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A global game for Liverpool FC’s Ian Ayre

A global game for Liverpool FC’s Ian Ayre

Jul 23 2007

by Richard Williamson, Liverpool Daily Post

AS A lifelong Liverpool supporter, Ian Ayre is well aware of the sensibilities of footballer followers when clubs start using phrases like ‘increasing revenue streams’, ‘expanding the global brand’ or ‘maximising returns.’

Which is why, in his new job as Liverpool’s first commercial director, he is happy to stress that his priorities do not lie with squeezing yet more out of the Anfield faithful.

However the potential of Liverpool FC to make an even bigger impact on the world market is something that has been swiftly identified as a positive step forward by new owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks.

And the chance to swell the Premier League club’s coffers is one they cannot afford to miss as rivals like Manchester United and Chelsea get a foothold in the potentially lucrative markets of the Far East and America.

In the end any gains Liverpool can make in the rapidly expanding commercial world can be fed back into manager Rafael Benitez’s transfer plans – which have already showed a healthy leap with the record-breaking arrival of Fernandes Torres.

It was Ayre’s experience in the demanding Far East markets that put him on Liverpool’s list of potential recruits for the new role.

He has worked in the satellite TV industry and, more recently, as Chief Operating Officer of Total Sports Asia, a role which mirrors many of the things – such as developing sponsorship partners and driving sales in new markets and technologies – that he is now expected to deliver to Liverpool’s benefit.

Which is all a far cry from his early days growing up in Kirkdale – “I could walk to Anfield,” he recalls – and later Litherland before first leaving these shores with the navy.

His footballing CV is further enhanced by a spell as chairman and chief executive of Huddersfield Town at a time when they were moving to a new stadium.

But returning to Liverpool and his new job is a dream come true for the 44-year-old, who says he has been impressed by the American owners awareness of the heritage of the club while recognising the need to seize the opportunities before them.

“Tom and George have a lot of experience with US domestic products but recognise that football is a global game,” Ayre said. “It is not just about Liverpool FC and the UK markets, it is about taking the club to the next level so they can compete with the top clubs at home and abroad.

“Asia is one of those potential markets and not just in footballing terms. Its economies generally are recognised by most people in international business as places to be involved. Places like China, India, Japan and south east Asia have been rapidly expanding over the past 10 years.

“New technologies, such as mobile phones, are offering new opportunities. The internet is already helping spread the message, but mobile phones, too, give us the chance, with the right kind of partners, for Liverpool to put itself in front of people on a regular basis.

“It is a case of giving more people what they want. In many ways Liverpool has been dormant commercially. I hope to be able to revive things for the club.”

Ayre’s experience will be invaluable as different markets – even within the Far East – often demand different approaches, an even more telling factor when considering how to break into America.

“In Asia football fans tend to be more transient,” explains Ayre. “They don’t necessarily support the same club all their life like fans in England do. They are attracted to Premiership football but then tend to follow the most successful teams. Individual players, too, can also be a factor and raising the profile of certain players in these markets can also be a help to Liverpool. There is a population of some two billion in this part of the world and there are lots of footballer followers so this is obviously a priority area for us.

“America might need a different approach. Based on previous experience, clubs have tried to sidle up to other sports and it has not really worked out.

“However football is one of the fastest growing sports in the US. There is a lot of activity at grass roots level and perhaps a period of investment is required in the game from English clubs. Putting something into the game in America can help it grow over the long term.”

At the top of Ayre’s ‘To do’ list when he arrives at Anfield on August 16 will be the naming rights to the new stadium.

“The stadium seems a long way off but it will be on us in no time at all,” he adds. “The naming rights are important in finding the right kind of sponsors with an international flavour who are then able to activate the club brand around the world.

“The relationship between Liverpool and Carlsberg has been one of football’s most successful sponsorship deals – and one of the longest running. Carlsberg can be found in bars throughout Asia and this provides another opportunity to highlight their association with Liverpool FC.”

Ayre believes it is the American owners’ appreciation of what Liverpool FC means to its supporters that mean, even in a commercially driven age, that the club is in safe hands.

“It was very clear to me and very quickly after meeting George and Tom that they have absolutely got what Liverpool Football Club is all about and what type of people Liverpudlians are,” added Ayre. “It is not part of what I am expected to put together as commercial director to be ripping people off or selling them things which are of no real value. That would be very foolish. It is important people feel they are getting value for money.

“People have so many choices these days on where to spend their money on entertainment and enjoyment, so it is vital that in everything from the new stadium to our merchandising we provide the kind of experience that always makes then want to come back for more.”


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