NEW YORK — Liverpool Football Club is receiving considerable attention from parties interested in buying into the soccer team or buying it outright.
But Tom Werner pumped the brakes Thursday, saying that Fenway Sports Group’s exploration of finding new partners may wind up where it started.
”We’re exploring a sale, but there’s no urgency, no time frame for us, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s business as usual,” said Werner, the chairman of FSG and its second-largest shareholder. “One outcome could be our continued stewardship for quite a while.”
Werner, FSG partner Sam Kennedy, and FSG principal owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe) were here for the Major League Baseball owners meetings, which ended Thursday.
On Wednesday, Kennedy, who is also the CEO/president of the Red Sox, became the first FSG insider to speak publicly about the exploration of a Liverpool sale, saying it has sparked significant response.
”There has been a lot of interest from numerous potential partners considering investment into the club,” he said.
Kennedy said the interest has come on two fronts: buying the club outright and buying in as a minority partner. He indicated that the outcome — if there is one — could be a stakeholder blend not previously mentioned, one in which an interested party buys into Liverpool as a minority shareholder and over an extended period of time buys enough shares to gain majority control.
Kennedy described the exploration process, for which the club has engaged the services of both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, as being in its early days. He declined to name any suitors.
“It is early days in terms of exploring possibilities for possible investment into Liverpool,” Kennedy said.
FSG president Mike Gordon will manage any possible transaction, a new role for him as he steps back from more direct oversight of the club’s on- and off-field operations.
“Mike Gordon has done an extraordinary job of leading the club for the past decade-plus,” said Kennedy. “He will be taking a step back from that role and Billy Hogan will be taking on more and more. Billy’s someone we’re particularly proud of in the Red Sox front office; he grew up in our organization.”
FSG purchased Liverpool for $493 million in 2010. Last fall, Forbes estimated the franchise was worth $4.45 billion, making it the 22nd-most valuable sports franchise in the world, higher than the Red Sox at No. 30 ($3.9 billion).
For the past couple of years, FSG has been open about its growth strategy. It has ventured into real estate in the form of a new concert venue behind Fenway Park and also a residential/commercial project surrounding the ballpark that will transform the neighborhood.
A year ago, FSG purchased the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, and it has been open about its desire to land an expansion NBA franchise.
FSG is also interested in buying an NFL franchise one day, but that’s impossible in the near future given NFL restrictions on private equity within ownership groups.
How does FSG square selling off its most valuable property while remaining in growth mode?
“Great companies grow by adding value to their business,” said Kennedy. “One way to increase that value from time to time is to sell assets or add investors. Does that mean FSG is going to sell Liverpool? I do not know. It’s John Henry’s, Tom Werner’s, and Mike Gordon’s job to responsibly run Fenway Sports Group, and they felt this was an ideal time to explore possible opportunities for investment into the club.”
Kennedy said the potential sale of Liverpool is unrelated to the interest in owning an NBA franchise.
“We have, over the years, expressed interest in making investments in other sports, including the NBA,” said Kennedy. “We have a ton of respect for the commissioner [Adam Silver] and we have engaged with NBA owners over the years. Nothing is imminent. As it relates to expansion, the league has not determined what it’s going to do on that front.”
Michael Silverman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.