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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Vive la Révolution?

Today, 17th August, marks the first anniversary of the establishment of Blue Heaven Holdings Limited, the offshore vehicle set-up by Farhad Moshiri to secure ownership of Everton Football Club. How has this first year gone?

Whilst Everton managed to keep the true identity of its new owner a secret for another six months, a time of ever increasing speculation with American, Arab and Chinese billionaire consortia allegedly being seen on a weekly basis at Goodison, Finch Farm and the city’s Hilton hotel, Moshiri’s team diligently set about securing their goal.

Once revealed, media speculation went into overdrive citing Moshiri handing Everton a £150m summer transfer budget which would signal the end of the woeful Kenwright era. Increasingly speculative reports of “Moshiri to fund new stadium” accompanied equally imaginative conjecture on candidates for a new Everton manager, yet throughout all of this, Moshiri said very little, memorably, “I'll give Everton whatever I have” whilst trying to shrug off a Lazarus like Kenwright embarrassingly grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Those expecting instant solutions to Everton’s well documented problems, on and off the pitch, may be slightly disappointed; Farhad Moshiri isn’t handing Everton £150m to spend on players nor is he going to fund a new stadium out of his own pocket; it’s not a revolution, it’s an evolution, an evolution that is now hopefully governed by common sense and the rules of the Premier League rather than reliance on some dodgy retailer.

Whilst it’s an established fact that mediocrity has been promoted, and sadly embraced, for decades at Goodison, common sense tells you that this can no longer continue. A couple of years ago a mid-table finish and two semi final appearances, was a performance that would have been promoted as a successful campaign by the CEO; that this is no longer acceptable is refreshing and has led to the management team not only being replaced but augmented by the appointment of a Director of Football in the form of Steve Walsh.

Hopefully the playing staff will be significantly strengthened before the close of the transfer window yet the rules of the Premier League govern what Everton can and cannot spend on wages and players; essentially acquisitions and wages must be paid for through increases in commercial activity outside of broadcasting income, this includes revenue from the sale of players, therefore this key performance indicator will be a measurement of successful change and to date there is no significant shift as existing sponsorship contracts, such as Chang and the somewhat strange kit supply deal negotiated through Kitbag, are still in place yet the appointment to the board of Alexander Ryazantsev will hopefully yield more positive results in the not too distant future.

The greatest test of the Moshiri evolution will be addressing the stadium situation. Clearly twelve months, following three failed moves over sixteen years, is hardly sufficient time to solve this problem yet it is the most pressing problem the club faces as a resolution would unlock many areas of commercial improvement.

It is no secret that, as an organisation, KEIOC has always favoured the redevelopment of Goodison due to it being the most sensible, cost effective and deliverable solution. You only have to look across the park to see an example of this, the broken promises and tens of millions of pounds wasted on a new super stadium on Stanley Park before settling for a redevelopment, which could not be achieved according to their then owners, a redevelopment which has now become a reality along with the ongoing transformation of the local community.

Yet leaving Goodison should not be a problem as long as we leave for something which isn't just superior to what we have, but is the best, as, after all, nothing but the best is good enough for Everton isn’t it?

Currently the two sites under discussion are widely known; Stonebridge Cross (SBX) and a site on the North Docks owned by Peel Holdings. Common sense will tell Farhad Moshiri that the dock site is immeasurably superior to the site in Croxteth, nobody builds out of town stadia on retail / industrial parks anymore, a stadium is about being connected to major transport systems and operating in an “eight day a week” economy. Moshiri will have also recognised that the commercial potential of a stadium on the Mersey skyline will be infinitely more marketable, from a naming rights standpoint, along with the potential for other commercial partnerships to ensure that the site becomes a destination in the future.

The dock site in question is similar in size to that of the Kings Dock site, 15.3 hectares. Current published land values for Liverpool, £990,000 / hectare indicate that this would be worth £15.2m and KEIOC understands that Peel are asking Everton for £20m which certainly isn't an unreasonable opening position for negotiation.

The land is part of the Peel Holdings Liverpool Water’s plan for the Mersey river front, a development that currently doesn't include any plans for a football stadium.

Peel's position on the development is that everything is going to plan, but, save for a lot of talking and design concepts, it clearly isn’t. Outline planning permission was granted four years ago, this was forthcoming after Peel warned they would walk away from the £6bn development if permission wasn’t granted, yet little, if anything, of the plan has seen the light of day.

The reasons why Peel’s vision for this project isn’t happening is heavily influenced by economic conditions yet a prestigious stadium could kick start the improvements in infrastructure which could be the catalyst to make it all a reality. Perhaps the council should put a little more pressure than leaving a strategically placed brochure of a council owned alternative? Peel do very well out of this city and, as with all successful partnerships, it’s all about give and take, not just take.

So, twelve months down the line, the seeds have been sown, the strengths and weaknesses have been identified, the opportunities have been discussed and the threats disposed of or addressed. Now we’ll see if Mr Moshiri is the real deal; football, on and off the field, is all about results.

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