It appears that John Henry’s New England Sports Ventures, the ownership group of one of America’s most beloved baseball teams, the Boston Red Sox, is about to purchase one of England’s and Europe’s most beloved football (soccer to us on this side of the pond) teams, Liverpool FC. One can only hope, for the sake of both the fanatical fans of Liverpool and for Mr. Henry and his ownership team, that the intrepid American businessman and franchise owner has done his homework. Because the recent owners of Liverpool FC, also American, including (former Texas Rangers owner) Tom Hicks, have succeeded in nothing but attracting the rapturously righteous hatred of Liverpool fans worldwide.
It has gotten so bad that Mike Jefferies, Liverpool native, die-hard club supporter, and Hollywood writer and director (you can thank him for the Goal! trilogy), has just released this “Dear Mr. Hicks,” open-letter-style video, from fans to the for-the-moment-still-stubborn-team owner. Jefferies is hoping the video will go viral. To help him out, you can view the video below.
Several of the fans’ comments spoke to one of the central problems with sports owners in our current cultural economy, where the importance of the bottom line categorically trumps a team’s position in league standings. Observations of Mr. Hicks from various Liverpool fans include:
“You have no soul. You’ve put the last nail in the coffin. Why are you doing this? Greed.”
“It’s about money, and about profits, and about greed.”
“Your lying, corrupt and deceitful ways are a blight on our club.”
“You still have a duty of care [as custodian of the club].”
“You don’t want your legacy as a man to be somebody who ruined something, and is hated.”
“We deserve better.”
“… hope you are proud of yourself, Tom. (anybody thinking of financially backing this cowboy, please don’t …)”
A bit intense for sports fans, right? Not necessarily. After all, we Americans are the society with half a dozen ESPN channels, and a different Comcast Sports station in every region in the country, where you’re never more than a few weeks away from a major sport’s playoff, or the start of a new season. But while we may be more fanatical in our consumption of sports, we are less demanding, though not less annoyed, regarding the lack of stewardship that our cherished pastimes are forced to endure (by the conglomerates of team owners). In our sports society, owners are more pseudo-celebrities (think George Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones) than the recipients of the (oftentimes) rightful scorn that is delivered (usually ineffectively) by frustrated fans. (For while the highest paid athletes make upwards of an admittedly unbelievable $20 million a year, the average franchise owner has accumulated enough wealth to buy multiple teams, in multiple leagues (with the trend now being in multiple countries – how swanky!), while amassing enough gall to complain to fans that they need a publicly-financed brand-new state-of-the-art stadium, whose name will still be auctioned off to the highest (corporate) bidder.)
The fandom of Liverpool FC is clearly different. Like most fans, they, too, are mad as hell. But they are going a step further. They, like Howard Beale, aren’t going to take it anymore. In addition to the viral video fan campaign, “there is an organization called Share Liverpool FC that is attempting to recruit a hundred thousand shareholders to purchase the team outright from Hicks and Gillett,” notes political sports columnist Dave Zirin in his appropriately-titled new book, Bad Sports: How Owners are Ruining the Games We Love, which talks at length about Liverpool’s fanatical following.
“At first thought this is striking,” suggests British journalist Dave Renton, reflecting on the sale of Liverpool to American businessman Tom Hicks, “the most “socialist” football team in Britain was bought by people with no history of supporting it, no connection to the sport, and no proclaimed motive other than capital accumulation – and there was no protest.”
This, apparently, is a mistake the fans of Liverpool FC are intent on not making again. And the folks at New England Sports Ventures had better take heed.
John Henry and the rest of his New England Sports Ventures were viewed as outsiders upon their purchase of the beloved Boston Red Sox, and in the owners’ defense, most fans would consider them to be decent stewards, sensitive to the particular needs of Red Sox followers, the fans’ shared history and culture and so forth. (Not to mention two championships for the first time in decades.) So they do have that going for them.
And I’ll bet they have done their homework in regards to paying attention to this unique Liverpool fan situation. As owners, they should do nothing less. It would be nice if more fans, of other teams, paid attention, too. As followers of a sport, emulating their example could make a huge difference for the teams we devote ourselves too, as well.
“If owners threaten to move clubs,” Zirin suggests, “fans need to press the state to sue for the right to buy the team. They should claim the teams themselves are the intellectual property – the eminent domain – of their communities.”
“Sports teams operate on an entirely different emotional, or even spiritual, plane then any other corporate entity,” continues Zirin.
Fans have known and felt this for decades. It’s time for uber-wealthy businessmen-owners to run their operatations of our beloved local teams with this essential reality in mind, too.