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Liverpool CEO Billy Hogan on the new Premier League season, multi-club ownership, and generating ‘as much revenue as possible’

A long-time FSG employee, Billy Hogan was named Liverpool chief executive at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Three years later, he is embarking on the next chapter of his tenure as he bids to get the English soccer giants back challenging for trophies while continuing to strengthen the club’s global reach.

10 August 2023 Ed Dixon

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Amid all the outlandish transfer rumours and meticulous preparations for the new campaign, Liverpool chief executive Billy Hogan has one way of summarising the club’s offseason.  

“I think this summer has been one of transition,” he tells the audience at the SportsPro APAC conference in Singapore earlier this month. 

“A new captain, a new vice-captain, and a bit of change of leadership within the squad. I think that’s natural, it’s part of what happens in sports. The energy and the excitement inside the squad and around the club right now is incredibly high. So [we’re] really looking forward to the season.” 

In case Hogan needed a reminder of the attention that comes with leading one of soccer’s biggest clubs, an audience member for his session is sitting in the front row wearing a Liverpool shirt. If, as he says, the summer has been about transition, fans would probably label the 2022/23 season a disappointment – at least in comparison to the high standards the team has set in recent years.  

Since Fenway Sports Group’s (FSG) acquisition in 2010, highlights have included Liverpool winning their sixth Uefa Champions League in 2018/19, ending their 30-year wait for a top-flight title the following year and bagging both the FA Cup and EFL Cup in 2021/22. The Reds may have won every elite trophy available under their American owners but success is never a guarantee. Last season saw the club slip to fifth in the Premier League and provided a sobering reminder of just how tough – and expensive – competing at the top can be. 

Hogan is no mood to look back. Several high-profile signings have been made and Jordan Henderson’s polarising departure to Saudi Arabia has meant a new captain in the form of Dutch centre back Virgil van Dijk. If anything, the looming 2023/24 campaign feels like a fresh chapter for Hogan and Liverpool. 

John Henry’s FSG has owned Liverpool since October 2010

A clear focus 

Hogan initially joined FSG in 2004 and was part of the acquisition team that bought Liverpool from the much-derided Tom Hicks and George Gillett. Having served as the club’s chief commercial officer from 2012, he replaced Peter Moore as chief executive in September 2020 as the wider sporting world continued to deal with Covid-19.  

“Taking over in the middle of a global pandemic is not necessarily recommended,” Hogan says with a wry smile. “It was a really challenging time.

“Clearly [Covid] was devastating. Our focus was in three areas. Number one was obviously related to the football and how can we get the football going again. 

“A focus for us at the club was about our people and ensuring that we protected people’s jobs. I’m proud to say that we didn’t let go of anybody during the pandemic. As a part of that, what you do end up trying to do is to manage every cost effectively. Anything that isn’t nailed down has to go. We focused on how we can streamline the business as much as possible.  

“Then the last point was one of the great responsibilities of managing the club. It’s obviously a huge global club but it’s also really important in terms of the local community and what we do in Anfield, in Liverpool and in greater Merseyside.  

“We spent a lot of time focusing on what we could continue to do to drive the community impact, our support for the food banks, our support for people who were challenged with being isolated.”  

Hogan states that Liverpool emerged from the pandemic “in as good a shape as we could have been”. With that challenge navigated, it was on to the next big one. 

FSG, whose sports team portfolio also includes Major League Baseball’s (MLB) Boston Red Sox and the National Hockey League’s (NHL) Pittsburgh Penguins, may have got Liverpool back competing for honours but this desire for success has included the odd misstep. The club’s attempt to trademark the word ‘Liverpool’ in products and services was shot down, while its involvement in Project Big Picture and the European Super League (ESL) was lambasted in Merseyside and beyond. 

The ESL debacle resulted in a swift apology from Liverpool owner John Henry, who absolved Hogan of any blame. Still, fan animosity took time to die down. Since then, and after FSG denied the team was up for sale, Hogan has wanted to just get on with the job.  

