Managing director Ian Ayre talks to Liverpoolfc.com about the proposed plan to redevelop Anfield.
Ian, today the club has made public its desire to stay at Anfield and redevelop the stadium. Some fans will ask why it's taken 10 years to arrive at this position?
I think the important factor there is that today is actually the two-year anniversary since the purchase of the football club by Fenway Sports Group. That's an important point to make because in reality the team of people have been looking at this solution for two years. I think the process and the progress we have made in those two years is actually phenomenal, really, in the timescales for such a major proposition as an expansion of Anfield or a new stadium. That doesn't detract from the 10 years that people have had to wait, but I think it puts into perspective the hard work that's gone to reach the decision today.
What has changed to allow today's announcement to take place?
I know a proposition of staying at Anfield has been looked at before, but fundamentally the difference is that for the first time ever all of the relevant parties are coming together for a common initiative and that common initiative is not for the needs of the football club but actually the needs of the community. The regeneration of Anfield is something that many residents and many people throughout the city have talked about and we all recognise the football club is an employer, a business, and a resident, to some extent, in this area. We all know and we all appreciate how much investment and regeneration is needed in the area so bringing together all of that plan and the vision of Mayor Anderson and Liverpool City Council and some of the other stakeholders, putting that vision into reality is what's helped us be a part of that. Liverpool's part in that is not just the consideration of staying at Anfield and the expansion, it's a whole bunch of other initiatives that we'll work together with the other stakeholders on, so it's that coming together on the bigger initiative that's allowed us to get to today.
Why is it the club's preference to expand Anfield rather than build a completely new stadium?
Well again over this process and this period over the last two years one of the things that we've had to do and was important to do was analyse the detail of what works, what doesn't work, what the economical situation is for either solution. If you build a new stadium, for example, one of the big challenges is that, depending on the capacity, you build 15,000 or 16,000 new seats - you don't get 60,000 new seats in a new stadium, you only get the difference. That makes it very difficult to make it viable because the cost of building such a big new stadium doesn't work economically, particularly in this market, so one of the things we had to look at was the balance between that solution and a staying at Anfield type solution, and the work we've done on that showed us that as long as we could find the right solution to stay at Anfield and get through the barriers and hurdles that we needed, we would have to find the best long-term solution for the club that had sustainability and worked economically. Added to that is the fact that I'd say it was very much the preference for our fans, the majority of our fans, and certainly for all of us. I think this is the spiritual home of Liverpool Football Club. Football fans, both Liverpool fans and fans of other clubs, will have had some of the most amazing memories of their time supporting the club and coming to Anfield at this stadium. We've had some of the greatest triumphs in our history here, so it makes sense if there's a right solution that this is the place we should continue to play our football.
What facts are LFC waiting on to make redeveloping Anfield a certainty?
Well, there's a whole bunch of things that still have to happen and that's an important message we want to send out - that we need certainty. That's the most important thing. Liverpool fans, myself, everybody connected with Liverpool knows what happens when promises are made and then broken, so it's important we get certainty before we make the next step and a big part of the certainty for what we are trying to achieve is the acquisition of properties and therefore land to build on and then the subsequent planning permission. It would be wrong and foolish and irresponsible for any of us to just assume those things will happen. Hopefully they can happen and that's a big part of why we are working together with Liverpool City Council, with the housing and with the residents.
What will it cost to rebuild Anfield and how much will the capacity increase by?
Again, those answers will really be determined by the next steps so once we know the footprint that we have to work with, once we know the size and the opportunity and the planning restrictions, whatever they may be, that will help us to determine the design and the ultimate capacity, and obviously the subsequent cost of that. We've done a lot of work, I've been here just over five years now, and there's been a lot of work done on demand so we have a very good handle on what our sweet-spot in terms of capacity is, and again the ultimate solution will be driven by the economics of it. It's important to us that we build something that works financially and that contributes to the football club going forward.
What will happen to the Hillsborough memorial if the Anfield Road stand is rebuilt?
First and foremost there will always be a Hillsborough memorial at Liverpool Football Club. In terms of its current location, whether that be affected it's difficult to determine that, but I think as the club has demonstrated consistently we'll always have a very open and healthy dialogue with the families and maintain the maximum amount of respect for them and for the memorial, so no worries on that front. That's something that is a bridge we will cross when we come to it.
Will we still be able to play at Anfield while work is ongoing on the stadium?
Yes. The initial study we've done into expansion is largely centred around that because, again, when you look at the economics of trying to achieve this project, what's important is we don't lose revenue in the process. The solutions that we've looked at, the work that we've done and the analysis that we have done - they all work around the idea of maintaining the current capacity as much as possible but allowing any construction to go ahead at the same time.
How will the club pay for the redevelopment and will it affect our ability to compete in the transfer market?
As we've said, the right solution is the right economic solution. More so from it detracting from our spending in the transfer market, the whole point of doing this is to actually increase our revenues. If we look at our biggest competitors with a bigger capacity, like Manchester United, Arsenal, if you look at their matchday revenues it is significantly ahead of ours. This whole initiative is designed to generate additional revenues so the ultimate solution has to be one that increases the overall output through the process rather than decreasing it, and we'll find the right financing solution, the right return on investment to deliver the right amount of additional revenue to support the long-term future of the football club.
When would you hope we could possibly play our first game inside a newly redeveloped Anfield?
I think we would all hope to do it as soon as possible but again there are determining factors we don't know the answer to yet. As I spoke about earlier, the acquisition of land and property and the planning processes are exactly that - processes - and they are undeterminable at this stage. We start that in earnest today and there has already been some work gone on in advance and each one is a kind of gate that you get through before you can start the process of the next one. So again, it's too early to say the time or the dates. As we unfold the plan and as the plan develops, obviously we will use all the normal channels to let our fans know and keep them informed. We are all excited about it and hopefully it's a great opportunity for the club.
How will LFC redeveloping Anfield help the local community?
There are two parts to that. One is we are a big employer in the area and what's great is that this opportunity, any expansion, would provide additional jobs in the area. But I think more so what today's announcement is really about is the club's part in the wider regeneration of the area. That initiative led by Mayor Anderson is really about improving people's lives in that area. It's about creating a better place to live, it's about creating better facilities in and around that area and we are just one part of that. I think we've demonstrated over many years we are a key anchor tenant in that community. We already create a lot of jobs, we feed a lot of businesses and contribute to that economy, and so it makes obvious sense that a bigger facility with more people coming, not just on a matchday but on a non-matchday, with better facilities, will all help contribute to the economy and the local economy in particular.