash backing. Similarly, he sees Vijay Mallya’s spending on F1 as a signal that India is a coming power in  western markets.

“He’s a rich man and this is the trend of diversification at an international level in action,” Brady says. “The next thing to watch for is genuine Chinese interest. There’s been no-one truly serious yet. There will be soon.”

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2013-05-28 11:34:43