Photographers, make up artists and technicians hurry around, zipping from person to person. Steven Gerrard, Luis Suarez and Pepe Reina are used to this. Modelling the various Liverpool kits for the next season is something the Liverpool captain and goalkeeper have become accustomed to, and Suarez will, in all likelihood, carry the burden for the next 10 years. LeBron James is also accustomed to modelling. Nike, Sprite and McDonalds all make use of his 6’8 frame. But ‘King’ James has never been seen wearing Liverpool FC’s gleaming red, Standard Chartered-sponsored home kit before. Millions of people have never seen Andy Carroll actually being made to look small by someone. And millions of basketball fans around the world are running into stores to pick up James’ latest endorsement.
The above situation has never happened, but it will. LeBron James has become a 10% stakeholder in one of the most well known football clubs in the world. Liverpool can claim to hold 200 million fans around the world, and just as many people, if not more, will have heard of LeBron James. Forbes ranked James as the second most influential athlete in America. He’s only the third man to ever appear on the cover of the world-leading fashion magazine Vogue (being the first black man and non-actor). Nike have various exclusive shoes designed and endorsed by him, covering not only basketball, but baseball too. LeBron is big enough to own a marketing firm, who brought in $30million for him last year. His sporting achievements though, are what made him big in the first place.
He won an Olympic gold medal with the USA basketball team, making him famous in China, after winning a duel against the legendary Yao Ming. In the last two seasons, he’s been named the NBA Most Valuable Player, playing for a small-time club in an unfashionable position. This is an award which is taken very seriously in America, much unlike the mickey-mouse award ceremonies that we have in England (in 2009, James received 116 out of a possible 122 votes for the award). Few people, athletes or not, can match his global reach.
Liverpool getting involved with James could be seen as pointless. Why bother having James as a minority stakeholder? What’s the point? He’s a controversial basketballer with a massive ego, being voted as the 6th most hated sports’ personality. Well for one, Liverpool have never conducted pre-season tours of America like Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United because they simply do not have a big name like the aforementioned clubs do. Those clubs are the most well known in the world because of their trophies (something Liverpool have lacked recently) and links (David Beckham and Thierry Henry playing in America, for example). LeBron James gives Liverpool a link to America, creating exposure, shirt sales and life-long fans. He also has a massive support in Asia, where his profile was raised during the Olympic games, and where Liverpool will be touring this summer.
Standard Chartered, who signed a historic and record-breaking sponsorship deal with Liverpool (breaking a monotonous and stupidly long stay with Carlsberg), have publicly stated their intentions for Liverpool. To raise Liverpool fans in Asia with the signings of Asian players, and for Liverpool’s own players to maintain a good public profile. It may seem a bit fussy, from someone who is ultimately just a shirt sponsor, but FSG understand the importance of keeping good relations with Standard Chartered, and it was not surprising to see a tour to Asia which will keep them happy for now. The bank, with $517 billion in assets will be a good ally for years to come, financially and aesthetically (have Liverpool ever worn such a beautiful kit?)
Another very good sign from Liverpool is the openness of the board about their plans for the future. Damien Comolli never has any hesitation to mention that he’s working on transfer targets, and Ian Ayre is settling well into his new role. Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll have been signed, Ashley Young has been publicly identified, and Sylvain Marveaux has reportedly been taken on a pre-contract already. The reserve coach John McMahon, Roy Hodgson, and many other back room staff have left. FSG have not been hesitant to make the changes as required, but equally seem set on re-creating the Liverpool Way.
Modernising Liverpool Football Club is sure to be a lengthy process, but FSG are taking the right steps, as they did with Boston Red Sox. Improving the media profile will result in shirt sales, which will result in profit, which will result in even more spending money, which will result in a financially successful and stable club, new additions to the bulging yet old trophy cabinet, and an increased likelihood of a stadium. King Kenny and King James have never heard of each other, but they will both play a part in putting Liverpool back where they belong – as Sir Alex Ferguson put it, on ‘their ****ing perch’.