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Basketball Star LeBron Turns to Soccer

Matthew Garrahan, Financial Times
Thursday, 7 Apr 2011 | 12:01 AM ET

LeBron James, the Miami Heat basketball star who is one of the US’s most bankable athletes, has become an unlikely part-owner of Liverpool football club, after striking a deal with Fenway Sports Group, the company that owns the team.

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James’s LRMR Marketing & Branding group will take a “minority interest” in the club as part of a sponsorship deal agreed with Fenway Sports Management, a subsidiary of FSG. Financial terms were not disclosed.

English football has received a wave of investment from the US, ranging from the Glazer family, which owns Manchester United, to Randy Lerner, who owns Aston Villa.

But the deal between James and FSG, which acquired Liverpool last year for £300 million ($490 million), marks the first time that a top-tier athlete has joined the soccer fray.

Tom Werner, chairman of FSG, told the Financial Times that bringing the star together with Liverpool football club would open up new Asian markets and potential partners for the company.

“This will only increase the awareness of Liverpool around the world,” he said. “When we [take Liverpool] to Asia this summer we can also talk to companies about LeBron. It’s another way to enter the conversation.”

Maverick Carter, James’s business partner, told the Financial Times that the star was well aware of Liverpool’s heritage and history as one of the most successful clubs in English football.

“We’ve seen the fans singing ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ on YouTube,” he said. “FSG own and operate big global sports brands,” he added, pointing to FSG’s ownership of the Boston Red Sox and Roush Fenway Racing, a Nascar team. “We fold right into that.”

While Liverpool’s fortunes have waned, FSG aims to re-establish the club as a force to compete with the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea.

As part of its deal with James, the company will work on global marketing and sponsorship opportunities for the star, who made headlines last year when he moved from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat.

The switch became a national event, with Mike Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, issuing a personal appeal to the star to move to the New York Knicks instead.

James, seen by many in basketball as the heir apparent to Michael Jordan, the sport’s biggest ever star, has one of the most lucrative sponsorship contracts in sport, with Nike paying him more than $90 million to wear the company’s shoes.

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