October 2010

How the Red Sox Venturing Across the Pond Promotes the Beautiful Game in New England

Ask any New Englander and you’ll find that there’s only one football to be found in the region. Sure, the local MLS side, the New England Revolution, may play in the same stadium as the NFL’s New England Patriots (both owned by billionaire Robert Kraft), but the general public consciousness and amount of media coverage among the two organizations is not even comparable. You don’t go into an average bar in Boston and talk about the footy. You talk about the Red Sox, the Bruins, the Celtics, and the Patriots, arguably the most successful group of sports franchises out of any city in the world. The average Bostonian might be able to tell you, through vague recollection, about Clint Dempsey or Taylor Twellman, but not much else. However, within a span of less than a week New England has experienced arguably its two biggest moments in the region’s history of developing the beautiful game since hosting World Cup matches in 1994 and having an MLS team come into existence the year after.

Though the Red Sox organization and New England Sports Venture (NESV)group will get all the media attention around the world for their takeover bid of the storied Liverpool Football Club, the fact that New England’s two true sports tycoons, Robert Kraft and John Henry, both made a significant, long-term monetary commitments to the beautiful game is indisputably a huge milestone. These events are not only meaningful to the game around Boston, but also for bringing progress to the perpetual struggle of getting the world’s game to be accepted by the mainstream American media, particularly in Boston.

You may be asking, “wait, what was the Revolution’s significant announcement?” No, the Revs did not announce plans for a soccer-specific stadium, although those talks are apparently making progress as the club acknowledged it cannot function at its potential in Gillette Stadium, which seats 70,000. And not because of the fact that Gillette sounds like Gillett.

Rather, the New England Revolution’s COO, Brian Bilello, revealed that funds were made available for the acquisition of two (or possibly even three) Designated Players (DPs). He said before the Revolution lost at home to Real Salt Lake last Saturday, “In talking with ownership, their priority was not just getting better but they want to get better quickly.” MLS is subject to a salary cap, however, a DP’s salary only counts against the salary cap $335,000, which is paid for by the league. The rest of the salary is paid for by the club. Each MLS club can to purchase two DPs, and pay a $250,000 “luxury tax” to the league for the right to acquire a third. Anyway, this rule has allowed for the signings of world famous players such as Thierry Henry, David Beckham, and Rafael Marquez, as well as talented, lesser known professionals such as Nery Castillo, Blaise Nkufo, and Alvaro Fernandez. The Revs will likely aim for the latter, as they hope to improve their on field product before using their players as off field marketing devices.

The fact that Kraft is willing to shell out more cash for his MLS team may not seem like much in comparison to the NESV group’s £300m offer that would eliminate Liverpool’s debt. Objectively, this is true. Before this week, the Revolution ownership had been likened to Tom Hicks and George Gillett because the ownership had forced their manager, former Liverpool legend Steve Nicol, to stay competitive in a league without a budget that could match that of other clubs.

Steve Nicol did a brilliant job managing with his limited resources, but now needs greater financial support to make the Revolution successful.

Where’s the connection between these two announcements? Kraft will now be indirectly competing with John Henry to gain support of the region’s largely silent community that wakes up early on weekends to appreciate “proper football.” Now that the Red Sox organization have partnered with the 6th most valuable football club (according to Forbes), there will be local and even national pressure on Kraft to mimic any progress and investment made by Henry across the pond, though obviously on a more micro scale.

But the same holds true the other way around. If Liverpool fans see the New England Revolution building a new, state of the art stadium in the Boston area, they may pressure and question Henry’s commitment to the Anfield faithful. While competing alongside entirely different expectations and parameters, Robert Kraft and John Henry have been united in the mutual investment in the future of football. Kraft has created a dynasty with the Patriots and Henry has done so in the past with the Red Sox as well, so both owners know how to create an environment that allows excellence to flourish.

With Kraft and Henry both now competing in the same sport, will they spur one another to success?

And yet both owners find their respective football clubs in similar, dire straits situations. The New England Revolution have the second worst record in Major League Soccer and Liverpool Football Club not only have the second worst record in the English Premier League, but it also has been embarrassingly knocked out of the Carling Cup by minnows Northampton.

NESV, in an official statement on Wednesday, promised to give Liverpool “the resources to build for the future, including the removal of all acquisition debt ” and to “bring back the culture of winning.” The statement continued, Our portfolio of companies are all committed to one common goal: winning” and pledges to “stabilize the club and ultimately return [them] to their rightful place in England, and European football, competing for and winning trophies.”

MLS commissioner Don Garber said in an interview with ESPN.com, They (NESV) have a tremendously robust understanding of the sports business and how to protect and enhance the legacy of the historic brand. That’s in essence what they have done with the ownership of the Red Sox. There is something called the Red Sox Nation, a brand supported by fans going back generations, similar to Liverpool supporters.”

