Liverpool told to seek out Eastern promise

February 12, 2007

Liverpool will be expected to play promotional friendlies in Japan and China now they have been taken over by US sports moguls Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Chief executive Rick Parry has flown to the United States for talks about the club's future with their new owners, and he is likely to be told the 'brand' needs to be promoted more in the Far East.

Anfield boss Rafael Benitez took his players to Portugal today for a week of warm-weather training ahead of their Champions League return, while the club's world-wide exposure was also being discussed on the other side of the Atlantic.

In a National Post interview in Canada, Gillett has been expanding his theory of how to get the best from the £450million total investment he and Hicks have made.

And Benitez can be expected to haul his superstars to Asia for friendlies, with Gillett making it clear he sees Liverpool as one quarter of a four-sport franchise around the globe, taking in the Dallas Stars (ice hockey) and Texas Rangers (baseball) teams Hicks owns and his own Montreal Canadiens ice hockey club, plus motor racing.

Gillett says: 'Liverpool is the number one brand in Europe. If you go to the Far East, where Manchester United has historically been the number one brand, Chelsea has recently become quite popular.

'They have a global branding concept which involves playing a number of games in the Far East.

'In that part of the world, Liverpool is number two and growing. We have had conversations with management in the last several months and I believe you will see Liverpool playing some friendlies in Asia.

'I think you'll see Japan first in this coming year and then others beyond that.'

The likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United may well contest Gillett's view that Liverpool are the number one European brand, but there is a clear business decision being made on how best to promote the Anfield club.

Gillett continues: 'We have looked at the possibility of branding in a different way, in that investments in soccer clubs in emerging parts of the world is part of our strategy.

'There is a strong consciousness within the Liverpool family about the world-wide aspects of the sport. When you see the number of people who watched the World Cup, it was something like 2.3billion people.'

Gillett sees Liverpool as part of an umbrella branding of several sports.

He adds: 'You have the Texas Rangers in baseball, which is hugely popular in the Far East, the Dallas Stars, the Montreal Canadiens, Liverpool and our family's involvement with NASCAR (motor racing).

'You've got four unbelievably popular sports with growing international interest. If we get a hard-hitting marketing team that could provide potential sponsors with that array of opportunity, that's something I don't think has ever been put together before.

'There's a unique opportunity because the market is demanding it. If you look at the new sponsors in the Premiership within the past five years, more than a third of them are from Asia.

'There are something like 1,000 new Mercedes dealerships in China. The greatest amount of true new wealth in the world is in Russia. This alliance could have some interesting benefits for all of us.'

Liverpool must be aware by now that they are being drawn into a very different style of sports marketing, and when Parry sits down with his new bosses this week, Liverpool's whole attitude to pre-season friendlies may well have to change.

They have toured Thailand in the past, and were in Japan for the World Club Championship, but Benitez is known not to be a fan of long-haul money making friendlies, and a trip to America was turned down only recently. Times could be about to change at Anfield.

While Liverpool are in Portugal, they can expect to hear the outcome of their loan move for Argentinian midfielder Javier Mascherano.

The decision to allow the deal has been delayed for almost a fortnight by a Premier League probe, but it is believed nothing irregular has been discovered with the move.

League spokesman said: 'You can expect a decision by the end of the week.'

He also insisted Liverpool's move for Mascherano is in no way linked with the investigation being mounted into joint-owned players, with West Ham at the centre of that probe.

All 20 Premiership clubs had until today to furnish the league with details of any similar deals.