The recent news that Wasps Rugby Club are reportedly in talks with the owners of the Ricoh Arena to purchase a controlling stake in the stadium has come as a hammer blow to many Coventry City fans who were hoping that the club’s return to the arena purposely built for them would begin the healing process after years of mismanagement, legal battles and heart-ache. It was with a sense of a bright future to come with which Coventry City returned to the city, the idea that a rugby club from miles away could own the Ricoh Arena rather than the local football team returns the focus to the grey clouds rather than the silver linings.

Dark skies loom over Coventry RFC at Butts Park

Dark skies loom over Coventry RFC at Butts Park

Wasps owning the Ricoh Arena though would have far wider and bigger reaching consequences than to affect the future business model of Coventry City Football Club though. The issues surrounding the franchising of a Rugby club which has had historically close-knit relationships with its community in the London area speaks to the increasing commodisation of sport in this country. Both the Coventry City Council as well as the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby are in effect sanctioning the controlled decline and extinction of Coventry’s local Rugby Union side as well as robbing loyal Wasps fans of the chance to support the club they have followed for their entire lives.

It is not absurd to suggest that a Football club and Rugby club could share the same stadium. The current example is that of Reading FC and London Irish who both play their home fixtures at the Madejski Stadium, the pitch stays in good conditions throughout the season and both are relatively successful for their stature within their own sports. In some ways Coventry City could benefit from a change in ownership at the Ricoh Arena, it could solve the food and beverage sales issue allowing the club to take in greater revenue and longer-term the football club could learn a great deal from working close to a sporting institution that is near the top of its own sport.

However the model of packaging an existing team up with its own local ties and supporters and moving it to a different place is not only unpalatable for many sporting fans in the UK but it is unworkable. How many current Wasps fans would support Coventry Wasps? How many in Coventry and the surrounding area decide to support a completely new team? How can the owners of Wasps justify the cost of buying a stadium when surely there will be little support for the idea?

Saracens, another non-Coventry team playing at 'home' at the Ricoh Arena

Saracens, another non-Coventry team playing at ‘home’ at the Ricoh Arena

When the news was first revealed a couple of weeks ago the Coventry Telegraph released an opinion piece entitled ‘Why Coventry City have only themselves to blame for missing out on a stake in the Ricoh Arena’. At first glance the attitude of the article seemed beguiling considering what was at stake for both the city’s Football and Rugby Union clubs. Upon reading it further though it expresses a depressing sentiment about the workings of sport in this country today. Whereas before only Coventry City and possible Coventry RFC would have considered buying the Ricoh Arena, however Leicester City’s reserve team have played at ‘home’ at the Ricoh, West Brom’s reserves were slated to do so this season as well, Saracens played a match there as well as those damned Wasps.

It is faintly ridiculous that Coventry City do not own their own stadium and for that SISU have to take a large piece of the blame. Their arrogance and false belief in their own negotiating skills brought the club to its darkest hour. But SISU aren’t the only ones to blame for why Coventry City do not own their stadium. But in a world of sport which is increasingly dictated by the powers of money, Coventry City’s inability to own the Ricoh Arena nine years after it was built has opened up the opportunity for a sporting organisation from the London area to buy the stadium for its own uses.

Why are Wasps even considering moving from their spiritual home to the Midlands? It is a product of the increasing modernisation of the sport of Rugby Union. The sport only turned professional in this country in 1994, since then we have seen the Premier League model of the dominance of a few elite clubs taking over the game in this country. Wasps have won titles at national and continental level not so long ago but have fallen behind to Northampton Saints, Saracens, and Leicester Tigers who all own their own stadium. In recent years it has seemed anachronistic that such a modern and successful sporting institution was playing its home fixtures as tenants to a fourth-tier football club.

According to many close to the sport of Rugby Union, the authorities in the game are keen for Wasps to move into the sporting market of the West Midlands. With Coventry RFC and Moseley RFC under-performing in what is the spiritual heartlands of the sport, it is viewed as a market for the game with big potential. The Sky Blue Trust’s recent statement on the potential Wasps move revealed that the sport has in-built machinations to allow clubs to insert themselves into pre-existing communities. This is simply paying another Rugby club to act as a ‘development side’ to allow the franchise moving in to have access to local communities and players to save them the effort of having to build them up by themselves.

Doesn't quite have that ring to it.

Doesn’t quite have that ring to it.

