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For Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool Is the Real Moneyball

What does Liverpool FC add to the Red Sox empire? A lot more fans—and an even bigger stage on which to choke
For Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool Is the Real Moneyball
Photo illustration by 731; Photographs by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC/Getty Images; Winslow Townson/Getty Images

On an oddly steamy night in April, Fenway Park is gussied up with bunting as the Boston Red Sox prepare to host the Texas Rangers. The owner’s box is a mix of corporate and academic types, including hedge fund managers and the president of a nearby liberal arts college. The atmosphere feels more book party than bleacher brawl. Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner holds court in the center of the room, recounting the experience of witnessing one of the two other teams he co-owns win a big game—well, a sort of big game. “People say it must have been fun, but watching the game was hell,” he says. “The fun came later.” The trophy his players captured that February night is the marginal Carling Cup, and the team is Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League. Although it lacked the prestige of a Premier League title, the cup helped fans warm to the team’s new custodians.

As chairman of Fenway Sports Group (FSG), Werner, along with his partner John Henry, took control of Liverpool in October 2010 for a cut-rate price after paying off about $300 million worth of the club’s debt. Henry concedes they knew “virtually nothing” about the Premier League, or soccer for that matter, before buying the club, but recognizing the global reach and moneymaking potential of the sport didn’t require much expertise. The U.S., soccer-resistant for so long, is now home to the owners of five of the 20 clubs in the English Premier League. Manchester United, owned by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Glazer family, is the most valuable sports team in the world, according to a Forbes estimate. Arsenal, controlled by St. Louis Rams’ Stan Kroenke, is the fourth-richest club. Liverpool is the eighth.