After six successive years of Champions League football, Liverpool find themselves on the outside looking in.
With owner Fenway Sports Group (FSG) sticking to its self-sustaining business model, dropping out of Europe’s elite leaves a financial hole.
Liverpool received around £106million ($135m) in prize money from their run to the Champions League final in 2021-22 and around £70m for reaching the last 16 last season.
Life in the 2023-24 Europa League will be considerably less lucrative, not to mention less glamorous. Even if Jurgen Klopp’s side go all the way to the final next May, the club will be fortunate to pocket more than £35million.
It is a painful point and its impact is not lost on Billy Hogan, Liverpool’s chief executive.
“Obviously, it creates a difference from a revenue standpoint, and we have to operate accordingly,” Hogan admits. “Our goal is to run the club sustainably. When you are missing revenue from the Champions League, you have to react accordingly — and we’ve done that.”
It is not simply the absence of Champions League football this season that has sparked frustration among sections of fans. The slow progress on making new signings this summer – particularly in the context of a raft of summer departures – has also irked many.
Transfers, however, are not part of Hogan’s job description, although plenty else is.
During an exclusive interview with The Athletic, he is happy to confront many of them, from delays to the new Anfield Road Stand opening to the kit deal with Nike, the club’s link-up with basketball icon LeBron James and pre-season tour plans for 2024.
With no fresh developments on FSG’s ongoing search for investment as it considers selling a minority stake – Hogan simply says “those conversations continue” – it’s his job to ensure Liverpool keep growing off the pitch in order to fund what manager Klopp is trying to achieve on it.
The latest accounts, published for 2021-22, showed Liverpool generated club-record revenues of £594million, putting them third in the Deloitte Football Money League, but spiralling costs meant they made a small pre-tax profit of just £7.5m.
The wage bill, which rocketed to £366million during that challenge for glory on all fronts, has been significantly reduced since then. James Milner, Naby Keita, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Roberto Firmino, Arthur Melo, Jordan Henderson and Fabinho, who all left the club this summer, earned in excess of £1m per week combined.
Matchday revenue, which stood at £86million for 2021-22, will receive a sizeable shot in the arm this season — but not as quickly as anticipated given the delays to the completion of the Anfield Road Stand redevelopment.
The £80million project, which will add 7,000 extra seats and increase capacity to 61,000, was due to be finished in time for the opening home game against Bournemouth on August 19.
However, with the work undertaken by contractor Buckingham Group so far behind schedule, Liverpool recently announced they will start the campaign with only the stand’s lower tier open and a reduced capacity of around 51,000. There will be a phased opening process for the upper tier, with it expected to be fully operational by October.
What went wrong?
“We need to sit down and look at it,” says Hogan. “We started this project in the middle of the pandemic. It was widely discussed then about supply-chain issues and resource issues.
“I think the fact we’re pretty close to opening is a good thing.
“Anyone who has been through any type of construction project knows these things are fluid. We will work with Buckingham and Liverpool City Council to make sure it opens incrementally and appropriately. It will be similar to how the Main Stand opened in stages in 2016. Back then, we had to move our second game, so we opened that season with three away games. We haven’t had to do that this time.
“We would have hoped to be fully open by Bournemouth, but it’s been a complex project. It should be fully completed by October and off we go.
“I think everyone would agree that the Main Stand added to the atmosphere, and this is a similar design.
“I’m just really excited about the fact we’re going to have 7,000 extra supporters inside Anfield. It’s the next step in the evolution of Anfield. The atmosphere is going to be incredible.”
Commercially, Liverpool are continuing to make strides. They are now reaping the rewards of the five-year kit deal with Nike, which started in 2020 after they won a court battle to cut their ties with New Balance.
Liverpool accepted a relatively low flat fee from Nike of £30million per season on the basis they would also pocket royalties of 20 per cent (reduced to five per cent on footwear) on all net sales of merchandise globally. Then the pandemic hit, and stores were forced to close.
“The timing of it in year one was a real challenge with the impact of Covid, the (2019-20) season being delayed and then extended,” Hogan explains. “But now we’re into year three, we’re really seeing the benefits. We had a record year last year in terms of kit sales and from a revenue standpoint. It’s been terrific.
“The two new kits we’ve released this summer have both had very strong starts. We do surveys of our supporters after a release and the new home kit has been one of the highest rated we’ve had in the past decade. There will be a third kit released soon.”
