Last month, Liverpool owner John Henry upset some Liverpool fans when he suggested that expanding the Anfield Road end of the club’s stadium might not make sense when comparing the increased revenue to investment cost. It shouldn’t have been a controversial statement. For those looking for the slightest excuse to complain about the club’s owners, it was.
Today, CEO Ian Ayre expanded on Henry’s earlier statements during a meeting of the Liverpool Supporters’ Committee where he discussed the challenges of further expanding Anfield. In particular, Ayre is uncertain of the value in expanding the Anfield Road end at a cost of £60-70M to add just 6,000 seats, an undertaking that would take 15 years to pay off.
“A stand behind the goal doesn’t have the benefit of hospitality that would go a long way towards meeting the redevelopment costs,” explained the club’s CEO. “If you consider the redevelopment of Anfield Road from a purely general admission perspective, building 6,000 extra seats to take capacity up to 60,000 would cost somewhere between £60-70M.
“At £12,000 to £13,000 per seat, it would take approximately 15 years to pay back, which is not a smart investment for the business. Therefore the Club needs to find a rounded solution that’s in the best interests of the football club. As with the main stand, the club has to find the right economic model, and only then will it be the right time to move forward.”
None of that should be controversial, though judging on past evidence, a certain portion of the club’s support will take it as a slight the owners don’t want to spend 15 years paying off further expansion. Yet given those owners have so far proven willing to reinvest all of the club’s profits into the club’s on-pitch product, complaints of this nature are juvenile.
Expansion that costs money rather than making it over the medium-term means less to reinvest in the on-pitch product—less to spend on player transfers and wages, or on training ground improvements and scouting and medical staff. The club’s owners made the choice to invest £115M in main stand expansion precisely because it would benefit all those things in relatively short order.
If expanding the Anfield Road end doesn’t do any of that, it would be a vanity project. Moreover, the owners and Ayre have at no point said they don’t want to expand Anfield further. Just that they need to be able to make the numbers work before doing so. It’s a wise approach; a financially prudent approach. It’s the kind of responsible ownership that should really be applauded.
To find fault in it says more about those who are finding fault than anything. It points to a need some have to find any reason to be angry at the club’s current American owners largely because they are American owners and regardless of whether the facts support said anger. It reflects a desire for the club to exist in a reality, financial and otherwise, that is not a plausible reality.
Short of finding a way to relocate the club to 1970, it rather amounts to a desire to find a local Scouse owner with the pockets of a Sheikh or Russian oil tycoon and the ability to wave away the realities of Financial Fair Play. And that’s not an owner that exists. In the absence of that, expecting further expansion to not be a vanity project and pay for itself is reasonable and responsible.