On baseball

Henry and Werner swing King-sized deal

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 7, 2011

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CLEVELAND — We’re here in the city that hates LeBron James, who left his hometown Cavaliers for the Miami Heat.

James is now joining forces with Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner and their parent company, Fenway Sports Management, as a minority owner of the Liverpool Football Club in the English Premier League.

Who knew King James was a soccer fan? Well, if he wasn’t, he is now.

No doubt the Celtics are happy to hear about this partnership, hoping this is one more distraction that will prevent James from being at his best in the playoffs. James has had the rap of not being able to take his team to the next level, that he’s missing that special quality that players such as Tom Brady and Kobe Bryant have.

That perception might change with the Heat, but the fact that James is a businessman in his spare time and obviously involved in making this long-term deal, will open him up to even more criticism if the Heat don’t make the NBA Finals.

And if the Celtics should benefit, they likely will send Henry and Werner a thank you.

If anything, this is a tremendous topic of conversation, if not a sign of the times. An active NBA star is now a part-owner of one of the most-storied franchises in sports, and now linked with the Red Sox through Henry and Werner.

Although James has no controlling interest in the soccer team and won’t be playing goalie or making personnel decisions, he made what experts believe to be a terrific business decision. Liverpool is one of the most profitable franchises in sports, obtained for $487 million when Tom Hicks, who also ran the Texas Rangers into bankruptcy, couldn’t sustain it and had to sell for what experts believed was 60 percent of its value. James’s presence should excite the masses and create a celebrity-like atmosphere around the team.

So, FSM president Sam Kennedy, how did this happen? How could James, a Yankees fan, get together with Henry and Werner and form this unique partnership through James’s marketing company, LRMR?

Kennedy explained that James met Henry and Werner at a function for Berkshire Hathaway, billionaire Warren Buffett’s company. James liked the idea of being an owner and hit it off with Henry and Werner.

“He’s definitely a soccer fan,’’ said Maverick Carter, James’s business partner. “He loves sports and he took a good look at what John and Tom have done with their sports entities and the history associated with the Liverpool franchise, and he decided that it was something he wanted to be involved with.’’

The initial meeting between James, Henry, and Werner took place in November when a mutual friend, Paul Wachter, got the parties together.

The big news here is the marketing, endorsement, and philanthropic endeavors FSM and James will undertake during this relationship. Nobody was specific, but the partners are thinking global. The aim is to take advantage of James’s name recognition and combine his firm’s marketing expertise with FSM’s sales and business development strengths to drive deals for Liverpool.

Say this about Henry and Werner, when they do business, they do it big.

“We believe this will be a powerful collaboration between FSM and LRMR and LeBron. There are very few athletes who can match his global reach, appeal, and iconic status,’’ said Werner. “We are very excited that LeBron will be part of the Liverpool FC family. LeBron and Liverpool each has a powerful presence internationally, with particular strength in Asia, but we feel the business opportunities for both working and being identified together in emerging international markets will result in unforeseen opportunities that neither would have been able to realize alone.’’

Kennedy was asked if he’s been able to gauge reaction to the partnership.

“Liverpool has 5 million Facebook followers,’’ Kennedy said. “To put that into perspective, the Red Sox have 2 million Facebook followers and we’re second overall in Major League Baseball. So, Liverpool has 2 1/2 times the followers of the Red Sox, so there’s going to be a lot of reaction internationally to this relationship. I’m pretty eager to see what the reaction is.’’

Kennedy said the best way to describe the relationship with James and FSM is it is similar to FSM’s relationship with Roush Fenway Racing. But FSM owns 50 percent of the racing team, and while James’s ownership stake in Liverpool was not revealed, it’s definitely not that much.

“I am thrilled to be working with John Henry and Tom Werner,’’ said James between dribbles (just kidding). “These guys, like me, have a passion for sports. You can see the drive and commitment they have for their teams.

“For me, this is about being in business with an organization that loves sports as much as I do.’’

The Celtics, meanwhile, hope James takes part in a lot of board meetings, conference calls, forms marketing strategies, and really gets into this. Especially late May and into June.

Henry and Werner have done it again. One almost can’t wait to see whom they partner with next.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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