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fcbusiness Exclusive: Ian Ayre Discusses Anfield Expansion

Thu 29th Sep 2016 | Football Stadiums & Facilities

Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre talks exclusively to ALEX MILLER about the new Main Stand, future Anfield plans and his final season at the club.

Liverpool’s owners FSG can feel justifiable pride after watching the club’s opening home game of the season from a new perch within the club’s stunning new £125 million Main Stand. The club has quite rightly taken plaudits for getting the job done and for doing it so well. The new stand dominates the local skyline but is extremely sympathetic with the rest of Anfield and already looks like it has been there for an age.

The club, in conjunction with its stadium partners, have undoubtedly achieved something very special. The new Main Stand is one of the largest all-seater single stands in European football. It holds 20,500 seats and has increased the overall capacity at Anfield to 54,074. The expansion work began last year and has added a third tier for supporters, boosting Anfield’s crowd capacity by about 8,500.

The stand is also the new home for the Hillsborough memorial, while the expansion work is part of a wider £260m regeneration of the Anfield area of the city. Its opening is especially rewarding for outgoing chief executive Ian Ayre who is leaving the club next summer after 10 years as a servant of the club he supports.

“The design brief included the requirement for the new stand to feel like it has always been a part of Anfield, down to details including retaining the red brick and grey steel,” he said.

“Inside, we wanted to avoid big grey boring areas and have produced areas with finesse and smart design highlighting and remembering the history of the old Main Stands.

“This includes a location marker along the boundary line of the previous stand and retaining in the concourses some of the original seating that dates back to 1906. Other touches include mosaic images of historic moments on the walls. These are permanent references that we hope the fans are proud of.

“Most of the time computer-generated images are more perfect than the reality normally, but in the case of the Main Stand the reality is more than we expected, far superior than our expectations from the point of view of the stadium design, the lounges, concourses and acoustics.

“Anfield has one of the most unique atmospheres in world football, so the design definitely considered how to keep that noise inside the stadium. The atmosphere in the opening game at Leicester City was similar to the atmosphere I remember from watching games here in the 1970’s when the capacity was at a similar level to now.”

Ayre has witnessed first-hand the ups and downs the club has experienced actually getting the expansion done, including the obstacles that have had to be overcome, from the false promises made by the club’s previous owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who promised to build an new stadium only to see those plans bite the dust. Not only did Hicks and Gillett break their promise of a new stadium, they left behind a £49.6m bill as a result of the failed attempt to build a futuristic new stadium in Stanley Park.

However those days now seem like a nightmare from a distant time in history. It is reported that the new Main Stand will add approximately £20m to the club’s match day revenues, which currently stand at £59m a year. Arsenal generates £102m a year at the Emirates.

“We have been behind our biggest competitors in this area. Arsenal generates 38% of their revenues from match day, while before the expansion we were only generating 22% of our revenues from Anfield. We want to compete favourably with anyone and this is a big step forward in being able to compete off and on the pitch.

“The owners have made a shrewd investment in the Main Stand. It is a healthy economic plan that means we retain our Anfield home, enables us to pay back the cost very quickly and lift revenues to invest into all areas of the club that helps us win football matches.

“If we had built a new 60,000 stadium say, the extra 15,000 seats would have had to pay back the whole investment. We are pleased that the stand came in on time and on budget.”

When Liverpool announced plans for the overall expansion of Anfield in April 2014, there were two phases announced - phase one was detailed planning for the Main Stand, while phase two was outline planning for the Anfield Road End.

As a result, Liverpool have outline planning permission to expand the Anfield Road End, believed to be until September 2017. Meanwhile, the club’s owners continue to assess whether the figures add up. The club has always maintained that a decision on the expansion of the Anfield Road End would be made once the Main Stand was complete and dependent upon factors at the time.

The Main Stand will officially be completed in January 2017 once internal fittings are complete. Current outline intentions for the Anfield Road End are to add around a further 4,800 general admission seats to the stand, which would bring the total Anfield capacity to nearer 60,000.

“The way we managed the Main Stand expansion was great and we will continue in a similar vein to be cautious and not promise anything until we are ready to deliver,” adds Ayre.

“We will come along with planning if and when we have the right design and economic model. Once we have these parts in place, we will let people know.”

Arsenal, Manchester City and West Ham boast 60,000 capacity stadia, while Tottenham and Chelsea are planning and building grounds that will also hold 60,000 fans, then there is Old Trafford, which currently holds 76,000.