The millions of loyal Red Sox fans, also known as “Red Sox Nation”, will now have Liverpool on their radar and will be supporting the Scouse side. The New England Revolution can invariably benefit from this, as the beautiful game will now share an intimate connection with many Red Sox fans, who are potential Revolution supporters. Now imagine going into a bar in Boston to watch a Liverpool match. The same Sox fans will no longer doubt this foreign passion; it will instead be mutual. The key is to replace Liverpool with football as a whole, and eventually with the New England Revolution.

So let’s use inductive logic for a second to think about how this can happen.

1) Success for Liverpool means success for Red Sox fans everywhere through football. FACT.

2) Therefore, the success of Liverpool will lead to more Red Sox fans appreciating football.

3) So then success for Liverpool will translate into greater promotion of football in New England.

4) If this is true, then the success of Liverpool can contribute to the success of the New England Revolution.

So football-loving New Englanders, you’ve made a great new friend. With Liverpool success, interest in football will grow around Red Sox Nation. As for MLS and the New England Revolution, it’s an opportunity to capture any newfound passion and convert it into sheer support. How can this be done? Simple, with success. No one wants to support a team that disappoints, not even Red Sox fans.

What do you think? Can Liverpool’s new connection to the Red Sox help the game grow throughout Boston and beyond? Comments below please.

Eric Beard is the Editor-In-Chief of A Football Report. He has written many guest columns for The Yanks Are Coming. You can and should follow his site on Twitter at @afootballreport.

Eric Beard

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  • Daniel Seco

    Good piece Eric. I really think you are right– there will be a groundswell of LFC support in the New England area after this– and competition is one thing Kraft recognizes and will act on.

    I’ve already seen some of it– I have friends in baseball who texted me about the purchase yesterday and are newly-minted LFC Supporters. Two things to note about Henry:

    a. He’s cutthroat– he won’t deal with excess waste and he’ll act quickly to win– he’s a sports fanatic and hates losing at anything.

    b. He struck while the iron was hot. EPL ratings have been terrific in the States since the World Cup– the game grew here this summer and he knows it– he’s counting on increased attention at home to help finance the thing.

    The real question is — who is his Theo Epstein going to be? He’ll need one. LFC’s problems are much deeper than Liverpool fans want to admit in their haste to blame ownership. Some of the issues aren’t about the failure to acquire personnel. Gerrard is great but no longer one of the best five players in the world. Torres is reaching a games played plateau that hits strikers very hard (400). The back four are shambles.

    In many ways, as I’ve written and more importantly Jen Chang has written– the LFC start is less mystifying because of the above than say Everton, who as a starting 11 are talent for talent one of the best in the league, and have six points to show for it. Either way, I think Henry will fix it quickly.

    Your thoughts ?

  • Sed

    On a personal note, it’s hard enough living halfway between Boston and NYC as a guy who finds baseball to be as boring as many Americans will claim to find “proper football.” But now, as an Everton supporter, to potentially have the obnoxious Nation all become Reds supporters overnight? I must have killed someone in a past life.

    Kidding aside, great article – if it would help to bolster the MLS, I’ll deal with my students talking about “Gerrahd shooting the ball wicked hahd!”

  • Maxwell

    I like you proposition, however there is one philosophical problem I forsee: concincing the Irish of Boston to support an English…anything. I am all for an American vitalization of the beautiful game, in terms of business and passion, but when those hard nosed, five day a week brick layers get to the pub, a flyer or drink specials are not going to convince them, me or anyone else to watch this alleged “football” game just because they also wear red sox.

    We need a more comprehensive strategy to help our MLS interest for the Revs, because the last time that we thought England could help New England by pouring money into the crown, it didn’t work out so well. So let’s create American soccer the way we created America. I propose we declare our independence from football and go to war with the redcoats, even if they are wearing red sox.

  • Jon

    It must be mentioned that this relationship between Red Sox fans, John Henry, and Liverpool has explosive potential to go from the 1970’s love-in which is optimistically described above to a hate parade on a two way street. Think ManU vs. Glazers vs. Tampa Bay Bucs… but sub the three diehards that call into Tampa sports radio for a zillion rabid pink hat wearing Red Sox fans, half of them with obnoxious accents to boot (sorry Mom).

  • Cameron

    And then there’s the conundrum that this has put us New Yorker soccer fans in. Liverpool is my EPL team, but I have to find some way to overlook the fact that they are now related to the Red Sox.

  • Adopt Everton now! Ahora!

  • Neil W. Blackmon

    Maxwell– You sir, are in the pantheon of great comments in the history of this blog. Well done sir.