Liverpool Managing Director Ian Ayre speaks exclusively to Liverpoolfc.tv about the latest set of Club accounts.
First of all Ian, the accounts for the year ending July 2011 will be published shortly. Can you talk us through the headline figures and explain what they mean?
I think it's important to start by saying what they mean is that we create a much greater stability for the Club now moving forward. There was much talk and conjecture around the debt that the Club was with under previous ownership, there has been over £200 million of that debt paid down and that's very important for the Club moving forward because at the height of it debt service was around £18 million and that has been reduced to somewhere around £3 million now which is obviously a much more palatable and manageable position for the Club to be in.
What's also important is that we have created a great commercial platform which underpins the business and drives the business forward and creates important revenue to invest in the team.
In addition to that I think people will probably focus on the headline which is there has been a £49-£50 million loss in these accounts, but what I can say is a large majority of that is related to writing off a stadium facility where most of the cost was focused around a design for a stadium which many fans will remember as being the bigger, 70,000 seat proposition which never got built. That particular design and stadium is not a viable project for the Club, although there was a lot of cost associated with it at that time. I think it's important for us to move on from that and move it off the accounts, which is what has happened.
Also within that £50 million or so figure were some exceptional costs around the departure of Roy Hodgson as manager and various other staff associated around that time.
It creates a very stable platform for us to move forward from, it creates a situation where most of those things are now off the books and we move forward in a positive sense in a sustainable business and with the ability to grow on that basis.
This set of account reports a big clean-up of historical issues - does this mean the Club is now on a more stable footing?
We are certainly very stable. The important thing to note from these accounts is that in the period they relate to we weren't playing Champions League football, we were playing Europa League football, and in that period our revenue was largely flat so it shows that as a Club, while European football and Champions League football are important to this football club - we have a great history in that competition - it's also important to know that we have a sustainable business that can move forward in that type of scenario. In that same period although our total revenue was largely flat our commercial revenue grew significantly, as the accounts will show.
That's the best basis on Liverpool Football Club growing in the future. We've always said it's about building a sustainable business that can support itself, just as Financial Fair Play alludes to. This shows we have a business growing underneath the football and the ability to invest to grow the football, and that has to be the best way forward.
A big payment has been written off in terms of previous stadium costs - how did that figure grow to be so large?
A big part of that cost was on a particular design that the previous owners were keen to develop and that's a whole mix of design costs, planning costs, legal costs, some other administrative costs, and they escalated quickly. What's important is that fans can take some comfort in the fact that moving forward that certainly isn't the case. We have a different design which was the original design, which we have planning permission for and in terms of the design that's largely done, so there's no additional cost to go to there. In terms of other areas that we're looking at, at Anfield, again we've been very prudent and there has been no view the cost will escalate anywhere near that again.
We know Financial Fair Play is on the horizon - is it important to stress this £50m write off wouldn't be counted in any FFP calculation?
That's absolutely the case. That would not come into it. If you take the write off around those areas out, what you'll see is we have a very healthy business. We've made a significant investment in the playing squad, even though our revenues have remained on a flat basis. Without that write off we probably would have been at a break even situation, so we're in a healthy position in that regard. We're keen to stress that we're very supportive of the Financial Fair Play model, we believe that we'll continue to grow our commercial revenue and continue to invest that in our playing squad. That's what a good and proper and well run football club should be doing. One of the reasons we're very supportive of FFP is we think running the football club in a proper and sustainable way is definitely the way forward for all clubs.
Commercial revenues grew over the course of the financial year - does that show the club is moving in the right direction and how much work is there still to do in this area?
It will show we have moved ahead significantly in this period. I think there has been 25 per cent growth which is excellent and important, but there is still a lot of work to do commercially.
I remember thinking when I came here five years ago that we were a long, long way behind some of our major competitors and we've made some significant ground on many of them, but nobody here is going to take that for granted and rest on their laurels. It's important we continue to grow it.
The next big focus for us is on achieving the same level of growth and the same spread of international activity across international markets. It's something we're very focused on and is where most of our strategy is focused. That can only bring greater growth and greater opportunity for Liverpool. We know we have a massive fan base and we have huge interest from our fans across the world and we almost have an obligation to go and serve those fans and deliver to them the same level of product, services and access to Liverpool Football Club that we do, for instance, to our fans on Merseyside.
It's great to see that we've achieved significant commercial growth and, as we've said before, it's important because it underpins everything we do on the pitch. But we certainly have a lot more work to do in that area.
The overriding theme of the accounts is the big clean-up of the past - how much does this demonstrate the desire of the new owners to do the right thing for the club moving forward?
