Your 10 questions with Ian Ayre


  • Business
  • Saturday, 09 Jul 2011

As Asia is a big support base for Liverpool Football Club (LFC) what are your plans to develop football in this part of the world? Nobin K Chaudhury, Petaling Jaya

LFC does not really plan to develop football in Asia. We leave true local football development in each Asian market to its local football association and in your case, the Football Association of Malaysia, and we also follow the developments of the Asian Football Confederation in a wider sense. What we are focused on is youth opportunities through our global international soccer schools and football academies and also working with local sports organisations like KLFA at their new facilities.

Most fans read and see the manager as the face of the football club whereas for any other company, the top executive normally is. Why is it so for football and should that change? Lily Tan, Kuala Lumpur

That is true but I think that is because we are ultimately an entertainment business. Just as people think of a movie and think of the leading actors or the director or just as you might go to a music concert and think of the lead singer of the band or the band manager, the reality is there is always a movie studio or a record label in the background who make the entire business and event possible.

The important thing at the club is that everyone works together. For us, it is not about who is the face of the company. It’s really all about how we function, operate and perform as a team that really matters. We have a great structure now with lots of good people all working together to deliver what we all want the most which is success on and off the pitch for our fans

How has the support given by LFC supporters from Asia and, specifically, Malaysia helped towards the development of the club, in terms of finances and in honours? Eddy Saw, Selangor

Good question. It may surprise you to know that almost half of our total revenue at LFC now comes from international markets. Specifically for Malaysia, revenue comes from several areas – media revenue from the Premier League TV rights shown in Malaysia and from our own LFCTV channel seen on TV and subscribed for on the Web in Malaysia, from merchandise sales online and offline in Malaysia and from other commercial activities such as tours, licensing and of course, from our sponsors, many of whom have significant business in Malaysia. All of that goes towards running the club, buying players and making the day to day running of LFC possible.

How secure is the club now compared to the previous American owners and what is the benefit of being owned by a group that is already running another sport’s (baseball) biggest teams? Mohd Rizal, Kuantan

The club is owned by Fenway Sports Group and they have an excellent track record in sports. As you pointed out, they run one of the biggest franchises in baseball and have been very successful. They also own a Nascar team and a very successful TV network in the US. The benefit is that they know sport, they know how to own and operate sport-based businesses and they bring lots of experience in similar areas that we operate. Putting all of their experience and investment alongside the team we have at LFC makes us much stronger and much better equipped than most clubs to continue to grow.

For example, we are now working very closely with our colleagues in Fenway Sports Group in the US to look at how we can further develop LFC’s offering in the US itself. They have a big team of people there, who we believe will be a fantastic asset in growing the LFC presence for fans in the US.

Why is it that LFC is only coming to Malaysia now? How important is such a tour for the club financially, and its fans? Charles Ho, Muar, Johor

We are only coming to Malaysia now because we have to try to satisfy the demands of our fans in every country that wants to see the team up close. We have to balance this in our world travels each year. Being such a popular club, it’s only possible to go to 3-4 places each summer. So, it’s really about trying to find the best place to go where as many fans from that country as well as the surrounding countries can see the team. On this occasion, we are pleased to have chosen Malaysia. Personally, it’s a great choice as I have lived in the country and have many friends. I know how great our fans are and what a wonderful welcome our team will get in Kuala Lumpur (on July 16).

As for the financial value, this is one part of many financial elements to our business. The most important part though is not the money. It is a chance to let the fans see the players up close and also for our players to get fit and prepare themselves for the new English Premier League (EPL) season which starts just one month after the game in KL.

LFC has one of the most lucrative sponsorship deals with Standard Chartered and with Warrior coming in as a jersey supplier two years from now. What’s the attraction? How different will the jersey from Warrior, a company that is just getting into football, be compared with the current kit? Suresh V, Malacca

When we sell sponsorships or as we call them, partnerships, we always talk about the heart of Liverpool Football Club. Being a partner of LFC is not about how many tickets you will get to a game or how many games we will win, or what player we might sign. We are very unique as a club, as a team and as a brand. We are authentic, we are traditional and we have a special bond with our fans and with football.