What’s worse about the franchising of Wasps Rugby Club is that they are not going to be a Coventry team per se, they are viewed by the Rugby authorities as being a West Midlands team. Not only are Coventry RFC about to be turfed out by a ‘bigger’, ‘more important’ club but Wasps are seemingly set to link up with Moseley RFC and use their community ties rather than Cov’s. Not only would Wasps in Coventry be unsustainable given an almost guaranteed lack of support in the stands but they seemingly have no plans to build roots in the city itself.

The irony of the situation has either been lost or is being completely ignored by those involved with ACL and the Coventry City Council. Not long ago many key players in those organisations were decrying the heart-ache of Coventry City playing outside of its city. When ACL issued an administration order against CCFC they stated that they ‘care deeply about the city’s football club’ and that they were reluctantly making the move in order to get Coventry City ‘on a stable financial footing for the future’. Now they are not only sanctioning the franchising of another place’s beloved team but they are placing Coventry City into an uncertain future as a result.

The possibility of Wasps owning the Ricoh Arena is down to pure, cold, hard business. In terms of influencing a pure business decision, us fans are largely powerless. However what we can do is unite with both Coventry RFC fans as well as loyal Wasps fans to remind those making the decisions that the move will only be unsuccessful. Wasps are abandoning their history and community in the hope that people in Midlands ‘sporting market’ will do they same despite having pre-existing and meaningful ties with their own teams. Coventry City Council and ACL are close to making a dangerous decision to sell the Ricoh Arena without considering the long-term impact it will have on the local community.

The point here is simple but is one that shouldn’t need a 1,300 word essay to point out. Don’t sell the Ricoh Arena to Wasps, it will not work and it could have a long-term and nasty impact on the city. Can common sense please prevail?

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9 thoughts on “Why Wasps Must Not Be Allowed To Buy The Ricoh Arena

  1. A number of very interesting points and I agree entirely with your objection to teams being franchised and moved away from traditional community bases. However, sadly Wasps moved from their “spiritual home” some time ago and it is the RFU that should be questioning why this was allowed to happen.

    Whilst arguing that ACL and CCC are “placing Coventry City into an uncertain future”, there is no mention of the relatively short term 2+2 rental deal and how that impacts upon the long term future of the Ricoh. There is also no mention of SISU’s continued insistence of its intention to build a new stadium outside the city or, indeed, of its ongoing appeals against the outcome of the judicial review. Although the council have obligations towards both CCFC and CRFC, it also has a wider financial responsibility to the residents of the city and they could be considered to be acting negligently if it was to wait any longer in order to secure a deal for the Ricoh.

    Notwithstanding the RFU’s stance towards where Wasps are allowed to play, the bottom line is that it is SISU’s actions that have resulted in this situation regarding the Ricoh and CCFC. That’s where the finger of blame should be pointed.

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    • Interesting points there. I can accept that ACL/CCC are making business decisions but it’s the hypocrisy of condemning CCFC’s move to Sixfields on moral grounds and then welcoming Wasps seemingly with open arms. SISU definitely have to apportion some of the blame for this situation, they could have purchased a stake back in 07/08 when they first came but decided to spend the money on players and since the end of the 11/12 season have goaded ACL and CCC into taking increasingly drastic and antagonistic action. I think that all parties involved need to take a step back and consider the consequences of what would be a rash and damaging decision to not just sports fans in Coventry but to Wasps fans and potentially risking the Ricoh Arena becoming a White Elephant. But to re-iterate, SISU have played a big role in this whole fiasco.

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      • I agree, although the situation is rather different to our move to Sixfields and the reasons behind that move. I think that it’s also important to remember that it was 1997 when Wasps moved from their traditional home in Sudbury to play at Loftus Rd and in 2002 they moved out of London to play in Wycombe.

        In the light of SISU’s actions I can understand the reasons why the council is considering Wasps’ offer even though I’m not in favour of them moving in. I’m hoping that these negotiations will force SISU’s hand and that there’ll be a positive outcome.

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      • Thanks for pointing that out, I wasn’t too familiar with the longer-term history of Wasps and it always helps to have that historical perspective.

        If the end result is that CCFC own or have a more secure tenure at the Ricoh Arena then I think we can all agree that it would be a satisfactory conclusion to a bitter set of proceedings and would allow the club to punch its weight in English league football. But it’s interesting that the club agreed the current rental agreement at the Ricoh when the baiting was less pronounced and people were allowed to talk to each other politely behind the scenes. The concern is that even if this is a bluff, it’s a return to the statement-counter-statement stalemate of the Sixfields exile.