Earlier this year, Liverpool and Nike teamed up with LeBron James to launch a special fashion and footwear range.
The LA Lakers basketball star, who boasts over 200 million followers on Instagram and Twitter/X combined, is a minority shareholder in FSG. Liverpool strengthening ties with one of the most recognisable athletes on the planet has opened doors as they target new markets.
“Any time you can bring two iconic sporting names together, Liverpool and LeBron, that’s going to be a winning combination,” Hogan says. “Certainly, we’ve seen that with the interest level in the most recent collaboration. There’s a benefit to both of us – those folks who may not be Liverpool supporters but might be fans of LeBron, and vice versa.”
The current Nike deal runs until 2025, but talks are set to start over an extension.
“Typically, those conversations would begin roughly around this time,” Hogan says. “From a production standpoint, you’re typically around a year out anyway in terms of kit design and everything else. Those will start. We will get to that.”
Some lucrative contract extensions have already kicked in this summer.
Shirt-front sponsor Standard Chartered is now paying Liverpool around £50million per year after agreeing fresh terms, while the deal with sleeve sponsor Expedia is worth in excess of £10m per year.
New partnerships have also been secured, including one with Peloton, the club’s first-ever digital-fitness partner, and Google Pixel, the club’s official mobile phone partner. Liverpool are hopeful insurance company AXA, which sponsors their training kit and has the naming rights to the training ground, will also agree an extension.
“If you look at our family of partners, there’s a real blue-chip nature to the brands,” Hogan says. “There’s a real benefit to the club with the revenue they help us generate and in terms of interaction and activation for supporters across the world.”
For a club who have to operate within their means, money-spinning pre-season tours are crucial.
Liverpool recently arrived home from a week-long stay in Singapore, where nearly 80,000 fans, paying between £57 and £174 for tickets, watched games against Leicester City and Bayern Munich. Some 15,000 supporters also paid £20 to watch Klopp’s squad train.
The decision to return to Singapore just 12 months after their last visit was influenced by Klopp’s desire to leave the overseas tour until later in the pre-season schedule this time around.
“We go through a similar process each year. It always starts around a year in advance, looking at various options,” Hogan says. “There is a real collaboration between the commercial side and the football side of the club to assess what the schedule looks like. Last year, we were out on tour early, when we went to Bangkok (Thailand) and Singapore. Then the team went to a training camp in Austria.
“This year, the coaching staff and Jurgen wanted to flip that, with the training camp first; then we looked at what our options were.
“Singapore was the best one for a number of reasons. We had a great experience there last year and the facilities are terrific. It’s one of the major headquarters for Standard Chartered and we have hundreds of millions of fans across south-east Asia. It was a position where it made sense both football-wise and commercially.”
Liverpool haven’t toured North America since 2019, when they played matches in Indiana, Boston (where FSG is based) and New York. It’s highly likely the U.S. will be their destination of choice in 2024. “It’s not set yet, but it’s definitely on the table,” Hogan says.
America has become a potentially even more attractive option now the country is in the grip of Lionel Messi hysteria, the Argentinian having moved to MLS club Inter Miami from Paris Saint-Germain earlier this summer.
“He’s got off to a very good start and that can only be good for the game and for the growth of the game globally,” says Hogan, a native of Cleveland, Ohio.
“Ultimately, that will benefit the Premier League as well. It’s the most competitive league in the world with most of the best players and best managers in the world. That’s compelling.
“The popularity of the Premier League has been growing massively in the U.S. over several years. The partnership with (TV network) NBC has been really beneficial. Liverpool has always had a significant fanbase there and we know it continues to grow.”
Another part of the club’s business plan involves making Anfield a year-round venue.
Taylor Swift will play three concerts at the stadium next June, and further artists are set to be added to its summer schedule.
“Taylor Swift is arguably the biggest artist in the world right now – she’s a force of nature; so that’s exciting,” Hogan says. “We also have the option of hosting other sports, but we have to be protective of the playing surface, so we’re focused on the (football) close-season. We replaced the pitch last summer with a hybrid carpet that allows us a bit more time in the summer as it doesn’t take as long to regrow.
“We have a license to host up to six non-football major events each year and we’re working on additional opportunities.”
(Top photos: Getty Images)