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Soup of This Day #86: But If You Try Sometimes, You Just Might Find You Get What You Need

October 20, 2011

Philidelphians Cricket Team 1884
The Philidelphian cricket team of 1884. It didn’t catch on – Image: Illustrated London News, 1884. The Illustrated London News has no affiliation with Longworth72, possibly because it ceased to exist in 2003. Image cropped by Longworth72.

There’s a pair of shorts I have with a false fly. They have some of the components of a working fly, with a cloth flap, only there is no opening. This is disconcerting for me because I’ll go to the toilet and then have a moment where I’m looking for the opening mechanism, like a zip or buttons, and there is nothing there. This begs the question – Why? I mean, I can understand that it’s aesthetic but why not sew down the cloth covering? Why go to the trouble of having this flap that doesn’t just look like a fly, it partially acts like 1? I think this is a bad idea.

A good idea would be a self-closing fly. This has some relevance to me because I spent the 1st half of the working day with my fly undone. This is not unusual. I am not particularly organised or coordinated and the whole zip thing is just asking to be forgotten. Button flies not so much but zips – There’s just no prompt to check that you got it closed up. Anyway I saw a tv ad for a self-closing flyscreen door the other day and I’m wondering why we can’t do that for my pants. This I think would be a good idea and if someone influential hasn’t already gone there then feel free to run with it.

Ideas are the theme of this post, prompted by an idea that came to fruition 12 months ago this Saturday past. The jury is still out on whether it has been a good 1 or a bad 1 so maybe we should just take a look at how it all came about.

John Henry is the principle owner of Fenway Sports Group (FSG). In 2002, as New England Sports Ventures (NESV), they purchased the Boston Red Sox, a storied outfit that was firmly in the ‘lovable loser’ camp. They invested money, renovating Fenway Park and their playing roster and in 2004 the Sox won their 1st World Series for 86 years. In 2007 they won again and the cursed bumblers were now powerhouse contenders. Their fanbase swelled – Closet Red Sox Nation members came out and those with no previous affiliation jumped on board the feel-good wagon.

The problem is that business always wants to expand – Wants to get better. Which is understandable and ok except that the baseball market is, by-and-large, limited to North America with sporadic pockets elsewhere, such as Japan and Central America. Yeah, that’s right guys – You might call it the ‘World Series’ and in a couple of weeks the Cards or the Rangers will be justifiably calling themselves ‘World Champions’ but the world isn’t really watching.

This is nothing unique: Cricket has a World Champion – It just does so with only 9 Test playing nations. Likewise the current Rugby World Cup, might feature 20 teams but only 8 of them have the domestic leagues to really be contenders. I’m guessing that their aren’t many people on the streets of Boston wearing the US Eagles rugby jersey right now? How about the uniform of the US national Cricket team? It’s really the same outside of the baseball heartland for Red Sox merchandise. You see a few sporadic caps being worn around Western Australia but somehow it seems to be often a fashion statement rather than an indication of support.

Don’t misunderstand me – I love baseball and have followed the Sox for nearly 30 years. I get it. I’m just saying that around 6.5 billion others don’t. We could go 12 rounds of guessing why that is so, maybe dredge up some long-held nationalistic prejudices on all sides or we could come up with an idea on how to get the world watching.

Which is what John Henry was presumably thinking about 14 months ago. He had this great franchise, 1 that had always had a compelling narrative and that had now added in success. The Red Sox were hot property and now was the time to get people on board. This had been tried before – In the 90’s Major League clubs had affiliations to Australian baseball clubs and for a time a local league thrived here and people were talking baseball in the street and around the water-coolers. But like a lot of fads it didn’t take and Australia only has 22 million people anyway. No, your real market is Asia – China alone has 1.3 billion prospective consumers.

And in Asia the English Premier League (EPL) rules.