“One of the biggest challenges you’re going to have is focusing on where you focus,” he says, noting that he could stand in front of the departures board at Heathrow Airport and justifiably hop on any plane, such is Liverpool’s worldwide appeal.  

“There is an opportunity across the globe for Liverpool,” Hogan continues. “From our perspective, it’s about focusing on where the areas of growth are. You can’t necessarily isolate those opportunities.  

“We look at where are the opportunities, what can we do in various areas, and that’s across partnerships, it’s across our retail business, which is a global business as well. It’s also across our community business. 

“We feel that responsibility of how we continue to not just focus on what is at home and local, but also how we continue to drive the opportunities that the club presents on a global basis.” 

Amid rising transfer fees and wages, Hogan remains committed to running Liverpool sustainably 

Global opportunity 

Hogan is speaking at SportsPro APAC on the morning before Liverpool’s preseason friendly defeat against German champions Bayern Munich at Singapore’s National Stadium. But the club’s trip to Asia was about much more than the players getting miles in the tank. 

The short window European soccer teams have before the new season has become a vital time for overseas brand building. In Liverpool’s case, their main partner Standard Chartered has a subsidiary in Singapore and the tour served up plenty of commercial activation opportunities for the bank in a market where the Reds are hugely popular.  

Indeed, Hogan reminds SportsPro that owning Liverpool presents a unique retail opportunity for FSG compared to the Red Sox and the Penguins. The club controls its merchandising rights, whereas franchises in the US major leagues share income from sales with other teams. Hogan is fully aware of the earning potential Liverpool have in the APAC market, where the club works with its kit supplier Nike and other distribution partners in the region to help expand its retail footprint. 

While having Liverpool playing in Singapore, or whichever country they opt to visit for preseason, undoubtedly creates a tentpole moment, Hogan wants to ensure international fans are still catered for once the Premier League kicks off.  

“There’s activity on the ground in various markets over the course of the season,” he says. “As an example, we brought six of our legends, former players, out with us [to Singapore]. They spent the week doing media, doing Q&As, meeting with supporters, doing community events. We use those legends and those former players over the course of the season as well.  

“They might, as an example, come out to Pattaya in Thailand to open that store when it reopens. Those individual moments that happen over the course of a season are moments that we then amplify.  

“So I think it is important that the fans, certainly [in] Southeast Asia, [are] a major focus for us. But globally as well, we want all of our fans to feel part of the club.” 

One-club mentality 

Liverpool are now in the second year of their latest extension with Standard Chartered, whose deal runs until 2027 and is worth a reported UK£50 million (US$63.9 million) per season. The pair first teamed up in 2010 and Hogan is keen to continue the union beyond the current contract.  

For the moment, priorities include giving increased exposure to Liverpool Women. The team has suffered from a lack of investment in the past, which ultimately led to relegation at the end of the 2019/20 Women’s Super League (WSL) season. The club is now back in the top tier at a time when the league is enjoying newfound attention off the back of England’s Women’s Euro 2022 triumph.  

It begs the question: should Liverpool Women’s popularity continue to rise, would FSG ever consider unbundling their sponsorship rights to sit separately from the men’s outfit? Hogan doesn’t think so, but is quick to mention the importance of the women’s team in the club’s wider commercial plans. 

“Our belief is they should remain bundled,” he says. “It gives us the opportunity to activate in a way that is, in our mind, appropriate. We have the ability to use both men’s and women’s teams in the same creative.  

“If you think about it, purely based upon just the Standard Chartered relationship, if you had another brand on the front of the women’s shirt then that potentially creates complications as it relates to execution from a marketing standpoint.  

“We’ve taken the position that we believe that this is a one-club mentality and that we activate accordingly. Conversations with our global partners always have a focus on the women’s team as well. I think that shows the growth that we’re seeing in the sport and then the opportunity that we have.  

