Lessons Unlearned? Liverpool's owners, the past and promises

Posted by No666 on September 25, 2008, 02:22:07 PM


By Various Diggers, Delvers and Scribes
(Redjam70 and HarryLabrador take a bow.)

  When Hicks and Gillett bought LFC in February 2007, The Guardian [1] ran with the headline: Liverpool fans must watch their new owners like hawks. The newspaper detailed their answers to the questions put to them at their introductory press conference. For example: how often would they be there? ‘Hicks was at pains to mention his large family…Anybody spot the figureheads?’ So how much money would be available for transfers? ‘They were not happy at being pressed on the matter. At all,’ the newspaper reported, before concluding, ‘It is the duty of every right-thinking Liverpool fan to keep a close eye on events – and cry foul long and loud if they don’t like what they see.’

  Described by one Wall Street financier as ‘a real shoot from the hip Texan,’ a description not meant as a compliment, Hicks was perfectly frank – in interviews with the Dallas Morning News [2]and The Telegraph [3] – about his motives in buying into LFC. He was initially disinclined to join Gillett in the project. However, ‘[Gillett] gave me a bunch of financial numbers which sounded attractive...I’ve been in the sports business now for 12 years and I understand all the commercial drivers… When the new stadium is built, revenues will be comparable to any NFL team but NFL teams are going for two or three times that price. I can totally understand what Glazer saw in Manchester United.’
Alongside those statements, all the right things were said, of course – about respect for tradition, about realising they were ‘custodians not owners.’ There were reassurances that there were ‘no plans to borrow against the assets of the club to finance the buy-out.’[4] But just a few months later, on Sunday May 27 The Observer[5] was reporting that the ‘impression of togetherness’ at Liverpool was a chimera. ‘A day after the [Champions League] final there was no mistaking Benitez’s anger and frustration, because when asked if he was angry and frustrated he replied: “Yes, both of those things.” …Politely yet firmly, in terms Americans would understand, Benitez was asking Hicks and Gillett to show him the money. Not the debt, not the financial restructuring…but cash on the table so he can buy a player.’

  By June 2007 there were rumours of disagreements between the two owners over the level of investment in the squad and during the following season, the disagreements surfaced in a torrid display of poor management, ill-judged public interventions and competitive ego-jostling. This unsettled the manager and was, arguably, reflected in a poor mid-season run by the team.

  So now we enter LFC’s second full season in their ownership with the news that the stadium has been ‘postponed’ yet again. It is perhaps a timely moment to consider the baggage they brought to the table with them in February 2007. It is a somewhat salutary exercise, for does it suggest that patterns are being repeated? There is a great deal more information available on Hicks, rather than Gillett, and it is for this reason, rather than for any misplaced bias towards Gillett, that this article concentrates on the former. This exercise is intended for supporters new to RAWK or who, for any reason, are unfamiliar with these details (only too familiar to so many of us) and it is intended as a resource for guests to the site. It is not – by any means – comprehensive, but sources and links are given, either indicated clearly in the copy, or at the end of the article for further reading.
As a businessman:
  Plainly Hicks has had his successes as a businessman – it is not our place to detail those here as he is so very capable of doing so himself. Our purpose here is to pose questions concerning his record and his judgement: is his assessment of himself (he is said to be famously sure of his own abilities) the right one?

