George Gillett Jr. has experienced the hostility of fans from Montreal to Liverpool but it never gets any easier. The 70-year-old sports tycoon acknowledges the magnitude of his duty to supporters of the ice hockey, motorsport and football teams that rely on his investment.
"You feel a responsibility and an embarrassment on occasions when you haven't provided all that you might have," Gillett told The Associated Press. "There's a level of embarrassment and you want to correct that quickly."
Not just at Premier League football club Liverpool, but also in the NHL with the Montreal Canadiens and in NASCAR with Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
Gillett has endured a torrid year of personal abuse at Liverpool, which he co-owns with Tom Hicks.
Much of the supporters' anger centers on the 18-time English champion's debt and the stalling of construction on a new stadium due to the credit crunch. However, crosstown rival Everton's hopes for a new stadium are in turmoil and the London Olympic 2012 project also shows that economic concerns aren't just Liverpool's domain. "All the sports teams I know of are re-examining all of their futures, but I think it's a universal not just a sports issue," Gillett said. "People making this straight-line connection between the world financial crisis and sports may be in trouble. "It's more a story of needing to be cautious and it's not a time to be profligate and so forth as opposed to saying, 'World financial crisis sports must be in trouble."'
In fact, Gillett entered the race this month to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Montreal and Indian sports are on his radar after several trips to the subcontinent.
In the hockey rinks of North America and the football pitches of Europe, Gillett's assets are thriving.
Liverpool is on the crest of a wave. Not only have tensions thawed between Gillett and Hicks the owner of the MLB's Texas Rangers and the NHL's Dallas Stars but the Reds are top the Premier League, raising hopes of a first English league title since 1990.
Trophies would help heal the owners' relationship with fans. Just 56 kilometers (35 miles) east of Anfield is Old Trafford, where Manchester United won Champions and Premier League titles not long after the Glazer family's acrimonious takeover caused fans to storm the ground and fight running battles with police. Gillett takes comfort from his experiences in Montreal. The American crossed the border to take control of Quebec's sacred sports team to be face severe criticism.
"In Montreal, there was deep concern that I had bought the icon of a whole province, perhaps the icon of the sport in Montreal, and I was American and didn't speak the language," Gillett said. "There was a level of suspicion: how could someone end up with this kind of money _ it must have been in an illegal or crooked way. My reaction was not to be upset with people who legitimately questioned us. That was fine and our comment at the time was, 'Let's let time be the judge and let's see if we can work together on it.' "And it has worked. I don't think anybody is immune from criticism and I don't think anyone is immune from making mistakes, but I think that to have an individual family or a partnership accused by the media ..."
Gillett stops mid-sentence, aware it would be unwise to reopen old wounds while Liverpool is on a roll domestically and in Europe. "With Montreal as an example, we proved that our intentions were pure, that we really were fans and that we had the club and fans' interests at heart," Gillett said. "Time is an important aspect of all this."
In Montreal, fans have warmed to the Gillett family since its 2001 takeover. Last season's eastern conference title triumph raised hopes that their 100th season in 2009 produces a 25th Stanley Cup triumph and the first since 1993.
"We missed the playoffs a couple of times while we built a good, strong young team, and that meant stepping back while we developed a strategy of building from within," Gillett said. Gillett will only discuss his general sporting philosophy that could apply equally to Liverpool or the Canadiens. "We now have a club that will be successful in the long run, that can compete for the championship every year and doesn't depend on buying high-priced players every year," Gillett said. "We have a wonderful, built-from-within club that we supplement with superstars. We are not dependent on the superstars and that is a good system.
"It's a system that we believe in as a family. It's a system that we believe will sustain fans' support for the long run. That's important, that we have the fans happy and proud for the long run."