Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Probably the best deal in the world for Liverpool

Liverpool's home could be renamed Carlsberg Anfield in a controversial sponsorship deal

Liverpool's main sponsor Carlsberg is ready to discuss the idea of a naming rights deal for the proposed new stadium at Anfield, as part of a renewed deal with the club.

The Danish beer company, whose 18-year deal with Liverpool is the longest running in the Premier League, has offered the first indication that its, widely known, dismay at the in-fighting between Hicks and Gillett has receded as the two have put on a more united front and that the controversial idea of a Carlsberg Anfield — which would vastly increase their current £7m sponsorship deal — will be on the table when discussions begin in earnest at the end of the Premier League season.

“That will be part of the discussion I'm sure but there have been no decisions yet,” said Graham Roberts, Carlsberg UK's director of sponsorship.

Naming rights are a way of the Americans extracting serious money from the club they secured through a leverage buy-out in February 2007 and growing what, by current standards, is a relatively modest deal with Carlsberg when it expires at the end of next season.

Arsenal's 13-year stadium deal with Emirates is valued at £100m, a sum which includes an eight-year shirt deal.

It will up to the Americans, already undertaking a global review of their assets in an attempt to raise finances, to decide whether the additional revenue that naming rights will bring is worth the anticipated opposition from some fans to such a sensitive issue.Their dire need of money suggests they may be willing to make the move.

The fact that Carlsberg are willing to discuss the naming rights proposition reveals that the threat to the future relationship between the two partners has receded, though Roberts admitted that uncertainties surrounding the July expiry of bank deals rescheduling £350m of loans the Americans took to buy Liverpool has been a “distraction” on sponsorship talks.

Carlsberg is still seeking more assurances about whether the loans will be refinanced though the prevailing view, supported by leading football financier Keith Harris this week, is that they will be.

"We would be very interested in what happens [with the rescheduling]. I'm sure that the conversations that go on between the two parties will reflect that,” Roberts said.

But Carlsberg do appear to be more confident that the stadium, placed on hold by the Americans with the credit markets frozen, will actually be built.

“The stadium is a big step of their progression in the future and we want to be part of that,” Roberts said.

“The best thing is they (Hicks and Gillett) seem to have resolved the internal issues and they are going to take the next step. We need to understand where they are going with the stadium [but] we are really ambitious that they get the next right step as it will take them into the next stage of their progression [as a club] as well.

“They have done very well taking the next step in the league but it is about them setting the platform for the future."

His language was notably different to that from sources close to Carlsberg earlier this year, who spoke of the civil war at Anfield as "pretty bleak" and Hicks and Gillett attempted to create some sense of harmony, actually sitting together during the 4-4 draw against Arsenal at Anfield.

Naming rights, an idea which the Glazer family have considered inappropriate at Old Trafford, have been on the horizon at Liverpool ever since the Americans bought into the club, with hopes of a sponsorship deal nearer the £14.1m United receive from AIG in the deal which runs to next summer.

Outgoing chief executive Rick Parry is instinctively opposed to the idea but of the view that it might need to be considered for the greater good.

"To the supporters it will always be Anfield and personally I'd like the name to remain but if it's the difference in winning a trophy you've got to look at it sensitively," he has said.

Liverpool's commercial director Ian Ayre has been involved in work to build the Liverpool brand in Asia, where he worked for 15 years, and the club are considered to be currently the most Premier League's most active club in India.

Roberts indicated that Carlsberg, whose negotiating will be drive from their Copenhagen HQ, considers this to be a significant reason to renew the deal.

“There are certain things that are absolutely necessary for a beer company to go and sell its products in the likes of Asia and we will make sure that's in the contract,” Roberts said.

“There may be elements of the [old]contract that we don't need. What you had 18 years ago is not necessarily what you need now.”

Ayre has been overseeing the creation of India's first football development centre, in association with a local university at Pune, three hours from Mumbai, which will provide the kind of nutritional, fitness, tournament planning help which remains missing in India.

The nation with a population of 1.13billion, has 20million footballers and 60million viewers tuning into the Premier League.

"Having spent time working in India, you always have that inherent view that English clubs are coming in and taking money out of the local game," Ayre said.

"That's largely true. It was disappointing to see that clubs come in and take the money and left. When we at Liverpool approached India we had avoiding that [mistake] in mind.

“You can't build [support] around a product that only turns up every three years. It was important to build a strategy not just around our football team.”