Hicks backed to prove Star quality

The future of Liverpool Football Club could not be in safer hands than those of Tom Hicks, according to the man who runs another arm of the American businessman’s sporting empire.

The future of Liverpool Football Club could not be in safer hands than those of Tom Hicks, according to the man who runs another arm of the American businessman’s sporting empire.

Jim Lites has been president of National Hockey League team Dallas Stars for almost the whole of the last 14 years and believes Hicks and prospective co-owner George Gillett are the dream ticket for Reds fans.

The Stars became the first of Hicks’ major sporting interests when he acquired the franchise a little over 11 years ago.

His takeover sparked a golden era of success, which included seven Division Championships, three Western Conference crowns, two Presidents’ Trophies, two consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals and the 1999 Stanley Cup itself.

“He’s very, very competitive,” Lites said.

Hicks and Gillett were paraded at Anfield this week after Liverpool chairman David Moores recommended their £218.9m (€328.7m) takeover bid to his fellow shareholders.

There are many parallels between the Barclays Premiership club’s current position and that of the Stars 11 years ago.

Lites said: “Tom bought an existing franchise that had pretty good players and an experienced management team.

“He basically said: ’I don’t know much about hockey. I assume you guys do. I’m going to pay attention to the business. I want you to do what you do best, which is field a competitive team and tell me what resources you need to turn this into a champion.’

“He was true to his word. Four years later, we were Stanley Cup champions.”

Foreign takeovers in football often meet with fan opposition, amid claims outsiders have no understanding of the game and no appreciation of a club’s heritage.

Lites claims Gillett and Hicks’ lack of detailed knowledge will actually benefit Liverpool by ensuring they leave the day-to-day running of the club to chief executive Rick Parry and manager Rafael Benitez.

As for the Reds’ heritage, Lites added: “They’ll respect its heritage. I’m sure you shudder at some point: ’Here come the Yanks and they’re going to do something to our game.’

“I don’t think they’re going to mess with the heritage one iota.”

As a native Texan, Hicks was welcomed with open arms at the Stars but Lites insists he and Gillett know what it takes to win over the doubters, Gillett having done just that in his acquisition of the Montréal Canadiens ice hockey team.

“He’s done a wonderful job of doing the right thing,” added Lites, who sees nothing to be concerned about in the pair teaming up at Anfield.

“Tom’s used to having partners, so him being a partner with George Gillett is not something that’s uncommon for him.

“They have other businesses together.”

As Stars president, Lites meets Hicks four times a year to discuss team requirements and has warned Liverpool’s management to be prepared to justify their financial needs.

“He challenges you,” Lites said.

“I think the Liverpool guys will find him to be a breath of fresh air but he’s not a pushover.”

Lites is not surprised Hicks’ latest sporting venture has seen him invest in the Premiership and Liverpool.

“You can’t be in professional sports and not be blown away by it [the Premiership],” Lites said.

“People are going absolutely crazy for it. We’re all envious of that.

“You’re a dummy if you don’t understand Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea are the top franchises in the league.”

One of Hicks’ most impressive achievements at the Stars was co-financing the state-of-the-art American Airlines Center, where both they and the Dallas Mavericks basketball team play their home games.

Lites believes the quality of the arena bodes well for Liverpool’s proposed new stadium in Stanley Park.

“It is a spectacular building. There’s nothing like it,” Lites said of the AAC.

“Tom has consistently been part of that design-build process. It continues to be upgraded all the time. He’s interested in how it operates and how it works.

“He’s very into systems and how does it work and maintain the integrity of the sport and maximise the enjoyment of the fans.

“It has great audio-visual, great high-tech.”

Lites’ own background is in building, operating and renovating facilities and he has already been shown plans of Liverpool’s new ground and expects to be consulted over any ideas he may have to maximise its potential.

In addition to themselves, Gillett and Hicks will involve their families with their latest project.

Lites believes this proves the pair are at Liverpool for the long haul, with the potential to create a dynasty every bit a historic as that of the Moores family.

He said: “Tom Jr, Tom’s older son, is in every meeting we have with him. He’s learning how to be the owner and that’s a good thing.

“Tom junior wants to become the owner, which he will eventually become.

“I think it gives it longevity. I don’t think they’re buying this to flip [sell] it.”

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox