With Liverpool FC continuing to struggle on the pitch, the battle for control off it is seen by many fans as vital to a revival in fortunes.
This month is regarded as crucial in settling the long-term ownership of the club with the expiry date for the Royal Bank of Scotland’s £237m loan to Liverpool’s American co-owners possibly less than a fortnight away.
The majority of fans hope an inability to pay off that loan will force Tom Hicks and George Gillett out of Anfield, allowing a new owner to take the club forward, hopefully with that crippling debt removed.
But there is a fear Tom Hicks could even raise extra finance to take over the club on a solo basis, regardless of the sever reservations of the rest of the LFC board.
Today, we examine the five potential scenarios which could soon unfold at Anfield. Some finance experts envisage that the October deadline could pass without any firm resolution about the Reds’ future established.
James Dow, a partner in the northwest accountancy firm Dow Schofield Watts who has advised Barcelona and Celtic, described Liverpool’s predicament as a “stand-off.”
And he predicted it may take many more months for the ownership to be clarified, possibly dragging the uncertainty even until summer, 2011.
Mr Dow told the ECHO: “If Hicks can find finance, I don’t think any lack of support from the board will make a difference. But for now, a deal isn’t happening as there’s a stand-off going on. Liverpool are in a no-man’s land. But ultimately, this could drag on and on, and not even be resolved until next summer.”
Royal Bank of Scotland call in the debt
The Royal Bank of Scotland call in their £237m debt, and effectively repossess Liverpool FC – in much the same way a bank would repossess your house if you defaulted on your mortgage.
This, however, would likely be a temporary arrangement, with RBS maintaining the current English board structure and Hicks and Gillett removed from the picture.
Observers speculate it would give the bank time to quickly find a more realistic buyer for the Anfield club, drastically bringing down the sale price from the lofty £500m-£600m currently being touted by Hicks.
“Interested parties” are likely to “show their hand” once figures of around £300m, thought to be a more realistic estimation for Liverpool, are proposed.
The Americans would doubtless launch their own legal challenge if RBS took over running of Liverpool.
Kop Holdings goes into administration
Although unlikely, the bank could technically place Kop Holdings, Liverpool FC’s parent company, into administration.
But the ECHO understands the Premier League would not view that move as Liverpool Football Club itself being declared insolvent.
Regular discussions have been taking place between Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton and league chief executive Richard Scudamore. The Reds have been seeking clarification on what would be the potential scenario if RBS took temporary charge at Anfield. Sources have indicated a nine-point deduction, threatened to football clubs when they go bust like Portsmouth last season, would not materialise.
League chiefs crucially consider the debt to rest squarely on the shoulders of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, co-chairman of the club and owners of Kop Football Holdings. Managing director Christian Purslow has repeatedly said that there is no prospect of Liverpool Football Club going into administration.
Speaking last week he said: “When we sell the business the debt will be reduced or go away which will make us the most profitable club in the Premier League. Liverpool is not going bust.”
As Liverpool has proved they have steady revenues – TV rights money, ticket sales, sponsorship – the club would avoid incurring any penalty.
Although Steve Horner, of campaign group Kop Faithful, said: “I am sure that the majority of Liverpool fans would settle for a nine-point deduction if it meant that Hicks and Gillett would never darken our door again.”
New buyer comes forward
A bidder puts forward a package to buy Liverpool which is considered acceptable by the Reds board before October’s refinancing deadline.
With the structure of the board crucially changed during the summer, Broughton, Purslow and Ayre could now out-vote the Americans.
The only formal offer made for Liverpool came from the Rhone Group in March when they proposed to pay £110m for a 70% stake in the club, making the Americans passive shareholders.
Royal Bank of Scotland agrees to extend the refinancing deadline to give Tom Hicks time to establish new sources of funding (effectively debt).
Liverpool FC officials view this step as the “worst possible scenario” for the club and Christian Purslow has consistently said would be opposed by the board
This extension could be anything, starting from just a couple of weeks to allow the club to be sold to a bidder needing more time to complete due diligence before a purchase.
It could be longer if RBS finds the prospect of taking over or forcing administration to be unpalatable or too legally complex.
The bank, however, could potentially place caveats on any extension, for example that the Americans are forced to accept lower offers than the figures they are currently seeking.
With the prospect of legal challenges, RBS may have little choice but to extend temporary finances.
Hicks pays off the debt
Tom Hicks manages to raise the appropriate funds to pay off the Royal Bank of Scotland debt and retains ownership of the club.
The English members on Liverpool’s board – managing director Christian Purslow, chairman Martin Broughton and commercial director Ian Ayre – would almost certainly lodge objections against such a move if any new debt was secured against the assets of Liverpool FC.
They have already consulted solicitors regarding blocking a new financing package from the Texan
But how successful such a challenge would be remains untested as some law experts told the ECHO covering the RBS debt would give him “carte blanche” to rip up the existing board structure and appoint new members of his choice.
Privately, Liverpool view Hicks’ attempts to persuade a private equity company to shoulder the £237m arrears as highly unlikely.
The easiest way for Hicks to retain control of the club is for him to raise the finance himself, without securing it against the club’s assets. This has sparked fears about his intentions in creating a new investment company for which he is currently trying to attract investors. According to papers registered with the USA’s Securities and Exchange Commission, Hicks Acquisition Company II is seeking to raise $230m (£145m).
Shares are being offered for $10 in the “newly organised blank check company formed for the purpose of effecting a merger, capital stock exchange, asset acquisition, stock purchase, reorganisation or similar business combination with one or more businesses.”
The initial public offering papers also warn prospective investors that “investing in our securities involves a high degree of risk”.
The company is registered at the same address as Hicks Holdings – from where Hicks conducts his business affairs.
The underwriters for the deal are Citi Bank and Deutsche Bank Securities, with the company expected to start trading on Thursday, October 7.