As such, it is easy to imagine that phase two will get under way relatively soon to ensure Liverpool’s match day revenues remain competitive. But Ayre says there is a different magic number for each club individually.

The club was pleasantly surprised by the demand for executive packages in the new stand. All Executive Lounge tickets to the Main Stand sold out 12 months ago, while tickets for the two Premium Lounge levels and Executive boxes also sold out.

There is further demand for corporate hospitality, while the club capped the seasonticket waiting list at 20,000 fans. Further evidence of fans’ demand came during Liverpool’s pre-season friendly with Barcelona at Wembley, which produced a crowd of 89,845 - the second largest in the history of the stadium in its current guise. The overwhelming majority of fans were Reds.

“We have the right corporate level offerings now. The magic number for capacity is different for different clubs. For the big, big games we could sell Anfield twice over, but we have to get the balance right.

“Demand levels may vary on a snowy February mid-week game when it is hard to travel. We have a massive fan base in Liverpool of course, but also across the country, Europe and beyond.”

Ayre wouldn’t discuss investment figures but the naming rights are estimated at around five to seven million pounds a year, so the club could be looking at banking at least £25 million from a deal. However, the club is only willing to sign a deal with a long-term partner. Club officials are aware of the tremendous opportunity for a sponsor and are looking for a minimum fiveyear agreement.

“The key is finding the right partner, brand and solution to fit. We are confident we will find the right partner in due course.”

Potential sponsors are said to have been eager to experience the new stand in all its glory, as well as sample the new facilities and its operational prowess on match days. As a result, it is unlikely any official sponsor for the stand will be announced until next year.

Ayre will be leaving Liverpool in May 2017 after 10 years at the club. He joined Liverpool as commercial director under Hicks and Gillett in 2007. After securing a thenrecord shirt sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered, Ayre was made managing director by the current owners in 2011, after Christian Purslow stepped down. In January 2014 he was promoted to Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the club.

The 53-yearold announced his departure in March to give the club plenty of time to find his successor. Ayre says: “I felt it was the right time to try something new. My contract ends in May and I informed the owners I didn’t feel like signing a new agreement. But it is amicable and I am great friends with the owners.

“There have been some tremendous highs and lows over the last 10 years, but with the Main Stand now up, it feels the right time to hand the baton for someone new to come in with a different energy to take things forward.

“I have no firm plans for after May. Maybe to stay in sport or maybe have a better garden! I have had lots of offers, but at the moment it is business as usual and there is plenty to achieve this season and I’m not focusing on other opportunities.

“We have great owners and the club is in great hands, we now have a bigger stadium, we continue to build our commercial business, we have a tremendous manager and are building an outstanding group of players. The future looks very bright.”

Asked what his highlights have been, he includes the construction of the Main Stand of course, ‘it was a big onerous job’, but there are plenty of others.

“The outcome of the Hillsborough Inquest is massive and finally provides relief for the families of those who lost their lives,” he adds.

“Putting the club back on a firm footing after the battles during the Hicks and Gillett era has been another tremendous achievement.

“10 years ago I had big ambitions that I wanted to achieve and they have mostly been realised. The Standard Chartered deal was a record-breaking deal in its time. I am proud of that.

“I have loved working with the managers hired in my time as MD and CEO, Jurgen, Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers.

“I have also loved being involved in transfers, the buying and selling of big players. We always approach the transfer window with the same objectives, to do the best we can do and as efficiently as possible.

“We have good windows and bad windows but it’s other influences that often dictate how well it goes. You win some and you lose some but there have been highs and lows.

“My favourite signings have included Philippe Coutinho. I remember sitting in the corridors of Inter Milan for the CEO for what felt like five days, trying to convince him to sell Coutinho to us, and then jetting him back to Liverpool in time for him to sign before transfer deadline day.

“Of course, there are some signings that unfortunately don’t come off but the experiences you never forget - sitting in the Ukraine on the day war broke out, trying to sign Ukrainian Yevhen Konoplyanka which sadly never got done because of the selling club.”

Time will tell if the Main Stand investment will be a game-changer for Liverpool. But Ayre, along with the FSG hierarchy of John Henry, Tom Werner and Mike Gordon, they certainly hope the new stand proves to be a crucial step for getting Liverpool back on their perch.

Taken from fcbusiness magazine issue 96

Action Images via Reuters / Andrew Boyers Livepic

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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If you have any football business related news stories you’d like to share then please contact us – agourley@fcbusiness.co.uk

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