Red Sox group takes Liverpool's reins

Updated: October 15, 2010, 8:16 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- After reviving the pride of New England, John Henry and Tom Werner will try to resuscitate one of Old England's most famous soccer teams.

The Boston Red Sox ownership group won its fight for Liverpool on Friday, gaining control of the struggling and nearly bankrupt Premier League club from Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr. in a trans-Atlantic legal tussle that replaced one set of American owners with another.

Henry We are committed first and foremost to winning. We have a history of winning, and today we want LFC supporters to know that this approach is what we intend to bring to this great club.

-- John Henry,
head of New England Sports Ventures

Henry and Werner are hoping to do with soccer what they did in baseball.

Before they bought the Red Sox in 2002, the franchise hadn't won the World Series since 1918. The pair transformed it into a model club that won not one but two Series titles, in 2004 and 2007. They restored venerable Fenway Park, to boot.

Now they'll turn their attention to the pride of Liverpool, the gritty northwest England seaport that brought the world the Beatles. While the Reds have won a record-tying 18 English league titles, they haven't finished first since 1990, and play in crumbling and cramped 126-year-old Anfield. Currently, they are 18th among 20 teams, in danger of being sent to the minor leagues next season.

"We are committed first and foremost to winning," Henry said. "We have a history of winning, and today we want LFC supporters to know that this approach is what we intend to bring to this great club."

The purchase by New England Sports Ventures, the parent company of the Red Sox, was arranged by the New York company Inner Circle Sports and had an announced value of $476 million. The sale was engineered by the team's three independent directors, appointed last spring by the Royal Bank of Scotland after Hicks and Gillett couldn't make debt payments on loans they used in their 2007 leveraged buyout, which cost $431 million.

Hicks and Gillett claimed they pumped millions more into the team and that it currently is worth as much as $1 billion. They said RBS and the independent directors led by chairman Martin Broughton sold Liverpool out from under them in an "illegal ... extraordinary swindle."

Hicks said RBS refused to allow him to repay Liverpool's debts of around $453 million to RBS and Wells Fargo, which were due Friday.

"This was a conspiracy of the British Establishment -- Royal Bank of Scotland -- our chairman and our highly compensated employees," Hicks said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Following litigation in courts in London and Dallas, lawyers for Hicks and Gillett moved to lift a temporary restraining order in Texas on Friday, allowing the sale to be completed. While they dropped their claim for $1.6 billion in damages, they threatened future legal action that could drag on for years.

Hicks is trying to sell the NHL's Dallas Stars, and in August sold baseball's bankrupt Texas Rangers to a group headed by former Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan for $590 million. Gillett owned the NHL's Montreal Canadiens before selling them in December to the Molson family along with the team's arena and a concert promotion company -- a deal said to be worth $575 million.

Henry said the acquisition debt has been eliminated and the cost of annual interest had dropped from $40 million-plus to $3 million to $5 million. The New York Times Co., parent of the newspaper, owns about 16.6 percent of NESV.

"All that huge amount of money that our fans spend supporting our team, coming to games and all the other activities is now available for what it should be available for, to invest," Liverpool managing director Christian Purslow said.

With Liverpool off to its worst league start since 1953, the Boston group will face the same stadium dilemma as its predecessors: Whether to renovate Anfield, whose 45,000 capacity is far smaller than rivals Manchester United and Arsenal, or build a new stadium in a city that may not have enough income to fill pricey luxury boxes and club seats.

"We're not going to have a lot to say," Henry said. "We are going to do a lot of listening. We have a lot to learn. Our actions will hopefully speak for words."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press