Liverpool FC to float if gate to Europe opens

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The Independent Online

Liverpool, the Premier League football club, is expected to proceed immediately with a stock market flotation if it manages to secure a place in next season's Champions' League.

The multi-million pound revenue from the competition is thought to be crucial to the success of a float. Qualification, which depends on whether Liverpool remain in the Premier League's top three at the end of the season, will also exert an enormous influence on the sponsorship contracts which the club is due to renegotiate this summer.

Its current shirt sponsorship deal is among those up for renewal and is expected to fetch far more than the £5m which Carlsberg paid last time.

Liverpool's ability to exploit its brand has been transformed since Granada, which has taken a 9.9 per cent stake in the club, assumed control of its catering, merchandising and sponsorship arrangements.

Rick Parry, the Liverpool chief executive, will also be awaiting this summer's renegotiation of the Premier League's television contract.

The next deal, which reportedly could be worth up to £2bn over the next three years, will play a significant part in moulding the attitude of investors to quoted football clubs.

Although Manchester United shares have soared this year, at one point valuing the club at more than £1bn, other clubs have been spurned by investors.

At present, the next most valuable quoted club is Chelsea Village, Chelsea's parent company which is worth a mere £101m compared to United's current market capitalisation of £876m.

The importance of qualification for the lucrative Champions League, which brings regular live exposure on terrestrial television, was demonstrated on Thursday when Manchester United's surprise elimination from the competition caused £27m to be wiped off its value.

The £22m which Granada paid for its Liverpool stake suggests that the club's market value could exceed £220m. Another estimate, based on Liverpool's relative earnings, has indicated a valuation of almost double that.

Last year's results, which were undermined by transfer expenditure, showed a £5m loss on turnover of £45m.

A month ago, Mr Parry boosted his management team with the appointment as finance director of Les Wheatley, formerly of Newcastle United.

Last year, the club appointed Schröders, the investment bank, to advise it on strategic options. At present, the club remains in the control of the Moores family, which owns 51 per cent.

Mr Parry has previously indicated his preference to come to the stock market in the next two seasons.

With five games remaining, Liverpool are lying second in the Premier League, five points clear of Arsenal and Leeds United. Liverpool is the last of England's elite clubs still to be in private hands. Manchester United, Chelsea and Newcastle have all floated on the stock market in the last few years.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is quoted on the lightly regulated Ofex market. Other clubs with full quotations include Aston Villa, Leeds and Tottenham.

Liverpool's ability to raise funds for ground improvements and transfer fees has been hamstrung by its continued private ownership. However, the arrival of Mr Parry, coupled with Granada's investment, has seen the club devise a plan to rebuild two of its stands to create a 55,000-seater stadium at a cost of about £50m.

Liverpool's appetite for a float will have been whetted by Manchester United's stellar performance, but the fortunes of other quoted teams provide a more cautionary tale. Shares in both Newcastle and Aston Villa are both trading below the prices at which they floated.

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