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  2. You do realise that SISU are a hedge fund & have no interest in running a football club? They have a responsibility to turn a profit and the only way that can be achieved in this instance is to own the stadium and the surrounding land. They’ve made their mistakes but can not be blamed for the club not owning a stadium. You can thank the former regime (lead by a labour Cllr), for that & the spiralling debts they inherited. I doubt SISU would have been interested in us at all if we’d have owned the stadium at the time they took us over. We offered them a unique opportunity where they could see a return on a smallish investment. Should they have wrapped up the stadium earlier? Yes…of course..

    If CCC remove the chance of SISU buying the stadium I would fully expect them to wrap us up for good (liquidation). Why would SISU keep sustaining a club that will never again turn a substantial profit? For the 10,000 fans that actually turn up? To suggest WASPS owning the stadium might be beneficial as the club would be able to get a larger percentage of food & beverage revenue is laughable. Do you think that SISU are in this for a few tens of thousands of pounds a year? There whole organisation turns millions!

    Obvs SISU aren’t gonna build a new ground either at an additional loss..

    The hatred directed towards SISU during the Sixfields debacle was ferocious & often to the detriment of a more balanced view which also acknowledged the failings of CCC. It was as if fans supported the city council & not the club when it’s SISU that have kept us going for 7 years albeit driven by a motivation that most fans don’t appear to understand (profit…just in case ;)) Where’s the passion this time? Not quite so intense? Is it because fans can’t be angry with SISU? CCC are just as culpable in all this and in my opinion have overseen the demise of the club over a much longer period given the profession of the former owner. How does someone continue to be re-elected when in front of your very eyes a perfectly good stadium was sold only for the fans and CCC to be told ‘we now don’t have the cash to cover the cost of building a new one’. You’d think shit like that would tarnish your reputation in city hall and with the electorate but apparently not! Is that not financial mismanagement?? You’d have also thought we’d want people in positions of power to have decent financial acumen..?

    People need to wake up & smell the coffee on this one because I suspect it would be the final nail in the coffin of our once great club should Wasps buy the RICOH.Maybe SISU would cut their losses & sell us but think they’d liquidate us out of spite tbh. Even if they did sell are you happy to settle for supporting a third tier football club who hope that one season we might just punch above our weight & reach the championship? Good-oh it’s just that I thought the championship was shite too & I’d much rather be in the top flight where we were when I got myself into this mess in the first place. If they liquidate, then what? Start again? It would be quits for me. All a bit dooms day I know but afraid this has only ever been about millions of pounds. If SISU lose so do the fans.

    The city has the football team it deserves…a shambles. Not enough people nor the city council care. It’s a scandal but only for a small minority.

    I hope I’m either wrong or it doesn’t come to the above. I thought it was brinkmanship by CCC but not if yesterday’s CT is to go by. People aren’t making enough noise if they don’t want it to happen. The anti-SISU brigade need to swallow their pride & direct some venom at CCC. Not say ‘I don’t like the sound of that’ but then in the next breath remind everyone how demonic SISU are. CCC are gonna slip this past people using the hatred of SISU to justify it & likely reduce the public outcry. Have they ever treated the club as anything other than poor relations? One of the best land deals in history with tesco which CCFC were promised a cut of & then were denied (EU funding law apparently) and then the Gaul to charge us 1.2m a year rent for 25 days of trade a year on average? Neither the going rate nor sustainable with a 22k break even point.. Remember how hard it was to get any signage on the stadium?? Our stadium?? Except it’s not…

    Agreed with the hypocrisy element of your blog & apologies for coming across as a ranting loon (couldn’t sleep!) At least you provoked some views out of me! I never rant on things like this so you drew the short straw! Anything that could be libellous above are merely questions I’m posing not statements.. PUSB

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    • Thanks for taking the time to write a really interesting and impassioned comment, it’s an emotive issue when a emminently possible scenario is the death of Coventry RFC, CCFC and maybe even Wasps as well. The point about CCFC possibly benefiting from Wasps taking over the stadium was a bit of devil’s advocate really, I can’t see it helping that the possibility of CCFC owning the Ricoh is removed for the short-medium term. You can only guess what the outcome of this deal would be but it seems that CCC are the only ones who actually think it would be good, probably because they would be the biggest short-term winners in this scenario.

      Just when everyone thought that the worst was over.

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      • Cheers. I’ll try & make sure I sleep tonight! Key phrase in your last message was ‘short term’. CCC have such a short term view. If they put in the work with CCFC now it’ll benefit everyone long term. Taxpayers, the club, local authority & local economy. All smacks of stubbornness now. Let’s hope SISU make a move.. PUSB

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