IAN Ayre has admitted the club will be “cautious” before proceeding with the next steps in developing Anfield and “not promise anything” until they are ready to execute such a plan.
The expanded Main Stand was opened this season and has proved to be a wise move by the club’s owners, while the next step of the development — expanding the Anfield Road end — is still at its planning stage.
The club are understood to have outline planning permission for such a development to go ahead but Ayre, who is set to depart the club in summer with his next destination believed to be 1860 Munich in Germany, says the club will proceed with caution.
Speaking in this month’s edition of FC Business, he said: “The way we managed the Main Stand expansion was great and we will continue in a similar vein to be cautious and not promise anything until we are ready to deliver.
“We will come along with planning if and when we have the right design and economic model. Once we have these parts in place, we will let people know.”
The Main Stand’s redevelopment brought an end to years of uncertainty over the future of Anfield, after years of broken promises over a new stadium under Hicks and Gillett, which Ayre will have been all too aware of.
“The owners have made a shrewd investment in the Main Stand. It is a healthy economic plan that means we retain our Anfield home, enables us to pay back the cost very quickly and lift revenues to invest into all areas of the club that helps us win football matches.
“If we had built a new 60,000 stadium say, the extra 15,000 seats would have had to pay back the whole investment. We are pleased that the stand came in on time and on budget.”
Ayre echoes the views of principal owner John W Henry, who we had the chance to question over plans for a new stadium back in 2012, that building a new stadium would not have been financially beneficial for the club.
Henry told us: “A long-term myth has existed about the financial impact of a new stadium for Liverpool. Maybe it became a good reason for selling the club at one point.
“Whatever the reason, a belief has grown that Liverpool FC must have a new stadium to compete with [Manchester] United, Arsenal and others. No one has ever addressed whether or not a new stadium is rational.
“New stadiums that are publicly financed make sense for clubs.
“But privately carrying new stadiums is an enormous challenge.”
At the time, it seemed unrealistic to expect a quick decision on the stadium, although it was considered a priority by those who surrounded the club — and was the reason fans lost faith in the previous ownership.
“The allure of a new stadium and/or refurbishment is no different at Anfield then it is anywhere in the world. New stadiums increase revenues primarily by raising ticket prices – especially premium seating,” Henry added.
“Building new or refurbishing Anfield is going to lead to an increase from £40million of match-day revenue to perhaps £60-70m if you don’t factor in debt service.
“That would certainly help, but it’s just one component of LFC long-term fortunes. Our future is based not on a stadium issue but on building a strong football club that can compete with anyone in Europe.”
However, the owners made the decision to remain at Anfield and it has certainly paid off. Credit is due for the way in which they went about the development, in acknowledging that it was a priority and moving quickly but sensibly to find the best solution for all.
Ayre added: “In the case of the Main Stand the reality is more than we expected, far superior than our expectations from the point of view of the stadium design, the lounges, concourses and acoustics.
“Anfield has one of the most unique atmospheres in world football, so the design definitely considered how to keep that noise inside the stadium.
“The atmosphere in the opening game [against] Leicester was similar to the atmosphere I remember from watching games here in the 1970s when the capacity was at a similar level to now.”
Anfield now ranks as the sixth biggest football stadium in England — while an expanded Anfield Road could see the current capacity rise to 60,000.
- Wembley – 90,000
- Old Trafford – 76,000
- Emirates – 60,000
- London Stadium – 60,000
- Etihad Stadium – 55,000
- Anfield – 54,000
- St James Park – 52,000
- Stadium of Light – 49,000
- Villa Park – 43,000
- Stamford Bridge – 42,000
*Figures rounded to the nearest thousand*