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Coventry City & The Franchising Of London Wasps

Editorial | Article posted on October 10th, 2014

For a couple of weeks or so, there was something approaching normality at The Ricoh Arena. After an absurd amount of time away, Coventry City Football Club was back home with a team that was performing reasonably well on the pitch, and all was as near as things have been at this basket-case of a club over the last two or three years or so. It didn’t take long, however, for a cat to be thrown amongst the pigeons yet again for the long-suffering supporters of the club. Or a Wasp, to be a little more precise.
Earlier on this evening, Coventry City Council unanimously accept an offer to sell The Ricoh Arena to the London Wasps Rugby Football Club, in a deal worth £20m for a 250 year-long lease on the stadium. In some respects, perhaps there should be no great surprise at this deal being agreed. After all, Wasps have played at The Ricoh Arena before. In 2007, the club began its defence of the Heineken Cup there against Munster. Moreover, this was a successful venture for Wasps, with more than 21,500 people turning out for the match.
Similarly, it could be argued that Coventry City Council have stated all along that any reasonable bids for the The Ricoh Arena would be listened to, and that they have a broader responsibility to the taxpayers of Coventry to do what is most fiscally prudent for the city as a whole. Coventry City Football Club’s owners could have made an offer on similar terms to those that Wasps have offered at any point through out this entire, dismal dispute, but they didn’t do so. Indeed, the judge in the Judicial Review of the loan deal required to keep the stadium owners ACL afloat in January 2013 stated that the owners of the club had followed a somewhat different tack, to “distress” ACL and buy a half share of it “at a knockdown price.”
Tempting though these arguments may be, however, there remains something unsettling about the quietness with which this deal was pushed through, and also with its unanimity. The football club only has a short-term lease back at The Ricoh Arena and there are no guarantees that Wasps will allow them to carry on playing there indefinitely. In addition to this, if the income streams that come from owning such a property – and, perhaps more importantly, land surrounding it that is ideal for redevelopment – then the club could, even in the event of staying at The Ricoh Arena, the club could well find itself permanently hobbled by being tenants, rather than owners.
The truth of the matter is that, at the time of writing, no-one knows exactly what so much as

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