Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Liverpool board agrees sale to Red Sox owners

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

Liverpool FC is to be sold to US firm New England Sports Ventures, pending resolution of a boardroom dispute.

NESV currently owns a portfolio of companies including the Boston Red Sox baseball team, New England Sports Network, Fenway Sports Group and Rousch Fenway Racing.

The Merseyside club revealed last night they had received "two excellent financial offers for the club that would repay all its long-term debt".

Reds chairman Martin Broughton told club website: "I am delighted that we have been able to successfully conclude the sale process which has been thorough and extensive.

"The board decided to accept NESV's proposal on the basis that it best met the criteria we set out originally for a suitable new owner. NESV's philosophy is all about winning and they have fully demonstrated that at the Red Sox.

"We've met them in Boston, London and Liverpool over several weeks and I am immensely impressed with what they have achieved and with their vision for Liverpool Football Club."

Broughton added: "By removing the burden of acquisition debt, this offer allows us to focus on investment in the team. I am only disappointed that the owners (Tom Hicks and George Gillett) have tried everything to prevent the deal from happening and that we need to go through legal proceedings in order to complete the sale."

The boardroom battle between American owners Hicks and Gillett and their England-based colleagues escalated to a new level last night.

With news of two new "excellent" bids having been received, the pair, led primarily by Hicks, tried to effect a coup by removing managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre from their positions on the board minutes before a meeting to discuss the new offers.

It was intended to allow the Americans to regain control of the sale process, allowing them the final say on any offer.

Hicks and Gillett wanted to instal Mack Hicks, one of Tom's sons, and Lori Kay McCutcheon, financial controller at Hicks Holdings.

This was rebuffed as the two club officials, backed by chairman Broughton, out-voted the Americans three to two.

The club issued an unprecedented statement detailing yesterday's machinations in which they also revealed this boardroom issue was now the subject of a legal review.

However, the statement pointedly went on to stress that Broughton, Purslow and Ayre would "continue to explore every possible route to achieving a sale of the club at the earliest opportunity".

There has been a division on the board from the moment Hicks and Gillett announced in April they wanted to end their three-year tenure at Anfield, but that split has turned into a chasm. Broughton was appointed as independent chairman as part of the sale process, ensuring the Americans no longer had a majority vote and could not prevent a sale that was in the best interests of the club.

Central to the whole saga has been next week's looming deadline for the repayment or refinancing of £282million of loans - owed principally to the Royal Bank of Scotland.

Hicks has been trying to hold on to power by attempting to raise capital to pay off or reduce the debt but has so far been unsuccessful. He remained steadfast in his belief there was a profit to be made from the sale of Liverpool but, with the prospect of RBS having to call in their debt and possibly take control at Anfield, the price the club is actually worth has been falling by the week.

The Americans know if the bank steps in then they will receive nothing, hence the move to restructure the board to buy them more time.

But with the trio based in England determined to push through the sale and the overtly-positive terminology used to described the two bids - the first time the club have officially confirmed formal interest - it appeared last night to be the beginning of the end for Hicks and Gillett.

The only stumbling block which may delay the process is the legal review and uncertainty over the status of the current Liverpool board.

Today's statement from the club confirmed the sale was "conditional on Premier League approval, resolution of the dispute concerning board membership and other matters".

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