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Friday, July 19, 2024

Liverpool TV documentary: What’s off-limits, Klopp’s role and who could show it?

Liverpool are fighting for a quadruple in what is now Jurgen Klopp’s farewell season — and TV cameras will be there to capture it all.

Some players and staff had been calling this campaign ‘The Last Dance’ — a reference to the hit Netflix series about Michael Jordan’s final season with the Chicago Bulls — even before Klopp’s announcement and that has now taken on extra significance.

A bidding war is now underway between streaming giants to win the rights to show behind-the-scenes footage of what could be a famous season on Merseyside.

Ahead of another crunch game against Arsenal this weekend, The Athletic looks at what to expect in the upcoming series.


What do we know about the show?

Filming for the Liverpool series – which is yet to be given a formal title – began in December as the club follows in the footsteps of Manchester City, Arsenal, Newcastle, Tottenham, Burnley, Bournemouth, Wrexham and Sunderland by allowing a TV crew behind the scenes.

The documentary is being produced by Lorton Entertainment, owned by the Shepherd family (Freddy used to run Newcastle United), Julian Bird and Arthur Landon. Their previous projects include the Maradona documentary on Amazon, We Are Newcastle United (in collaboration with 72 Films), Rooney on Amazon, and The Real Wagatha Story on Disney+. They were also behind the Oasis documentary Supersonic on Netflix.

It is still unclear where the programme will be shown. Disney+ are considered the early favourites, but it would be a surprise if other streaming giants such as Amazon and Netflix were not interested.

Despite that uncertainty, there will be eight episodes in the series, which is set to air in August 2024, just before the start of the new Premier League season.

Cameras will only follow Klopp and his players in pre-agreed areas, meaning there will be no – or very little – access to the dressing room.


Cameras will follow Liverpool players for the rest of this season (Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

Rather than being an access-all-areas documentary, the programme will have more of a lifestyle slant, focusing on the culture of the club and day-to-day life rather than a warts-and-all expose. There will, for example, also be coverage of the women’s team and academy, as well as the commercial operation.

It is still being established which players will be involved, but it will include footage of them at home with their families and some behind-the-scenes shots on matchdays (showing them arriving at stadiums, in the tunnel and during warm-ups). There will also be interviews with club executives.

Preliminary filming started before Christmas when the Lorton crew began shadowing LFCTV staff. At that point, discussions over the final contract were still ongoing: final terms were only signed in January. The crew will attend every match this year until the end of the season.

A source close to the series, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Athletic: “We haven’t sold it yet to a distributor, but there’s lots of interest. There were discussions (about doing it) for a few years, but we started filming a few months ago and we’ve already got some good stuff.

“Clubs have social media teams buzzing around so the players are well used to cameras being there now. It’s no disruption to business as usual.”

Internally at Liverpool, the project is being driven by Drew Crisp, senior vice-president of digital at the club, who views it as a way to bring the story to an even bigger audience on a global scale. He ran the idea past Liverpool’s CEO Billy Hogan, who then floated it with Klopp and the footballing operation.

Pitch International had also been interested in the opportunity of producing the documentary but said they had concerns over the level of access being offered.

Was it signed off before Jurgen Klopp told Liverpool he was leaving? 

The project got the green light after Klopp told the owners he was leaving. The manager had final sign-off.

Klopp had informed Mike Gordon, Fenway Sports Group president, in November that he would step down at the end of the season. Between then and last week, Klopp’s decision had remained a closely guarded secret.

His announcement last week came as a surprise to the Lorton producers and while it is not anticipated that the show will explicitly turn into a football version of The Last Dance, it has made it even more newsworthy.

“It’s brilliant,” added the source close to the series. “We’d be silly not to look at that (‘The Last Dance’), but Liverpool also want to try to win the league.”


Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson’s ‘Last Dance’ with Chicago Bulls was made into a hit documentary (Jeff Haynes/AFP via Getty Images)

Klopp agreed to the series as he appreciates this is a historic period in the club’s history and was eager to share some insights, but was equally adamant there would be restrictions on access.

This will not have surprised the Liverpool hierarchy. In October 2019, after a clip of Jesse Marsch’s fiery half-time team talk during a Champions League tie between Red Bull Salzburg and Liverpool was posted online by the Austrian club’s official YouTube channel, Klopp expressed his displeasure.

He said: “If LFCTV would put out a video with me in a situation like that, I would leave the club.”

However, with the cameras staying out of the dressing room for this new show, Klopp isn’t being put in an awkward position.

Didn’t it all turn out very badly the last time Liverpool did a TV documentary? 

Yes. Being Liverpool, which aired on Channel 5 in September 2012, was widely deemed to be damaging to the club’s reputation.

That six-part series showed the end of Kenny Dalglish’s time at the club and the start of the new era under Brendan Rodgers.

It became best known for Rodgers’ soundbites and his infamous ‘three envelopes’ speech, where he told the squad he’d written down the three players he thought were going to let the team down that season. Rodgers also described new signing Joe Allen as “the Welsh Xavi”, while managing director Ian Ayre was mocked for the footage of him driving a Harley-Davidson motorcycle through the city.


Brendan Rodgers suffered in Liverpool’s last TV documentary (Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

“Liverpool didn’t make much, if anything, out of it,” one senior source involved in that project told The Athletic. “It was a very different deal to the ones you see done these days between top clubs and Netflix and Amazon, where there are huge fees involved.”

Since then, Liverpool have not opened their doors to a camera crew. They had previously turned down the opportunity to have an Amazon All Or Nothing-style documentary. Those shows have a production budget alone of over £1million per episode.

So what’s in it for them this time? 

Apart from the money, Liverpool were eager to take on this project to further boost their enormous global reach.

“All of these shows raise profile, whether it’s a smaller team like Wrexham or Liverpool just maintaining at the top,” explained Mat Hodgson, a filmmaker behind The United Way and the Four Year Plan. “They are competing in that smaller pool of the elite super clubs. It’s about squeezing more out of the commerciality of a club and using what you’ve got in your toolkit.

“The way people view sports documentaries has changed enormously. It’s got a commercial driver to it that it didn’t use to have – it was more of a curiosity before. That’s why I think it was very difficult to get lift-off for these sorts of projects over the amount of time it took. They’ve taken on a life of their own from a commercial point of view.

“They reach a long way. They’ll always appeal to the core fan, but the real target is those they can hook in or are on the periphery.”

(Top photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)



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