“It’s no longer a situation where you would finish a sales meeting and you may not have mentioned the women’s team. That is now part and parcel with the conversation. It’s a must. And it’s something we feel really strongly about as well.” 

Liverpool frequently share knowledge and ideas with FSG’s other teams, including the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Penguins

The virtuous circle 

Hogan says that FSG doesn’t want its various sports teams and organisations working in silos. As a result, monthly knowledge-sharing meetings are held each month between the Red Sox, the Penguins and Liverpool – something that was particularly useful during the pandemic.  

There is good reason for continuing the catchups. Liverpool’s owners know they must be smart to keep the club competitive in a league where state-backed clubs and mega-rich owners are increasingly commonplace.  

Transfers and wages have skyrocketed, as evidenced by Chelsea’s UK£600 million (US$766 million) splurge on players last season under the majority ownership of Clearlake Capital. Multibillion-dollar TV rights deals have also handed clubs licence to spend liberally, making them the envy of other European teams. With the Premier League readying for its next domestic media rights tender ahead of the next cycle from 2025/26, Hogan believes broadcasting revenues will only continue to drive up valuations in the top flight. 

“I’m biased, but I think it’s been proven that the value of live rights, the value of sports content, is probably the last bit of content that is truly consumed live,” he says.  

“That’s a difference maker for certainly what’s going on in the media market. We’re going through clearly a lot of disruption, obviously streamers [are] coming in now. 

“But I think what you’ve seen over the course of the last decade and beyond is that there’s been an appreciation in terms of value with sports properties. That comes back to a lot of what makes sports so exciting. [It’s] the passion, the energy, the excitement, the unknown of what’s coming on a match-by-match or season-by-season basis. 

“In the Premier League, it’s probably a little bit different. It’s the most competitive, biggest football league in the world. And these are some of the biggest clubs in the world. When you look at the opportunity from a truly global perspective, from a media commercial community perspective, it puts those clubs into very rarefied air in terms of what that valuation looks like.” 

When it comes to running Liverpool, though, sustainability is at the forefront of FSG’s thinking, particularly with Uefa’s new financial regulations on the horizon. 

“What we’re trying to do is generate as much revenue as we possibly can,” Hogan continues. “Sometimes that’s difficult to say, but that’s the truth. We’re trying to supply that to Jurgen [Klopp] and the team to do what they need to do on the pitch. That sort of virtuous circle is how we operate.

“There are new financial regulations coming in the 24/25 season from Uefa, kind of FFP 2.0 if you will. I think the idea that you would potentially mortgage the future of a club for short-term gain is a really dangerous one.  

“We’ve seen it in the UK with teams going into administration. The idea that clubs should be run sustainably and within their means is an important one.” 

The Liverpool women’s team are becoming an increasingly important part of the club’s commercial plans 

Multi-club horizons

If heavy spending in domestic soccer is the norm, then the next frontier is multi-club ownership. A Uefa report in February identified more than 180 clubs around the world to be part of a multi-club structure by the end of 2022, which was nearly double the total from four years ago.  

The most prominent in the Premier League is City Football Group (CFG) which, including English champions Manchester City, has 13 teams on its books. Cheslea and Newcastle United’s owners also plan to beef out their portfolio.  

The prospect of FSG adding more clubs to its stable is unlikely, at least at this stage. More broadly, Hogan expects Uefa to tweak its rules on multi-club ownership – something the governing body’s president Aleksander Ceferin has already admitted needs addressing.  

“For certain clubs, [multi-club ownership] makes sense,” says Hogan. “It’s a part of their strategy. I think those strategies actually vary based upon what those clubs might be trying to accomplish. 

“There’s been a lot of headlines around what Fifa and Uefa ultimately might look at in terms of multi-club ownership. There’s been some limitations in terms of how much you can own of various clubs or whether they can compete in certain competitions. All of that, as I understand it, is sort of under review. So clearly over the course of the next couple of years we’ll probably see some changes and some updates in that. 

“But, from our perspective, at the time being we’re focused on what Liverpool is doing.” 

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