Last October marked the 10 year anniversary of Fenway Sports Group acquiring Liverpool Football Club. It took some time and some trial and error, but eventually their reign brought the club a renovated and expanded Anfield, a League Cup trophy, three European finals, one Champions League trophy and finally, the coup de grace, the 19th league title that Liverpool fans have waited for.
Fans aren’t dumb. They understood from the beginning that despite the elegant words about appreciation for the club’s storied legacy and culture, FSG bought the club because they saw in it a way to make money. Capitalism has long since dominated sports, the same way it dominates everything else. However, there exists a tacit agreement between the owners and fans: you can go ahead and take your money, as long as you earn it.
The way to do that is by investing in the club, steering it in the right direction, treating the fans with respect and providing them with more exciting European nights and entertaining title challenges.
Mistakes were made by FSG, especially in the first few years as they got used to operating a club in a whole new league and on a whole new continent. The biggest snafus came in navigating the transfer market. But they have learned from their mistakes, and slowly created a cohesive transfer strategy that has served them well since Klopp’s arrival.
The FSG who shamefacedly admitted to tapping up Clint Dempsey in 2012 (#neverforget) are not the same FSG who quietly brought in Diogo Jota and Fabinho over the last few summers.
A decade of diligent, careful work to build up that good will and trust with the fans, and it was all effectively washed away over the course of 48 hours.
FSG’s involvement in the inception of this misguided Super League, a cash grab so blatant and craven that it made UEFA into the good guys, whether they knew it or not, went back on their agreement.
Taking the competition out of sport was certainly a bold move. It’s been said 1000 times now in the wake of this debacle, but a big part of the magic of the Champions League was the season-long fight to get into it.
American sports have conferences and divisions, there are smaller victories to be won in the quest to make it into the World Series or the SuperBowl. Without the fight for European qualification, England’s top league would be a challenge for the title and trying not to be relegated. Coming in second would be just as useful and gratifying as coming in 17th on the table.
A football tournament made up of the same teams every year so fundamentally misses the point of a football tournament that is makes one wonder if these people have ever even watched one.
And of course, FSG would have known that, had they solicited the opinions of any of the prominent Liverpool fan organizations on Merseyside and abroad. No fans were consulted, and to add insult to injury, the 47-word statement that the club put up after abandoning the endeavor was shameful. It was FSG who negotiated for the creation of the Super League and lobbied to get other clubs on board, but it was Liverpool Football Club who had to clean up the mess when it collapsed under the weight of public outcry. And while FSG might believe those two entities are one and the same, they are very much not.
Not a word of apology to the fans that they had disrespected in that 47-word statement. No mention of FSG either. Instead, it was a curt statement of fact that barely managed to seem civil, let alone regretful.
So where do we go from here? Can FSG come back from this? Do they even want to? Now that they’ve been denied their millions in TV revenue, will they still invest in new players or work to keep hold of the ones they have now? Would another decade be required to earn back the trust that has been lost from this PR disaster?