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LeBron James role in next FSG chapter clear and it could make Liverpool millions

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Basketball legend LeBron James and Liverpool owners FSG have been strengthening ties

LeBron James’ involvement with Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group began at around the same time the US ownership group were acquiring the club from the failed stewardship of Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

NBA legend James, who at 36 is still one of the sport’s stellar athletes with the Los Angeles Lakers, had been seeking a new agency to work with on his endorsement work and, thanks to a long-standing relationship between his business manager Paul Wachter and Liverpool chairman and FSG’s second in command, Tom Werner, a deal was struck for FSG’s Fenway Sports Management business to look after James’ interests.

The following year James took a two per cent stake in Liverpool for around £4.9m, a stake that blossomed into in excess of £40m, which in turn was converted into one per cent of the overall FSG empire, valued at around £7bn, earlier this year when the arrival of RedBird Capital’s investment for 11 per cent of the FSG business came on the scene.

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James’ star power is undeniable. He is a household name globally and transcends the sport of basketball into popular culture. He has also been, along with his business partner and long-time friend Maverick Carter, a savvy entrepreneur and his and Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment is now worth in excess of £650m and took investment from FSG, Liverpool kit supplier and James’ long-standing sporting partner Nike, as well as RedBird

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On the walk to the locker rooms before NBA games the fashion of the players is something that the American media are particularly taken by, and James has worn Liverpool shirts before now, as well as wearing the latest Reds training gear when he opened the innovation centre in his name at Nike’s Oregon headquarters earlier this year.

It is a tactic not without an aim. Liverpool and Nike have a deal that sees the Reds earn 20 per cent royalties on Liverpool/Nike merchandise, on top of the guaranteed £30m per annum. That means that bringing the merchandise to different eyeballs in different demographics that may not have previously held much of an interest in Liverpool or English football for that matter can be impactful when it comes to generating revenues for what is, in reality, a pretty small gesture.

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But James is aware of his star power, and so too are FSG. But he isn’t seen as some superstar they can simply leverage to their own advantage, James is someone who it is believed will play a more significant role within FSG in time, and someone who has aspirations to be a team owner, particularly in the NBA. And with FSG understood to be eyeing an NBA move as their next sporting acquisition it all ties in nicely

FSG recently completed the purchase of the Pittsburgh Penguins NHL ice hockey team, a deal subject to NHL approval which is expected to be a formality.

The acquisition of the Penguins sees them join Liverpool, the Boston Red Sox baseball team and the NASCAR outfit RSK Racing among the sporting stable within the FSG empire – with Liverpool the most valuable property among them at around £3bn, far more than the £300m that was paid for the club in 2010

And James was quick to show his support for the acquisition, donning a Penguins jersey before a Lakers game earlier this week. A very small move but one that, for a team like Pittsburgh gives them global exposure.

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“The alignment of interests is there. LeBron and Maverick and Paul (Wachter) are owners of the Red Sox, Liverpool, Roush Fenway Racing, NESN and all other entities in the company,” said FSG partner Sam Kennedy when speaking on Sportico’s Sporticast recently.

“What they do for us, in addition to bringing their capital to the table, which we appreciate, their relationships are incredible in corporate America in the sporting world and on a global basis. Yes, we can get through most doors but to open up doors on a global basis given the popularity of LeBron and what he and Maverick are building with SpringHill, we are able to connect with brands across the world and there are no better door openers than Maverick Carter and LeBron James and we are proud to have them as our partners.”

That door opening is where James is key for Liverpool and all the entities that exist within the FSG portfolio. Having such close working relationships with the biggest sportswear firm in the world, Nike, and with one of America’s most prominent private equity firms that are focused on business building, RedBird Capital Partners, it all points to a new phase for FSG, one that has previously been coined by Kennedy himself as ‘FSG 3.0’.

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Wearing the club jerseys of the sporting teams of which he owns a slice of through FSG show that he is very much invested in the Fenway plan moving forward, and sources in the US have told the ECHO previously that he will be a figure that takes on an ever increasing role within the company, particularly when he calls time on his NBA career and devotes his time to growing his business empire.

Having such relationships in place now, at a time when some major capital has arrived in football through ownership groups from Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is likely FSG’s way of trying to make sure that the business remains diversified and robust to be able to invest in success, with investment into infrastructure when Liverpool will likely see a benefit as opposed to capital injections to be used in the transfer market.

James appears in it for the long haul at FSG, and Liverpool will be hoping that they could be the beneficiaries from the kind of Michael Jordan effect and able to drive their commercial revenues higher through the simpatico relationship with James

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