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Sun 20 Jan 2019 01:53 PM

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Game changers: Liverpool FC

Liverpool Football Club CEO Peter Moore on how to keep fans tuned into the world's favourite sport at a time when video games are luring away fans

Game changers: Liverpool FC
Liverpool is a club with a “local heart and a global pulse”, Moore believes

Ninety minutes is a long time for a millennial male to sit down on a couch,” Liverpool Football Club CEO Peter Moore tells an auditorium full of visibly horrified football professionals. “When I look at viewing and attendance figures of millennial males, I’m concerned as a CEO of a football club that relies on the next generation of fans coming through.”

Despite being chief executive of one of England’s most storied and beloved clubs – and one that currently sits atop the Premier League standings – Moore’s concerns don’t come in the form of rival teams, injured players or losses on the pitch. What keeps him up at night, he says, is Fortnite, the $15bn a year, free-to-play video game taking the world by storm.

“If we don’t build technological prowess as a club we will lose them [young fans],” he adds, with a slight hint of alarm in his voice. “There’s so much pressure on time now and only 24 hours in a day, [and] there are only so many hours to play Fortnite.”

This battle for young people’s attention, fought on the TV screens and electronic devices of youth around the world, is just as important as any match against the likes of Manchester City, Tottenham, Chelsea or Arsenal, says 64-year-old Moore.

A Silicon Valley approach to Anfield

Moore’s unlikely route to his current position as the club’s CEO has given him the expertise on the addiction-like hold of electronic entertainment on the minds of today’s young people. He was born and bred in Liverpool, the son of a nurse mother and a father who made a living as a freight worker. After two decades at sports footwear and apparel company Reebok, Moore took a job at the Japanese video game firm Sega and eventually rose to be president and chief operating officer of Sega of America. After that came stints as corporate vice president of Microsoft’s interactive entertainment division and as head of Electronic Arts’ sports division. In February 2017, he came home to Merseyside.

We are an industry that needs to harness technology to make sure we don’t miss an entire generation of young people growing up that don’t have that love for football

It is this background, Moore says, that is guiding his approach at Liverpool. “We are an industry that needs to harness technology to make sure we don’t miss an entire generation of young people growing up that don’t have that love for football,” he says. “We need to package content in bites of 60 to 90 seconds to keep their engagement.”

So far, Moore’s efforts have paid off: the club surpassed the 10 million-follower mark on Instagram in October (it has now reached 11.6 million), the same month that it received the most total interactions in world sport, surpassing both Barcelona and Manchester United. Additionally, the club had the highest YouTube viewing figures in the Premier League, and remains the most followed UK account on the global video platform. It ranks fourth in world football.

Success on the digital pitch, Moore explains, can be measured by examining the relationship between a fan’s ‘cost of acquisition’ and lifetime value. “What does it cost me to go get you? I want your name, your gender, your e-mail address. If I can get your credit card number, that’s a huge plus. What does that cost?” he says. “And then, what are you worth to me as a fan [in terms of] lifetime value?”

A fan’s lifetime value, he goes on to explain, comes through a variety of different streams. Fans might buy team apparel through e-commerce platforms, subscribe to the club’s on-demand video service, LFCTV GO, or better yet, head to Liverpool to see the Reds play at Anfield.

Moore, whose accent sounds perhaps more Californian than Scouser after years of living abroad, adds that the club’s approach to digital outreach rests on a simple principle common to many businesses: know your customer. To this end, Liverpool is working with American multinational tech giant IBM to optimise websites, build global apps and generate content that is timely and relevant to individual consumers.

“That’s something I learned in video games. I can push you all kinds of stuff on particular players, but if you’re only interested in [striker] Mohamed Salah, and I don’t know that, my outreach is wasted,” he says. “You might like [midfielder] Gini Wijnaldum. The more we learn about you, the more we can push Gini Wijnaldum stuff that you’ll click or engage. The key is that I need to know who you are.”

The Mo Salah effect

In the Middle East, Moore’s digital outreach efforts received a welcome boost in the form of Mohamed Salah, the prolific 26-year-old Egyptian striker who transferred to Liverpool from AS Roma in 2017.

“The moment we signed Mohamed, straight away we looked at our social media platforms and you could look at IP addresses and immediately see [a spike in followers], in particular from Egypt,” he recalls, smiling at the thought.

“But there is a pan-Arabian pride from all people in the Middle East, regardless of whether you are Egyptian. We saw Jordan, and we obviously saw the UAE. It breaks down some of the barriers in this region when it’s an Arab player that is playing, and not only playing, but arguably one of the best players in the world and scoring goals for fun.”

Salah, Moore adds, has quickly become a fan favourite on the club’s social media channels, largely due to the often-humorous posts illustrating his relationship with Liverpool centre back and Croatia international Dejan Lovren.

