IT was enough to make you glance at the calendar. But having doubled checked that April Fool’s Day had been and gone it soon became clear this was no wind-up.
NBA superstar LeBron James really is the proud owner of a minority stake in Liverpool Football Club.
Reds owners Fenway Sports Group this week entered into a unique agreement with the Miami Heat small forward and his aptly named business partner Maverick Carter.
In return for a small shareholding in the club, Fenway will become James’ exclusive worldwide representative.
So why has principal owner John Henry given away part of the family silver and why is the greatest basketball player on the planet suddenly so interested in what’s going on at Anfield?
According to Carter, James is a “sports enthusiast” attracted by the chance to be part of the bright future Fenway Sports Group are plotting for the Reds.
He put fans’ minds at rest by promising the giant 6ft 8ins star won’t be throwing his considerable frame around in the boardroom, while revealing ‘King James’ already views Kenny Dalglish as royalty.
“LeBron and I believe in ‘King Kenny’,” Carter said. “We also believe in Ian (Ayre) and Damien (Comolli).
“We will just be supporters. We’ll look to listen and learn and try to help. We’ve been watching the fans sing You’ll Never Walk Alone on youtube.
“LeBron is an enthusiast of sport and he can’t wait to come over for a game. That will probably be in August/September.
“He know the owners John (Henry) and Tom (Werner). Everything those guys do they win. Their business are successful and this is an amazing opportunity.”
Of course there is one reason why this partnership makes sense for both parties and that’s money.
James might not mean much to football fans here but outside of the UK he’s an icon. Three years ago he became the first black man to appear on the cover of Vogue and last year Forbes ranked him as the second most influential athlete in the world behind Lance Armstrong. Twice he has been voted the NBA’s most valuable player.
Miami pay him $15.8million a year and he pockets another $30million from endorsements with the likes of McDonald’s, Nike and Coca-Cola.
But James is hungry for more. The 26-year-old has spoken about his desire to be a billionaire and he believes Fenway Sports Group can help him achieve that by securing more marketing, sponsorship and business opportunities across the globe.
It’s the first time Boston-based Fenway have represented the commercial interests of an individual sports star but it fits perfectly into their plans to expand into an international enterprise.
As well as owning Liverpool, Boston Red Sox, 80% of regional sports TV channel NESN and 50% of Nascar race team Roush Fenway Racing, they have been increasing their marketing business. Last year they brokered the stadium naming rights deal between the Miami Dolphins and Sun Life Financial.
Having James on board will help Fenway in their bid to ensure Liverpool make further inroads into the lucrative Asian markets.
It was no coincidence that his link up with the Reds was announced 24 hours before the club revealed plans to visit China on July’s pre-season tour.
The NBA is huge in China with around 300million followers and James is the second highest seller of shirts there behind Kobe Bryant.
Liverpool were already guaranteed a warm reception but with James along for the ride it really will be the hottest ticket in town.
Fenway Sports Management president Sam Kennedy said: “He’s probably the most recognisable athlete on the planet. It will help us reach out to the business community abroad, especially in Asia where Liverpool and LeBron have a tremendous following.”
James will reach a new audience through the worldwide appeal of the Premier League and being associated with him will in turn raise Liverpool’s profile across America.
In some ways it’s an unlikely alliance. After all when it comes to baseball James is a committed New York Yankees fan, the Red Sox’s arch rivals. But the player summed it up best himself when he said: “It’s strictly business.”
Both Fenway and James want to be global brands. It might sit uneasily with some that to achieve that Liverpool’s owners have given up a slice of Anfield. But it’s only a symbolic gesture and little more than a marketing stunt.
For too long the Reds lagged behind their domestic rivals when it came to maximising commercial revenues so innovation should be welcomed.
And if James helps to generate the cash needed to help get Liverpool back to the top of English football then the big man from Ohio could prove to be a very useful acquisition.