Liverpool signs up to American dream(2)

Liverpool has become the third English football club to come under US ownership, after accepting a £470 million takeover bid from US private equity veteran Tom Hicks and compatriot George Gillett. The deal will help the club finance a new stadium.

Liverpool Football Club, English football’s most decorated club side, has brought an end to its long-running takeover saga by accepting a £470 million (€714 million; $924 million) bid from buyout veteran Tom Hicks and fellow US sports tycoon George Gillett.

In a statement to the stock echange, the club said it was “unanimously recommending” a bid from Hicks and Gillett’s joint vehicle, called Kop Football.

Under the terms of the deal, Kop Football has committed to building a new £200 million stadium in nearby Stanley Park and financing player transfers, while assuming the club’s £45 million debt and buying out the existing shareholders. It has already secured acceptances for 62% of the stock, including that of current chairman David Moores, who becomes honorary life president.

Hicks only joined forces with Gillett in the last month, reportedly after meeting at an ice hockey game. The two men both own ice hockey clubs – Gillett owns the Montreal Canadiens, while Hicks owns the Dallas Stars, as well as the Texas Rangers baseball team. Hicks’ expertise in building world-class sports stadia was apparently highly attractive to Liverpool’s board, which has been looking to finance a move away from the club’s current Anfield stadium for two years.

The emergence of Hicks averted a potential embarrassment for Liverpool, after Dubai International Capital pulled out of talks to buy the club. DIC had appeared to be the front-runner in the battle to take over Liverpool, but abruptly withdrew from negotiations last week after the board failed to approve its bid. However, the tie-up between Hicks and Gillett ensured that the board had an attractive alternative to fall back on.

Gillett and Hicks said in a statement: “Liverpool is a fantastic club with a remarkable history and a passionate fanbase. We fully acknowledge and appreciate the unique heritage and rich history of Liverpool and intend to respect this heritage in the future.”

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry said it was a new era for the club. “The partnership created by George and Tom is very special. They are bringing to the table tremendous and relevant experience, a passion for sport, real resources and a strong commitment to the traditions of Liverpool.”

Liverpool will hope that the injection of US capital will help them to compete with the top clubs in Europe, both on and off the field. The club has won more major domestic and European trophies than any other English team, but it has not won the English title for 17 years. It also lags behind the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United in commercial terms.

It is the third English football club to fall into US hands. The Glazer family bought current league leaders Manchester United in 2005, while Randy Lerner took control of perennial underachievers Aston Villa last year.