As an example of the boost that this relationship – which Moore laughingly compares to the 1970s TV series ‘The Odd Couple’ – he points to a recent post from Lovren in which the Egyptian wished Lovren a happy new year, only to sheepishly confess that he was only reaching out to find out what time training was scheduled for the following day.

“Their ability to share their ‘bromance’ is hilarious. They publish texts from one another on their social media platforms and get millions of views,” he says. “This is the kind of ongoing sitcom that the fans love, in the millions of people.”

Liverpool first

Despite the global appeal of the club and Moore’s efforts to reach and create fans abroad, the city of Liverpool remains at the heart of what the club does. Every decision he takes is taken with the city’s best interests at heart, Moore says. Under his leadership, the club’s ‘Red Neighbours’ outreach programme placed 152,000 local children in community programmes during the 2017/2018 season. It served 450 free Christmas lunches for pensioners, donated 1,100 free tickets to children and did a host of other good deeds.

As Moore sees it, the local fans form part of the club’s unique selling point compared to other teams, and boost the club’s appeal to the international fans he hopes to attract. “We trade on our local fans. We trade on ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’,” he says, referring to the 1963 song from the Liverpool group Gerry and the Pacemakers, which masses of Reds fans sing during matches. “The atmosphere is generated by local fans…the massive majority [of people at games] are local people.”

We have thousands of people who fly in from all over the world to watch Liverpool play, and that has a positive economic impact on the city

Moore adds that local people are “advantaged”, with fans living in certain postal codes offered tickets on priority, and at bargain prices as low as £9 ($11.60). “We wish we could do more,” he remarks. “We have this hugely positive problem that demand for tickets far outweighs our ability to put everyone in the stadium that wants to be there. Not every club has that problem. It’s a high-class problem to have.”

It is local people – whether they are supporters or not –  who will benefit from Moore’s digital outreach in the event that international fans take the plunge by buying a ticket to Liverpool and watch a game in person.

“That’s huge, not only for Liverpool Football Club, but for the city. We have thousands of people who fly in from all over the world to watch Liverpool play, and that has a positive economic impact on the city,” he says. “Liverpool still has socio-economic challenges. So if we can bring fans, both local and global, into the city, there’s a value. Technology powers that… it’s not cheap, [but] it is a long-term investment.”

A ‘priceless’ win

At the time of writing, Liverpool stands in first position in the Premier League standings, four points ahead of Manchester City despite losing 2-1 to the reigning champions on December 4. Although many analysts have predicted that the 2018/2019 season may end with Liverpool winning the Premier League for the first time, Moore is surprisingly nonchalant about the economic benefit that will have for the organisation, saying he “isn’t sure” what a victory would mean in monetary terms.

“It goes back to long-term value. I know from a media or distribution value what happens when you come first, but I don’t know [the immediate impact] and we don’t think about that,” he notes. “You don’t think about this as a £5m ($6.4m) cheque that you may get for winning the Premier League. You think long-term, that we can finally put a Premier League logo on the walls of Anfield to go with the 18 First Division championships and five European Cup championships we’ve won. In five or 10 years’ time, should that happen, we’ll look back on this moment.”

To illustrate the difficult-to-measure potential boost to the Liverpool brand, Moore points back to Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League victory in which the team defeated AC Milan in penalty kicks after coming from behind to draw 3-3 in regular time.

“I don’t know what cheque UEFA [the Union of European Football Association] wrote for winning that night. It doesn’t matter,” he says, proudly. “The memories that created and the brand enhancement of being down 3-nil to arguably the best club team in the world at that moment and then coming back to win was priceless.”

Not for sale

While CEO Peter Moore is unequivocal in saying that Liverpool is not for sale, he says that the club remains open to offers from groups or individuals interested in acquiring a minority stake. “[The club] is not discourteous enough to discount people who say they are interested,” he notes. “The club has made it very clear that if the right partner is interested in a minority stake, they would consider that.”

In late August 2018, it was reported that Liverpool owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) turned down a $2.6bn takeover bid from a cousin of Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour, Sheikh Khaled Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. At the time, Britain’s Press Association said it understood that the offer – one of a number of approaches FSG has received in recent years – did not go further than the vetting stage because it was deemed to be neither credible nor worthy of being put to the ownership.

Looking for partners

According to Moore, Liverpool will be “entertaining offers” from kit suppliers after its current relationship with American company New Balance ends at the 2019/2020 season, a deal that is reportedly worth $57.8m each year. The expected value of the new partnership is expected to be aligned with other top UK clubs at around $96.3m.

“It’s an important part of our overall commercial make-up, not only for the revenue it brings, but live-and-die soccer fans [care] about their kit manufacturer and designs as part of how they show themselves as fans,” he says. “We think we are uniquely placed right now to build upon what we already have with New Balance… we think it’s a great opportunity to build on our global distribution.”