SPECULATION is mounting over the future of Wasps at the Ricoh Arena and Coventry after national reports of a ‘mutinous mood’ in the dressing room over ‘broken promises’ over investment and late payments.
The Mail Online has today summarised all aspects of the indebted rugby club’s financial problems regularly covered in the Coventry Observer.
They include ongoing losses, problems with the annual £2million servicing of the £35million bond scheme which essentially amounts to the club’s debts, and enforcement action taken against them for late filing of accounts, a criminal offence.
The article cuts beneath the PR spin and veneer of riches to state the “reality” is that Wasps “are at a crossroads and that without the right investment, the feared exodus will happen.”
It states there is players’ “mutiny” concerning alleged shortfalls in expected payments to them, and unrest over the ‘broken promises’ to create a permanent and modern training ground facility in the Coventry area.
The club’s daily training operations remain at unglamorous Broadstreet RFC, where there are basic facilities.
Amid the financial troubles, Wasps last year announced they were pulling out of building a £7million training centre at the Alan Higgs Centre, home of Coventry City Football Club’s leased successful youth academy – which would have been displaced, to the outrage of many Sky Blues fans.
That scheme had received planning permission from Coventry City Council, which in 2014 controversially sold the Ricoh Arena to the traditionally London based club on a huge 250-year lease. It came amid a legal dispute with Coventry City Football Club’s owners which continues in the courts today.
Wasps pocket the 24/7 revenues from stadium commercial activities – where the Sky Blues are mere tenants – but have still reported financial losses annually. Accounts show rising costs eating into improved revenues – and cracks have recently been reported at the Ricoh.
As we also reported, a press release this month about a civic reception – laid on by councillors at St Mary’s Guildhall to celebrate Wasps’ 150 years and the move to Coventry – waxed lyrical about Wasps’ supposed success story and great contribution to the Coventry community.
In quotes attributed to the Lord Mayor, councillor Tony Skipper, a supposedly apolitical post, it stated: “We are delighted Wasps chose to make Coventry their home. We believe we work very well together and that has meant that we have maximised the benefits of having Wasps here in Coventry.”
Wasps chief executive Nick Eastwood was quoted in the same press release, issued by Advent Communications, as saying: “We had expectations when we moved to Coventry and the Ricoh Arena because we knew the potential – but all our expectations have been matched and surpassed.
“We simply could not have had a better reception on all fronts. We have had great support from the City Council and all of the other bodies here in the city, and that has helped make the move have maximum impact for the good of the club but also for Coventry and the wider region.
“..We are honoured to play in the city and at the Ricoh Arena and are looking forward to many years of success.”
But the reality is Wasps’ move to Coventry has been not just financially turbulent and politically contentious, but hugely divisive. Many city sports fans still express daily their anger that the move disadvantaged the traditional Victorian clubs Coventry City Football Club and Coventry rugby club.
Many took to social media today to speculate over whether Wasps really had “many more years of success” to “look forward” to at the Ricoh Arena and Coventry.
One of our sources, who did not want to be named but had for years been linked with Coventry City takeover attempts, speculated that Wasps could be forced to try to sell the Ricoh, and either hire it back or move out of the city.
Should the Wasps project fail, the arrangement is that the stadium defaults back to Coventry City Council as its freehold owners.
There has also been speculation among the city’s sports fans on social media about what else leading Coventry city councillors and its senior officers might do – potentially secretly again – to try and prop up Wasps at the Ricoh.
Several leading council figures have been heavily politically invested from the start in the dispute with the Sky Blues and the stadium sale to Wasps. They include senior officers Martin Reeves and Martin Yardley, and leading councillors George Duggins and John Mutton. Another was former council finance officer Chris West, who it emerged recently had left last year on a taxpayer golden handshake of £450,000.
The Mail Online article pointed out Wasps’ challenge of finding the £2million interest payments each year to pay bondholders – and the prospect of having to find £35million in 2022 when the bonds mature.
It speculates from its sources that Wasps could be seeking to refinance the bonds, with the accounts for Wasps Finance plc overdue since December 31, as we first revealed.
We also revealed this month that the accounts for FIVE Wasps companies are now overdue.
Mail Online reports: “Sportsmail has learned that marquee players such as Elliot Daly, Joe Launchbury and Christian Wade are expected to leave when their contracts expire unless Wasps address their grievances. Sources have indicated that the discontent and resentment have become so heightened that some fear there will be a flashpoint before most of those deals run out.”
It adds: “Patience is thin, caused by a lack of anticipated investment against a backdrop of financial turmoil. This jars with the perception that the club are enjoying a new era of prosperity.”
WASPS’ RESPONSES TO US TODAY..
We have today put questions raised in this article to both Wasps and the council.
A Wasps Group spokesperson told us: “The Ricoh Arena is, as we have stated on several occasions, our long-term home and any suggestions otherwise are simply incorrect.”
While it is true that the Ricoh Arena is currently Wasps’ long-term home, we have asked for further clarity on unsubstantiated internet forum rumours they have considered a groundshare at a new Brentford FC stadium and a “sale and lease back” arrangement at the Ricoh Arena.
A Wasps spokesman told us no further comment would be provided.
Wasps issued a statement today, with the following words attributed to director of rugby, Dai Young: “I have been made aware of an article published today which makes a number of assertions regarding our current situation.
“The construction of new training facilities is taking longer than originally hoped. We had a couple of projects which reached a pretty advanced stage but unfortunately did come not to fruition along the way, but no-one doubts this is the number one priority project for our development team.
“I know a further location is now under serious consideration and that this project could take a big step forward in the very near future.
“Since September ten of our senior squad have signed new contracts. This includes Joe Launchbury, Elliot Daly and only this week Dan Robson.
“A number of other players have also signed new deals since we moved from Acton to Coventry at the start of last season.
“Clearly we are all looking forward to being in a permanent home, and in the meantime we are all fully focused on the remainder of the season and are pushing hard to reach the play-offs for a third consecutive year.”
Support community journalism by making a contribution
The Coventry Observer's team of journalists provide a trusted source of news, sport, entertainment and events going on in your area and issues which matter to you - both via our free weekly print edition and daily updates on our website.
Every contribution, however big or small, you can make will help us continue to do that now and in the future.
Thanks for reading this and the Coventry Observer.