  Hicks began his career on Wall Street in the 70s, had early success with his own private equity business, but in the early 80s nearly went bust, spending four years battling through the courts with a former partner, according to The Economist[6]. In the later 80s, he was one of the leveraged buyout stars of the greed-is-good decade. However, by 2000, The Economist was reporting that his private-equity firm had ‘increasingly borrowed to invest,’ but that, ‘as news of its troubles spread…the need to repay big loans from commercial banks has sent it scrambling for cash.’ Not long afterwards, Forbes[7] magazine reported, ‘Texas tycoon Thomas O. Hicks has learned a very painful lesson: Don't try to be someone you're not.
   ‘Throughout most of the 1990s, his Dallas-based Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, one of the nation's largest leveraged buyout firms, was richly rewarded for securing a controlling stake in old-economy companies, improving their bottom line and selling out at a profit.
   ‘Hicks Muse jumped on the Internet merry-go-round in 1999, played venture capitalist and sunk about $1.2 billion into public companies like Rhythms NetConnections, Teligent, Globix, ICG Communications, Metrocall, RCN Corporation and Viatel.
   ‘Hicks, chief executive of Hicks Muse, ended up badly bruised. Broadband service provider ICG has since filed for bankruptcy protection, and shares of high-speed data provider Teligent and digital subscriber line company Rhythms have dropped more then 90% since their investments, all of which have had a significant impact on the fund's performance.
   ‘After that expensive lesson, Hicks Muse has returned to what it knows best… "Our strategy now is back-to-basics, focusing on buy-and-build opportunities in the food and branded consumer product, media and cable and manufacturing sectors," said Hicks in a prepared statement, brushing off requests for an interview…
   ‘Hicks Muse may have sworn off Internet deals, but it's still not immune to mistakes.
   ‘The firm, along with takeover giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., each sank about $500 million into Nashville, Tenn.-based Regal Cinemas in 1998. Now the troubled theater chain is considering filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection from its creditors. Hicks Muse and KKR had hoped to reacquire Regal with a new buyout plan from Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz, who owns a controlling stake in Regal's debt.
  ‘But it looks like Anschutz isn't giving in, and the failed deal would mark Hicks Muse's biggest financial loss to date--far outweighing any of its individual telecom disasters. Hicks won't be able to use the Internet blame game to get him out of this pickle.’

  The New York Times[8] offered this cameo of Hicks in a 2002 article detailing how George Bush and a syndicate of owners had sold the Texas Rangers baseball team for triple the price they had paid. ‘The price-is-no-object buyer was a deal maker named Tom Hicks. And thereby hangs a tale.

  ‘The University of Texas, though a state institution, has a large endowment. As governor, Mr. Bush changed the rules governing that endowment, eliminating the requirements to disclose ''all details concerning the investments made and income realized,'' and to have ''a well-recognized performance measurement service'' assess investment results. That is, government officials no longer had to tell the public what they were doing with public money, or allow an independent performance assessment. Then Mr. Bush ''privatized'' (his term) $9 billion in university assets, transferring them to a nonprofit corporation known as Utimco that could make investment decisions behind closed doors.
  ‘In effect, the money was put under the control of Utimco's chairman: Tom Hicks. Under his direction, at least $450 million was invested in private funds managed by Mr. Hicks's business associates and major Republican Party donors. The managers of such funds earn big fees. Due to Mr. Bush's change in the rules, these investments were hidden from public view; an employee of Utimco who alerted university auditors was summarily fired. Even now, it's hard to find out how these investments turned out, though they seem to have done quite badly.  ‘Eventually Mr. Hicks's investment style created a public furor, and he did not seek to retain his position at Utimco when his term expired in 1999.’

  Finally, there is the business of Viasystems: the Evening Chronicle[9] in Newcastle reported (in Feb 2007) that the new Liverpool co-owner was the former chairman of Viasystems Group Inc, the parent company of Viasystems Tyneside Ltd which made 1,000 locals redundant in 2001, and who were still awaiting their redundancy payments ‘worth an average of £27,000 each.’ One of the workers was quoted as saying ‘I just hope he treats Liverpool a lot fairer than how we were treated.’ The taxpayer was out of pocket, too. As This is the North East,[10]detailed, ‘A US electronics firm that closed its North-East factories has left the British taxpayer with a second multi-million pound bill. Union bosses and MPs last night slammed circuit board manufacturer Viasystems, after it emerged that the firm would not have to pay cash owed to 890 workers sacked from its Tyneside plants.  ‘Engineering union Amicus won an industrial tribunal yesterday over £2.5m compensation for workers who were sacked on the spot when the firm went into receivership. Its US parent company, Viasystems Inc, is still trading. But, because it cut all ties to Viasystems Tyneside just before the North-East operation went under, the US company is not liable for any of its debts. The cash will come from the Government's National Insurance fund.

