Brand Health Check: Liverpool FC:

The once-mighty football club has been struggling off the field as well as on it.

Five years ago, Liverpool FC beat AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League Final. The victory was hailed as a return to the glory days, but now the team is languishing in the relegation zone of the Premiership, having so far failed to meet expectations under manager Roy Hodgson.

While all teams occasionally suffer a dip in form, Liverpool's on-field failures have been matched by an alarming financial malaise. When Tom Hicks and George Gillett took over Liverpool in 2007, the club's debt stood at about £45m. Just over two years later, it had escalated to £245m.

The takeover of the club last week by New England Sports Ventures, another US conglomerate, has given fans hope that Liverpool can rise again. However, as both Liverpool and Manchester United can testify, ownership by profit-hungry US businessmen is not necessarily a good thing.

The incoming owners have, however, got off to a good start by meeting debt payments demanded by the club's bank, RBS. They have also avoided the brash statements typical of incoming owners by pledging to 'under-promise and over-deliver'.

How can Liverpool ensure that its global reputation is unharmed by the club's recent league decline and fraught takeover? We asked David Atkinson, managing partner of sponsorship agency Space, which works with Chelsea FC's main sponsor, Samsung, and Simon Freedman, head of sponsorship at O2 and former group head of marketing at The Football Association.

DIAGNOSIS: Two industry experts on how Liverpool FC can return to winning ways


On one level, New England Sports Ventures' (NESV) acquisition could be seen as one US misadventure to another.

US ownership in the Premiership is not a new thing (the Glazers at Manchester United and Lerner at Villa). However, it tends to make failure far more visible and spark explosive and venomous headlines.

Die-hards and financiers alike harbour doubts as to whether our transatlantic cousins truly understand 'soccer', suspecting that their motivations are wholly commercial. However, NESV has an impressive track record in the US in areas where Liverpool needs investment - licensing, sponsorship and asset exploitation.

These 'assets', at least on the pitch, also need attention. Roy Hodgson's squad has lurched from disaster to crisis amid hints of player unrest and loss of form.

The whole regime needs stability, and if that is found sooner rather than later, Liverpool's long-term future will look much more positive.


- The values and heritage of the club have been overlooked, and a return to 'the Liverpool way' is needed on and off the pitch.

- Greater links to the US will help grow the 'soccer' franchise and leverage Liverpool FC internationally.

- Retention of key players needs to be guaranteed, driving success on the pitch - perhaps a US soccer star might encourage international interest.

- If NESV's decision to allow its baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, to remain at its popular Fenway Park stadium is used as a guide, the signs could be good for Liverpool's continued residence at Anfield.


Liverpool FC's brand health is fundamentally determined by its on-pitch results. No matter how strong its commercial or brand strategy, team performance is the biggest driver of brand perception and value.

Following huge success in the 70s and 80s, Liverpool has never won the Premier League. The club finished in seventh place last season, which has precipitated the current crisis.

This relative failure on the pitch has arguably been more pronounced off it. Liverpool's heritage and brand value were built by Bill Shankly in the 60s. The traditions he established were replicated by subsequent managers: the famous boot room; developing youngsters through its academy system; strong community links; and a bond with fans.

Former manager Rafael Benitez's tenure, alongside the ownership of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, departed radically from Liverpool's core brand values and heritage. This has culminated in huge debts, High Court battles and the team languishing near the bottom of the Premier League. A lack of investment in developing the stadium has further restricted revenue growth, thus hampering money for playing talent.


- Take the pressure off Roy Hodgson to deliver anything beyond a top-seven finish this season.

- Create distance between brand health and on-pitch results by: re-engaging fans; establishing boardroom and financial stability; and rekindling plans to build a new stadium.

- Replicate Barcelona's local youth and coaching investment.

- Begin training Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher to be a coach or manager after 2020.