Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Boston Red Sox owner a billion dollar sports fan aiming to be Liverpool hit

Boston Red Sox owner John W Henry could be taking control of Liverpool Football Club
Boston Red Sox owner John W Henry could be taking control of Liverpool Football Club

John William Henry II is a businessman first, a fan second.

And that's worked out just fine for the Boston Red Sox, where the hedge fund manager's millions irrigated a World Series drought and won him the respect of the fans and Major League Baseball executives alike.

It has worked out just fine for Mr Henry, too, who is now living a lifestyle he wouldn't even have been able to have dreamed growing up as a shy, asthmatic son of farmers in Arkansas.

Recently turned 61, with a net worth that Boston Magazine estimates at $840m, he has all the accoutrements of the super-rich. He has the obligatory $34m yacht, the 164ft Iroquois, which he docks at the city's most exclusive wharf during baseball season (and on which he insists that visitors must remove their shoes to avoid scuffing the teak deck. He will give them red socks to wear instead.) He has the obligatory Florida mansion. He has the obligatory second wife, half his age.

Most of all, Mr Henry has the Red Sox, after the New York Yankees the best loved and most lucrative franchise in baseball.

Not bad for a kid who played second base in Little League, and who adored the St Louis Cardinals and its legendary hitter Stan Musial.

In a nation that prides itself on its social mobility, it is none the less rare to find someone of farming stock nudging even the bottom of the billionaires lists. While it wasn't exactly the family business that made Mr Henry rich, it certainly inspired him in the business that did — namely, futures trading.

Futures are fiendishly complex in practice, but simple in outline: they are contracts to buy or sell commodities, such as farm produce like wheat or soybeans, at a point in the future. Farmers invented them to protect themselves from unexpected moves in the price, and to smooth out the vagaries of the harvest. Mr Henry, a maths whiz, was just fascinated.

What lit the touchpaper under Mr Henry's fortune was his refusal to submit to guesswork, or even forensic investigation, over what might affect prices in the future. Instead, he built a mathematical model of the financial markets, and used that to predict what prices would do. No humans necessary. “The first week of trading was in June of 1981. I was so confident in my research and philosophy that I left the country.”

It is a business he takes seriously, and has done ever since he began splashing his riches on sports investments, something he first did in baseball in 1991. He has been in and out of various teams, holding a sliver of the Red Sox's arch-rival, the Yankees, and spending three years as owner of the Florida Marlins, where he contrived not to lose any of his money, despite the team's poor on-field performance.

For the dream chance to buy the Red Sox, Mr Henry pulled together powerful co-investors, including veteran baseball executive Larry Luccino and the television producer Tom Werner, the man behind The Cosby Show. The New York Times Company, owner of the Boston Globe as well as the famous Big Apple paper, also put up money, and still owns 17 per cent of New England Sports Ventures.

Don Garber, commissioner of Major League Soccer in the US and a man with a keen eye for business savvy, says of the Red Sox owners: “They have a tremendously robust understanding of the sports business and an understanding of how to protect and enhance the legacy of a brand.”

NESV embraced the history of the team, Mr Garber said, and won over a worried Red Sox Nation, as the uber-loyal fans are known. “They are tremendously good pro-sports team owners. I'd be honoured to have John Henry as an owner in the MLS.”

For the UK Premiership and Liverpool fans, it can't be worse than the last lot.

Source: Independent

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