  ‘It is the second time Viasystems Inc has avoided making payments to workers. The Government also had to pay millions of pounds to cover statutory redundancy claims for the Tyneside workers. The Department of Trade and Industry is still trying to recover £9m in regional assistance paid to the firm to encourage it to set up in the North-East.’

  On Gillett, perhaps the most telling summary is this sentence from a resume on fundinguniverse.com[9] detailing his travails in the 90s: ‘In August he filed for personal bankruptcy, losing his collection of 30 sports cars and a 235,000-acre Oregon ranch in the process. However, the still-savvy entrepreneur managed to protect his $1.5 million annual salary, $5 million in Gillett Holdings securities, and $125,000 per year in life insurance premiums.’

As a sports owner:

  In 1999, Hicks’s firm bought into Brazilian football giants Corinthians, promising a state-of-the-art stadium. Early on, signs were encouraging – for example, the signing of Brazil internationals Dida and Luizao. But the following summer, the Americans began selling off star names, and pulled out of the club in 2003 after a row with a local partner over funding. South American journalist Ezequiel Moores[12] summarised how, ‘Hicks took over two teams, Corinthians and Cruzeiro, through contracts that should have run until the year two thousand and ten.

  ‘These deals included promises of construction of new stadiums. Hicks also bought forty nine percent of the traffic television network and dreamed up its own ultimate soccer business: Hicks teams facing each other in matches broadcast, naturally, by Hicks. Hicks set up a cable channel in Latin America, PSN, acquired national basketball association rights, formula one races and soccer championships at overblown prices. Hicks invested about five hundred million dollars and in only two years filed for bankruptcy.’

  A Brazilian source was quoted in The Sunday Mirror[13], ‘The Americans…did not understand the way football works. They brought in a strong team of advisers to administer the club but the way they did things was very American, in the crudest sense. The model they wanted does not function here. [However] things had to be done their way.’

  But Hicks understands baseball, right?

  Well, in 2004, the Chicago Sun-Times[14] facetiously awarded Hicks ‘the annual Tom Hicks award for incompetence by a baseball owner,’ after three years of three last-place finishes. In his own backyard the Ford Worth Star-Telegram[15]was opining, ‘A guy like Hicks, even with his extensive corporate background, doesn’t seem to understand Rule No. 1 of sports ownership…Hicks is a rich guy who struggles greatly with being fan savvy.’ And the article went on to criticise Hicks’ ‘handpicked stuffed suits,’ who now fronted the baseball operation, and who, allegedly, lacked baseball and local credibility.

  By September 2007, the Dallas Morning News[16] was summarising what almost a decade of Hicks’s ownership had meant to the Rangers. They pointed out that he had been lauded as being the big spender the team needed to catch up with the two teams dominating the sport nationally, then ridiculed as a cheapskate, that the team had won two local titles (in the smallest division of the major league) but were also third or fourth (i.e. last) eight years in a row. ‘He fired the most successful general manager in the club’s history and replaced him with the most reviled.’ Any regrets? ‘I think I’ve done things about right for me,’ Hicks was quoted as saying.

  In the same article, incidentally, the Rangers president Jeff Cogen gave his assessment of Hicks’ priorities as family, politics and the Rangers, ahead of the University  of Texas, the Stars and finally, Liverpool ‘soccer’ club.

