Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United. The trio of clubs dominate the list of annual shirt sales, with their massive recent success and you would expect the other major players on the European scene to come in next. The likes of Serie A champions AC Milan, perennial contenders Chelsea, Inter (just a year removed from winning the first ever Italian treble), or Bayern Munich would be the likely choice for fourth on that list. But it is none of those clubs, instead a club from a city smaller than all of them, a club that has won 3 trophies in 8 years. Liverpool come in with 900,000 shirt sales, despite the dearth of success in recent years.
But that statistic doesn’t tell the true story. The same study that concluded the above also noted that while Real Madrid lead Liverpool in terms of selling Adidas shirts, Liverpool actually sell more merchandise overall. In any case, the commercial base that Fenway Sports Group will be looking to exploit is massive – and that too with a relative lack of exposure in India, the Far East, and America. Football schools are being set up in India, reaching out to thousands of talented footballers in what will become the world’s most populous country. Advertising is extensive, on TV screens and on billboards throughout South and East Asia, and the team will go on a short tour this summer in the region.
Cracking the American market, however, will be very difficult. American viewers have a luxury of sports to choose from. Ice hockey, baseball, American football, Major League Soccer, lacrosse, IndyCar/Nascar, and wrestling, amongst many other niche sports have produced iconic sportsmen that have brought in millions to the sports industry over the years. Wayne Gretzky, Alex Rodriguez, Brett Favre, Landon Donovan, Dario Franchitti have all forced their way into household vocabulary. Basketball has arguably suffered from not having a true pin-up since Michael Jordan retired. This is where LeBron James comes in.
When the first reports of ‘King’ James acquiring a stake in the Anfield-based club emerged, many profiles of him were done, so a brief overview should suffice. He’s the NBA’s equivalent of Cristiano Ronaldo. Stronger, quicker, better than all the opposition, with an arrogant streak and a lot of flair, he has won close to every individual NBA award possible, and is yet to reach his peak. James made $30million last year from his marketing firm alone. He was the first sportsman, the first black man, and only the third man ever to appear on the cover of Vogue. And it is through fashion that LeBron has done his part for the club, sporting Liverpool FC themed shirts at his post-game conferences.
A source around the club has revealed that James wants to up his share in the club. This is great news for both parties. From Liverpool’s side, James has been named second most marketable sports personality in America. He is worshipped and abused in almost equal quantities, and anything he says is either genuinely controversial or sensationalised into hype and controversy. He provides a gateway to America, where the other big clubs have past players or high profile celebrity fans. Anything he does with the Liverbird on his chest will gain the club more fans, resulting in bigger profits and an explosion in the Liverpool FC brand name.
LeBron James’ aura also extends to Asia though, where he is worshipped after winning a monumental battle against the Chinese legend Yao Ming in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Standard Chartered, Liverpool’s primary sponsors, certainly won’t be complaining, after publically announcing their plans to break into the region. John Henry won’t mind either, considering Standard Chartered give LFC £20million ever year.
LeBron James dominates the world of basketball, on the pitch and off it. Liverpool aren’t doing too badly off the pitch, but let’s see if LeBron James’ influence can help them dominate on the football pitch too.