The way our club conducts itself, the way our fans support each other and the club is unique. They invest in us because we are a unique club and because they know that being associated with LFC has short and long term value.

The club has not announced any new kit deals with anyone. So it would not be appropriate to answer the second part of your question.

You worked in Malaysia before. How long were you here, what did you do, what are your fond memories of Malaysia, do you still have ties here and how did you end up as the managing director of LFC? Eric Wong, Puchong

I lived in KL for almost 5 years. I was the chief operating officer for Total Sports Asia – a sports marketing business based in PJ. I have so many fond memories. I love the food from roti canai in the morning to curry laksa for lunch and to go to kopi shops and mamak stalls to watch EPL on Saturday nights! I particularly love the diversity of cultures living together and respecting each other, which is quite unique and makes Malaysia a very special place. I also met my girlfriend there, so I have to say I have fond memories of Malaysian girls too or I will be in trouble! I still own a condo in KL.

I ended up as the MD of LFC, I hope, through hard work and dedication. I left Total Sports Asia in early 2007 and wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I had experience running a small football club in the UK called Huddersfield Town, where I was the CEO and chairman in 2000. I had also worked in one of the biggest sports media companies in football. I knew I wanted to stay working in sports. One of those strange things – I got a call out of the blue from a “headhunter” representing LFC saying that the owners of LFC wanted to talk to me about the job as Commercial Director. I joined the club in summer 2007 and then set about building up the club’s commercial revenues, which I am pleased to say grew by over 90% in that period.

Then more recently, when Fenway Sports Group acquired the club, they set about looking for a new person to run it. I asked to be considered and was ultimately chosen. As someone who grew up around Anfield and having been a fan all my life, it is a great honour and the ultimate business challenge. Essentially, I got my dream job!

How different is the rivalry with Manchester United and that with Everton? If you had to choose a victory against one of those clubs, which will it be? Zulkifli Hassan, Kangar

For me, that has to be Manchester United as that’s true rivalry on the pitch. LFC are still the most successful club in England and Manchester United are a close second. So it’s a rivalry to be the best in football, and I’m pleased to say that with 5 European Cups, we are still the best and long may it continue!

The rivalry with Everton is strong but different ... it’s more linked to the proximity of the two clubs and many people (like me) have divided loyalties in their families where their brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles might support either Everton or Liverpool. So I don’t think they are the same.

It’s not easy to have the level of rivalry with your uncle or brother who might be an Evertonian as you can have with a Manchester United supporter, and trust me there are not many Manchester United fans who come from Liverpool. I definitely say it’s a stronger rivalry with Manchester United.

If I had to choose, personally, I would beat Manchester United every time. I don’t have to worry about Everton losing as they can do that all on their own :) :)

Has a decision been made whether the new owners will prefer LFC to remain at Anfield or move to a new stadium? Subramaniam, Ipoh

We are still working on a study around the two options. Although everyone is frustrated about the wait, what we learnt over the last few years is that the most important thing is to make the right choice. That means we have to ensure that whichever direction we take, it is the best solution, economically viable and can have certainty of being delivered.

We are not quite at the point where we know all the answers yet but we are working hard to find the right solutions. As soon as we do, our fans will be the first to know.

Where are the club and the fans heading to next season and how would you describe the recovery of Liverpool under Kenny Dalglish? Ir.Kumar Subramaniam, Petaling Jaya

I’m probably not the best person to tell you how we will do on the football side. We leave those comments for the manager and the players to deliver. I think where we are as a club is on the way up. I think everyone at the club, including our fans feel optimistic that we are once again heading in the right direction.

Kenny has had a fantastic effect on the resurgence of the club, as have our new owners and various other people. But as I have said in other questions and in other interviews, the secret to success for LFC going forward is about everyone working together, manager, owners, players, fans, staff, partners etc.

It’s nice to see our fans smiling and feeling good about the new season ahead. The best anyone can ever promise is to do their best.

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