Since George Gillett and Tom Hicks decided to sell Liverpool, they have delegated the running of the club to three fellow board members Chief Financial Officer Phil Nash, Managing Director Christian Purslow and Commercial Director Ian Ayre while allowing Chairman Martin Broughton to oversee the sale. The American owners’ relinquishing of their Co-Chairmen position though also had one other consequence; they now don’t have the only say on decisions at the football club. On the five man board that consists of them as well as Nash, Purslow and Ayre, they now only have one vote each, meaning the other three can now out vote the pair on crucial decisions such as the future of Rafa Benitez. According to the News of the World, there will be a majority vote on the manager’s future before pre-season training with Ayre, Nash and Purslow at the centre of the decision. So today, I will profile one of these board members, Ian Ayre, to show what sort of man might be making such an important decision.
Born in Liverpool, Ayre was a reds fan from a young age. He began following Liverpool as a nine year old and when he was appointed Commercial director in July 2007, he talked of his love for the club and that he had already realised one of his lifelong goals of scoring at Anfield when he scored in a half-time penalty shoot out during Chris Lawler’s testimonial in the mid seventies.
“I entered a competition run by Radio City to take a penalty against the Everton keeper George Wood. I won it and got to take a spot-kick in front of the Kop. Fortunately I scored it too! I’ve been to most of the big finals and was there in Athens in May for the European Cup final.”
Ayre left Litherland High School at 16 to join the Navy but he left the armed forces to have a shot in the world of business. He became incredibly successful in Asia where he ran a company called PACE, becoming a leading maker of digital set top boxes for Sky and other suppliers. His experience of working in football has not been confined to Liverpool though as he left PACE to become Chairman and CEO of Huddersfield Town. After a three year stint at the club, he returned to business as the managing director of Virgin/NTL subsidiary Premium TV before returning back to the Far East to run Total Sports Asia, a company which advised international companies on their strategies and how to market themselves in Asian sports campaigns.
Such experience in Asia was ideal for Liverpool when they were looking for a Commercial Director in 2007. They were looking to increase sponsorship and merchandising revenues as well as the LFC brand in international markets, especially in Asia, and Ayre looked like the ideal candidate. Speaking on his appointment, he talked about the Reds potential in overseas markets:
“There’s no doubt that after all the success of the seventies and eighties, Liverpool was easily the biggest footballing brand in the world. Manchester United may have made progress in that area but it is clear to me having travelled all around the world and spent so many years in Asia that people remember that time. Liverpool were undoubtedly the biggest name and attraction in football and I don’t see any reason why that can’t be got back. . . I watched every single Liverpool game live out here last season.The football is on everywhere in Asia – people gather to watch it at night in bars, restaurants and other places everywhere. That speaks volumes for the size of the appetite and we have got a system, a process and a partnership in place to serve that.”
It was a system that helped to get Standard Chartered Bank on board as the shirt sponsor on a £20m a year deal. The bank are predominantly based in Asia and it took a lot of negotiations to get the deal. Standard Chartered were looking to invest in football but they were speaking to a number of clubs. What may have swayed it is the sheer volume of supporters in Asia as according to one estimate, the Reds have over 130 million fans across 16 major markets – including China (58m), India (6m), Thailand (5m), Malaysia (2m), Japan (2m) and South Africa (6m), all of which were markets Standard Chartered were interested in. Ayre believes though that to get to these fans the club must utilise sponsors as well as the sponsors getting the most out of the club:
“For our summer tour in Asia – a big market for some of our partners – we spent a lot of time planning and discussing what our partners wanted to achieve on top of branding and media exposure. In Singapore and Thailand, we sold 150,000 tickets and every ticket was bought in a store owned by [Liverpool's kit maker] Adidas or a bar where Carlsberg was represented. It achieved real footfall for our partners.”
Such promise of mutual benefits helped the record sponsorship deal to be agreed and this will have to continue in future seasons for Liverpool to maximise the profit they can make. Ayre as a Liverpool fan and Asian business expert certainly has made an impact at Liverpool then but would you trust him to make the right decision over Rafa Benitez’s future?
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