Liverpool's Managing Director Ian Ayre stepped over the line of what the great and the good of the British football media consider acceptable when he recently suggested that Liverpool should be able to pull out of the Premier League's collective bargaining TV arrangement and be able to independently negotiate their own TV deal as Barcelona and Real Madrid do.
Our business isn't to dissect Ayre's pretty flimsy argument – everyone from the Daily Mail to The Guardian has done that already. Instead, we want to consider how an end to collective bargaining would affect the influence of Premier League clubs in Asia.
It would be erroneous to say that Ian Ayre is wrong. Ian Ayre's suggestion is absolutely right from the point-of-view of Ian Ayre and Liverpool FC as a business. He's not a player nor a coach, and nor is he a fan – by any reasonable definition of the word. He is the Managing Director and is tasked with ensuring that Liverpool are as successful off the pitch as possible. Something that seems to have come as a shock to some people: one fan lamented Liverpool's stance thus "I've always regarded Liverpool as our premier "Football Club" i.e. a club interested in football rather than business, unlike say, Manchester United, which is the other way round. So when, for instance, Manchester United say they've won 19 titles, I've always thought that well, when football was still a sport, pre-Premier League, Liverpool won 18 to United's 8, but when football became total business oriented with the Premier League, United have won 11 to Liverpool's nil. Good luck to them, that's the way of the money-obsessed Premier League and football is no longer a sport. It's pure business. So it's with great sadness to discover that my belief's are mistaken. Liverpool, under their current ownership, are no more than a United wannabee and like so many others, are no longer a "football club", interested in football and football supporters, but a greedy, grasping business wanting to milk supporters of all their money to make as much as possible for the club's greedy owners." This, of course, will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog who will already be aware of Liverpool's avarice on a global scale. Indeed, Ayre's plan seems to be another step on the road towards the Emerald City of many of Europe's big clubs: a breakaway European Super League.
But should we be bothered? I mean, if Ayre wants to play Frankenstein's Monster (now you understand the picture!) and destroy the very thing – collective bargaining – that made the Premier League and its clubs so wealthy in the first place then why should we care? A weakened, divided, imploding Premier League would be a sight to warm the heart.
But, of course, as much as the Premier League as a whole would be weakened, Man U, Liverpool, Chelsea, Aresnal and Man City would be strengthened. And the richer these clubs become, the more they can extend their operations in Asia. That would go for Liverpool more than most. Chelsea and Man City aren't so active in Asia as they don't have traditional supporter bases here, and, having billionaire owners, commercial exploitation of the Asian market isn't a necessity; but for Liverpool it's just that. A large operation in Asia is critical to Liverpool, their bank balance and their future plans. Ayre, who has business experience in Malaysia and was formerly Liverpool's commercial director, knows that the ability to crack the Asian market in as many countries as possible can bring the club a level of wealth to put them on a footing with the richest clubs in the world; no mean feat for a club which has never won the Premier League. A bigger bank balance means more opportunities for the club to expand its interests in Asia: more megastores, restaurants, bars, soccer schools and TV coverage.
As entertaining as it was to see him getting torn apart by the media, we've seen enough of Ian Ayre in the past to know that he's very good at what he does, and, for as long as he remains in his post, is one of the biggest enemies of Asian football out there.