  In conclusion, LFC supporters would remind Thomas Hicks of that lesson Forbes thought he had already learned. Don’t try to be something you’re not. You are not a football supporter, Mr Hicks. You will never understand our culture, our past, our pride, our passion – nor our hostility to you and the way you have conducted yourself while in nominal ownership of Liverpool. Our advice? Get out now and take your partner with you.
A Timeline in Headlines:
24/11/07: Tom Hicks tells Rafael Benitez to get on with coaching and stop transfer talk (The Times)[17]
From the finer print: ‘After a private warning to the manager during a…telephone conversation on Thursday lunchtime, [Hicks] chose to go public yesterday by airing his grievances in the Liverpool Echo…The Texan said…”It is time for Rafa to quit talking about new players and coach the players we have.”
‘Benitez…will not appreciate…the assertion that he was given vast sums to spend in the summer. Although he spent about £45 million – including a club-record £20.2 million deal to sign Fernando Torres – he also raised £20 million by selling…His net outlay was barely half that of Manchester United.’
14/01/08: Liverpool owners will make sure it ends in tears for Rafael Benitez (The Times)[18]
From the finer print: ‘Let us get one thing straight here: The Times does not have it in for Benitez; Liverpool’s owners do. To go behind his back to talk to Jurgen Klinsmann, as Tom Hicks admitted today that they had…and to make this information public two months on, just when his position appeared to have stabilised…, is either lunacy on Hicks’s part or a deliberate attempt to undermine an increasingly beleaguered manager.
‘Hicks defended the move by saying that he and George Gillett Jnr “attempted to negotiate an insurance policy…” This might sound smart to Hicks but it is an insult to a manager whose affection for and commitment to Liverpool runs far deeper than that of the owners.’

On the 27th February 2008, Tom Hicks states that reports he is considering selling up are ‘categorically false.’ He blames the UK press for planted reports...[19]
On the 11th March 2008, Tom Hicks announces he is terminating negotiations with DIC.[20]

11/04/08: Anfield fiasco: Tom Hicks could sink Liverpool (The Telegraph)[21]
From the finer print: ‘Just when Rick Parry attempts to keep the good ship Liverpool steady through another storm, Hicks lumbers on and threatens to capsize it. Madness.
‘In the dispute that escalated yesterday between Parry and Hicks, let us play spot the difference: Parry has Liverpool’s best interests at heart while Hicks has Hicks’s best interests at heart…The word on Merseyside is that Hicks demanded Parry’s resignation as a tit-for-tat against George Gillett, who had ticked off Ian Ayre, the club’s commercial director much admired by Hicks, before Tuesday’s Chamption’s League vanquishing of Arsenal…The real clown wears a Stetson.’
18/04/08: Tom Hicks fail to convince at Liverpool (The Telegraph)[22]
From the finer print: ‘Just five days ahead of Liverpool’s crucial match with Chelsea, the man who has reversed his gargantuan sub-prime into the country’s most decorated football club was given ample platform [on Sky Sports News] to reveal his priorities. Never mind the Champions League, it was his personal agenda that Hicks wanted aired…’

Goldenballs – the glittering quotes of Tom Hicks and George Gillett:
‘Liverpool football fans are on a different planet but God bless ‘em, they’re proud of it.’ (Tom Hicks, MLB interview.)[23]

‘We’re the guys on the right, so that means we’re the away side, right?’ (George Gillett studying the opening match fixtures of last season’s PL on television, interview with Oliver Kay, The Times, June 2007.)[24]

‘Tom and I don’t talk about things publicly.’ (George Gillett, interview with Oliver Kay, The Times, June 2007.)[25]

‘We’re not in it for the money…’ (George Gillett, interview with Oliver Kay, The Times, June 2007.)[26]