John Henry recently admitted in an interview with the Guardian that prior to August last year that FSG ‘knew virtually nothing about Liverpool Football Club nor EPL.’ FSG co-investor and chairman Tom Werner added that he ‘certainly knew about Manchester United.’

Possibly because harnessing the power of the EPL had been tried before. In 2001 the New York Yankees had a marketing deal with Manchester United. It didn’t last but neither team was particularly harmed by the effort. A hurdle that deal faced is that the 2 clubs are devisive – Each is the most hated in it’s respective league and whilst their fanbases are large they are dwarfed by the collective might of the those who oppose them.

There’s not so much dislike for Liverpool or the Red Sox, although the 2011 Boston outfit has done wonders in making themselves themselves seem arrogant and generally unlikeable. Recent public profile issues aside though the global appeal to neutrals is greater.

So it must have been a more interesting proposition when a Fenway Park employee sent Henry an email in August of 2010 asking him to save his beloved Liverpool. Henry’s response was to schedule a meeting with a merchant bank that specialised in EPL takeovers. Attending on the FSG side were Henry and a sceptical and disinterested Tom Werner:

‘I wasn’t paying too much attention. Frankly I was on my BlackBerry, dealing with more pressing issues. I thought there was no way John was going to drag us into that one.’

John though, seeing the strong Asian presence of Liverpool as a marketing asset for the Sox, did drag FSG into ‘that one’. Subsequently the Red Sox have certainly gained exposure to a core of fans who might otherwise have got through life happily ignorant of a baseball team from Boston. For some of these fans this knowledge will be irrelevant but for others they might see that the baseball club shares a class of values and goals that are reminiscent of the football club they cherish. There will be converts, new baseball fans wearing Red Sox merchandise on the streets of Hong Kong perhaps.

The same is less likely to be true the other way around. Football doesn’t need New England’s fans and they are not likely to get them. For a start the market is saturated with the Sox, Pats, Bruins and Celtics commanding attention. Then there’s the studied indifference to ‘soccer’.

No, Liverpool, with it’s rich history, doesn’t need New England’s love. Just the cash please. Which is probably why FSG has pointedly spent a bucketload on Liverpool since the acquisition. They need to win over the fans, to get them on board with the Red Sox guys – Significantly, 1 of the much maligned previous owners, Tom Hicks, owned the Texas Rangers. Don’t know that there’s any hate but I’m guessing there’s not a lot of Rangers merchandising on Merseyside.

This partly explains the £35m they dropped on Andy Carroll, a young but unproven striker from Newcastle. He was brought in on transfer deadline day in January, his inflated price paid for by the exit of fan favourite Fernando Torres. It was a statement of intent and the fact that Carroll has been ineffectual and very much overshadowed by the cheaper (£22.8m) Luis Suarez has been irrelevant.

But while doing this you don’t want to alienate Red Sox fans. So please welcome to Fenway Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Gonzo (7 years, $154m) has been good, while the latter (7 years, $142m) has been underwhelming.

Interestingly, and this is what the jury is deliberating on, neither club has been successful on the field this year. The Sox bombed in September, partially fueled by the failure of expensive acquisitions like Crawford and John Lackey (5 years, $82.5m). Liverpool meanwhile are hovering around the fringes of the Champion’s League qualification fight – A noble aim but not quite lofty enough for the financial outlay.

Coincidently, on the Saturday past, a year to date after FSG hopped into the Merseyside bed, the Reds hosted Manchester United at Anfield. The 1 team Tom Werner had heard of are title chasing again this year and the match was a tight affair with Liverpool having the better chances but failing to capitalise in the 1st half. In the 2nd Steven Gerrard fired a freekick through a gaping hole in the defensive wall and into the net for the lead. Sadly that didn’t last and the red Mancunians levelled late on to share the points, leaving Liverpool in 5th, 8 points adrift of league leaders Manchester City.

On the plus side their shorts don’t have deceptive flies so at least they won’t get confused in the toilets.

But If You Try Sometimes, You Just Might Find You Get What You Need

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