Questions over why City couldn't buy ground
14 October ~ The prospect had been circulating for some time, but the news that Coventry City Council were about to finalise a deal to sell the Ricoh Arena, "home" of Coventry City FC, to Wasps RFC caused a little consternation among Sky Blues fans and indeed the football club themselves. As the council met to discuss the deal, the club’s owners – hedge fund Sisu – and a number of fans groups pleaded with the council to delay approval in the hope of heading it off. Fat chance.
The prospect of attracting Premiership rugby to the city and offloading an asset that had become an encumbrance all in one go was never going to be passed up. Labour and Tory councillors united in voting it through unanimously.
At first, the fine print of the deal did not look too bad for City fans. Having just returned to the Ricoh after a bad-tempered year which saw Sisu take the club to Northampton, the danger of them being evicted again disappeared immediately. City’s tenure at the Ricoh was part of the deal. Why wouldn’t it be? Wasps, currently tenants themselves at Wycombe Wanderers, know better than anyone how lucrative renting can be for landlords.
Wasps also agreed to give primacy of tenancy – priority of fixtures – to Coventry City, thus staving off any Football League objections and even announced that the Sky Blue seats in the Ricoh would remain.
Although fears were allayed, the reaction of the fans was still mixed. Some thought that the ending of the troubled Sisu-City Council marriage could only be good. To others it was a stark reminder that the club’s fortunes are not in their own hands, if any reminder was needed. A poll of fans in the Coventry Telegraph saw opinion split roughly 50-50 on the deal.
However, as more details emerged other questions began to be asked. According to the Coventry Telegraph, the Council sold their share of the Ricoh for just £2.77 million. Wasps were expected to buy out the rest of the stadium for a similar amount.
Leaving aside a £14m loan, which Wasps had agreed to repay to the council – and which was the subject of a failed judicial review by Sisu – the rugby club had got themselves a stadium, conference centre, concert venue and casino for just over £5m. Which poses the question: What sort of hedge fund can’t raise £5m? Could Sisu have not bought the Ricoh years ago and saved us all the agony and bitterness of the Sixfields debacle?
Wasps are delighted about their purchase and rightly so. They’ve got a major piece of real estate for a song and a catchment area of millions from which to build a new fanbase. But Coventry City supporters, and the club’s hapless owners, have got nothing out of the deal except the prospect of being forever tenants, and the frustration of having missed the boat. Again. Neville Hadsley