I think from the very first day that these owners arrived it was very clear what their objectives were. I remember at the first press conference John saying 'we want to win'. They do want to win, they're winners, proven winners, and I think it's also important to recognise that these accounts we talk about are from a year ago and they really relate to a transitional period between the previous ownership under Hicks and Gillett and then the new ownership under Fenway Sports Group. What has been demonstrated since their period of arriving is that they want to create a stable foundation with a platform to build on. There has been a clearing out of debt, a clearing out of money that's been expended on stadium that just isn't going to achieve much going forward and a significant investment in the team, an investment in the commercial and business infrastructure and an ongoing objective of improving that team on and off the pitch. These are all great indicators of people who want to take the business forward.
Despite it being a year without Champions League football, the accounts show there was considerable investment to bring players in and also to reduce the average age of the squad...
That's one of the key objectives that's been set for the football side. I think there were a lot of players coming in, but there were a lot of players who left as well and that was important to have a manageable playing squad, getting them at the right age, getting the average age down, getting the wage bill in the right place, these are all important dynamics that we go through as part of the overall picture. It's no secret to anyone that the biggest expenditure item in football clubs is players, whether it's transfer fees or players' wages. In financial terms, they're the thing which drives success or failure on the pitch.
There has been significant investment, there will continue to be investment in the squad. It's not all going to happen overnight. The investment made has been a lot and I think everyone is focused on continuing down that track of making sure we put the best we can put on the pitch and achieve the best we can achieve as a result of that.
As we've said. these accounts relate to a season in which we didn't enjoy Champions League football. How important is Champions League football to Liverpool FC?
We're Liverpool Football Club and every fan or player of the Club wants to see Champions League football. In terms of its importance, it's very important.
However, this was a season in which we played in the Europa League. We had a reasonable run in that and I think what the accounts show is that our revenue was largely flat as a result of that - and that's a good indicator of the importance of good business and commercial revenue for seasons when you don't have Champions League football. We maintained our revenue position, we grew our commercial revenue in that time, but everybody is always focused on that spot in the Champions League for Liverpool. We have won it five times and I am sure we want to win it again. It's vital we get into that competition and it's important for this Club to be in it, but from a business perspective I think we were able to demonstrate that without it we can still move forward.
We've spoken about the costs accrued for past stadium designs - can you update us on the latest position with the stadium project and are we accruing more costs which will see us take another big hit in the future?
Let me deal with the progress first. We have said several times that we are following a parallel course and we have been looking at the opportunity we have to build a new stadium in Stanley Park. Some of the money that was written off recently relates to one of the designs that we do think has some opportunity. We have planning permission for it, the design is largely done, or has certainly had a significant amount spent on that, so that dynamic is really about finding the right economic model to build that stadium if that's our ultimate choice. That alludes to things like finding the right naming rights partner, all of which takes time and all of which we're very active on.
We'll only do that if we can find the right economic model that makes the long term sense for Liverpool Football Club. What we talked about earlier gives a very clear indication that you have to do these things in a responsible way, you have to expend money in a responsible way, you have to make decisions in a responsible way and that's very much what's happening on that front.
On the plans or ideas around the refurbishment of Anfield, similarly, we're taking responsible and timely decisions based on a different set of dynamics; some economical and around cost and expenditure, but some around the more administrative things like planning permission and acquisition of property and really trying to study whether that's a real opportunity. We've said all along it's been challenging in that area, but we continue to look at it and we continue a dialogue with several stakeholders involved in that. We're not done on either side yet, but we're very committed to finding the right solution, but absolutely finding it in a responsible way for the football club.
Fans want to see that, fans, just as us, want to see an increase in capacity and that's what we're all focused on.
In terms of accruing more costs, we won't take another big hit in the future. That's not to say we won't expend any money on either project, but we do that in a very prudent way. There certainly aren't any landmark costs of the sort we've seen in these accounts. We are going about it in a very responsible way and we've got a lot of expertise, a lot of knowledge and a lot of history under our belt now as a result of many years of looking at this project. I think it's fair to say some of the hard cost has already gone in and what we're doing now is trying to find the right solution.
Finally, taking into account everything we have spoken about, what's your message to Liverpool fans today about the future of their Club?
The key message has to be that we've created a much more stable environment than the one we were in over a year ago. We're in a very strong situation in terms of the investment we have already made in the team, we've created a platform that will allow us commercially to go and continue to grow our revenue. We've grown it significantly, we have an opportunity to do so globally, which all underpins future investment in the team. We've massively reduced our debt situation so in terms of banking and finance we're in a very stable situation, probably more favourable than most.
All of those things are the ingredients to growth and the ingredients to opportunity and I'm sure that's what everybody out there, all our fans, want. They want to see a strong Liverpool, they want to see a sustainable Liverpool and they want to see a Liverpool winning trophies.
I think the ingredients are there. We'll continue to tinker with it and work with it to make it work on and off the pitch, and that's the important and right way to run any business, so there's plenty of hope, I think, for Liverpool fans.