Will Liverpool end sponsorship deal with Standard Chartered?
American owners and fans may not want to be associated with a 'rogue institution'
COULD the Standard Chartered scandal in the US have implications for Liverpool FC, the once-dominant Premier League club owned by Americans and sponsored by the bank?
The bank has been labelled a "rogue institution" by US regulators and accused of breaking financial sanctions against Iran and conspiring to launder at least $250bn over almost a decade. It could potentially have its US banking licence revoked if the charges are proven, and its value on the London stock exchange plummeted on Tuesday morning.
That is not good news for Liverpool, which is on the cusp of a new era under manager Brendan Rodgers. There was a mood of optimism at Anfield after his arrival, but the lack of new signings has worried fans, and fears that the club may actually offload some of its big stars this summer, including Daniel Agger (pictured) and Pepe Reina, have contributed to an air of trepidation.
The last thing the club needs now is a political crisis surrounding its chief sponsor, which could put one of its main revenue streams in danger.
Standard Chartered is believed to pay around £20m a year for its logo to appear on the Liverpool shirt. It is one of the most lucrative deals in the Premier League and is set to run until the end of the 2013/14 season.
The bank claims a similar heritage to the club, and on its website speaks proudly of "over 100 years of history, strong values and a determination to give back to the local community".
The club said it had no comment to make on the accusations when contacted by The Week. But Liverpool fans are fiercely proud of Liverpool's heritage and its political identity. They are unlikely to take kindly to it being closely linked to a scandal-ridden bank during a time of recession and hardship on Merseyside.
Fenway Sports Group [FSG], the American company run by John W Henry that owns Liverpool, has been put in a difficult situation.
US-based website EPL Talk noted last week, even before the scandal broke, that goodwill towards FSG was running low. "To many, the club lacked clear leadership off the field last season and the owners appeared to be missing in action as the club swung from one crisis to another," it said.
When FSG representatives missed the Hillsborough anniversary because the baseball season was starting in the US, it did not go down well with fans. "They need to take heed of how such gestures are interpreted within a city like Liverpool," noted the website. This Standard Chartered situation could prove equally sensitive.
A supporters group called Spirit of Shankly wrote to FSG last month, before the bank crisis, and warned: "Confusion and chaos seems to reign and no one is coming out of this with much credit, particularly the football club's image and brand."
Any fallout from the allegations against SCB could have serious implications for Liverpool's global reputation, especially in north America. While Standard Chartered has encouraged Liverpool to build its Asian fanbase, the club's American owners have been keen to raise the club's profile in the US.
This year the club's pre-season tour visited Toronto, Boston and Baltimore. US soccer fans are unlikely to take to a club that has a bank accused of funding Iran plastered over its shirts.
As one tweeter, Ben Allain from Conneticut, posted today: "John Henry gives money to Liverpool. They give money to SCB. SCB gives money to Iran. Iran gives money to terrorists. #JohnHenryIsATerrorist." He may have misunderstood the niceties of sponsorship but the message was clear. Other tweeters mocked Liverpool and said that the club's brand was in danger.
Then there is the issue of how Liverpool's other sponsors will view SCB's relationships with Liverpool. The club recently signed another deal with all-American car manufacturer Chevrolet, for example. How will they feel about the Standard Chartered connection?