NB on Footnotes: Where possible both print and online references have been given. Print titles may differ from online titles. Where newspaper online archives are time-limited or unavailable, links to electronic libraries have been provided.
[1] ‘Liverpool fans must watch their new owners like hawks,’ by Scott Murray, The Guardian, Feb 6 2007
[2] ‘Hicks: Third team not a crowd: New Liverpool co-owner insists he won’t forget about Rangers, Stars,’ by Evan Grant, Feb 7, 2007, Dallas Morning News
[3] ‘Texan vows to protect spirit of Liverpool,’ by David Bond, The Daily Telegraph, Feb 2 2007
[4] Moores will net £88m from sale of Liverpool,’ by David Bond, The Daily Telegraph, Feb 3 2007
[5] ‘Please please me, pleads Rafa,’ by Paul Wilson, The Observer, May 27 2007
[6] ‘Texan bull; Face value: Tom Hicks, a private-equity guru under strain,’ Dec 16, 2000, The Economist (US)
[7] http://www.forbes.com/2001/04/23/0423faceshicks.html[/]     
[8] http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9F05E3DD1439F935A25754C0A9649C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=1
[9] ‘Meet Tom Hicks, the man who’s bought Liverpool FC…and the man whose business put hundreds of Geordies on the dole,’ by Nick Whitten, Feb 7, 2007, Evening Chronicle
[10] http://archive.thisisthenortheast.co.uk/2003/03/07/101058.html
[11] http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/Gillett-Holdings-Inc-Company-History.html     
[13] ‘Hicks sent us nuts,’ by Rory Smith, Jan 27, 2007, Sunday Mirror
‘Tom dumb: Rangers’ Hicks wins his own booby prize’, by Mark Kreidler, Feb 23 2004, Chicago Sun-Times
[15] ‘For Hicks, time has come to grieve,’ by Randy Galloway, April 11,  2004, For Worth Star-Telegraph
[16] ‘Hicks’ Rangers reign hit and miss,’ by Evan Grant, Sept 12 2007, Dallas Morning News
[17] ‘Tom Hicks tells Rafael Benitez to get on with coaching and stop transfer talk,’ by Oliver Kay, The Times, November 24  2007 
[18] ‘Liverpool owners will make sure it ends in tears for Rafael Benitez,’ by Oliver Kay, The Times, Jan 14 2008
[19] Tom Hicks reiterates commitment to Liverpool,’ by David Bond, The Daily Telegraph, Feb 27 2008
[20] ‘Tom Hicks terminates Liverpool talks with DIC,’ by David Bond, The Daily Telegraph, March 11 2008
[21] ‘Anfield fiasco: Tom Hicks could sink Liverpool,’ by Henry Winter, The Daily Telegraph, April 11 2008
[22] ‘Tom Hicks fails to convince at Liverpool,’ by Jim White, The Daily Telegraph, April 18 2008 
[23] ‘Liverpool can help finance my US franchises, claims Hicks,’ by Ian Herbert, Jan 22 2008, The Independent
[24] ‘We’re not in it for the money. We are here to win championships,’ by Oliver Kay, The Times, June 6 2007 
[25] ibid.
[26] ibid.

Background and Further reading:

‘Tom Hicks, Liverpool’s new magnate,’ by Tom Leonard, The Daily Telegraph, Feb 8 2007
‘Stripped for action,’ by Simon Hart and Mark Choueke, The Daily Telegraph, April 29 2007
‘Timeline of Tom Hicks with Texas’, by Evan Grant, Sept 12, 2007, Dallas Morning News
‘Tom Hicks tells Benitez to shut up and coach,’ by Tim Rich, The Daily Telegraph, Nov 24 2007
‘Rafa Timebomb,’ by Jonathan Northcroft, The Sunday Times, November 25, 2007
‘Rafael Benitez sees red over Klinsmann offer,’ by David Bond, The Daily Telegraph, Jan 15 2008
‘Gillett blames Hicks for Liverpool crisis,’ by Vicki Hodges, The Daily Telegraph, March 28 2008
‘Anfield in turmoil,’ by Chei Amiani and Steve Wilson, The Daily Telegraph, April 10 2008
‘Tom Hicks’s approach to Liverpool FC,’ by Jeremy Wilson, The Daily Telegraph, April 18 2008
‘Benitez budget intact despite £33m Kop loss,’ by Andy Hunter, The Guardian, June 10 2008




View Comments | Post Comment