Its shocking shocking news for the Coventry fans … The people of Coventry don’t deserve that. To think what they must be thinking . . . sitting here like I am in tears for what’s going on.
The message boards and social media have been busy today with the majority of Coventry fans in dismay and in agreement with ‘Snoz’, the manager from the 1987 FA Cup winning side. They are angry at the announcement that the Sky Blues are likely to be playing home games in the coming season some forty miles from the city, at Sixfields, the home of Northampton Town FC. Those fans offering support to the current owners, controlled by SISU capital, over the proposed move are difficult to find to say the least. No details have yet emerged on the deal, nor if any deal has actually been completed. David Cardoza, the chairperson of Northampton Town FC told the BBC that ‘It’s speculation at the minute’. In any case, the agreement will require ratification by the Football League (FL) for the ground share to take place at Sixfields.
Sixfields has a current capacity of 7,653. The news of the ground-share coincided with an announcement of a redevelopment project funded by a £12 million loan from Northampton Borough Council. The project will include a new East stand, a hotel, conference facilities, with additional housing and retail added nearby. The West stand will also undergo substantial improvements that will include the addition of ten corporate boxes. The Northampton Chronicle and Echo reported that
Plans for the stadium redevelopment should be submitted to the council by the football club this autumn. It is hoped the stadium redevelopment will be completed by August 2014, in time for the new football season.
So it looks as though the stadium of choice will be for the most part of the season undergoing extensive building work that will limit capacity and the possibility of 2 stands remaining empty due to health and safety regulations. The East stand holds just 1,700, so at best the capacity will be reduced to around 6,000 for the majority of the season. If both stands are taken out of use, the capacity will be reduced to around 3,500. When CCFC Holdings Ltd CEO, Tim Fisher, suggested at recent fan forums that he expected gates of around 6-7,000 if the club were doing well and around 3,000 if results were poor, it appears quite clear what he expects from the coming season. Will competing in a half empty stadium undergoing major redevelopment have an affect on the performance of the team?
Carl Baker, the club captain, was recently pressed for his opinion on any proposed ground share and stated that he would prefer to stay at the Ricoh, but would still give 110% to the cause wherever the club play. He admitted he could see difficulties in a groundshare.
At its best the Ricoh’s a lovely pitch and if we share … come December the pitch will be knackered. I know the gaffer wants to get the ball down and play and that could affect the points we put on the table because we need a nice pitch to play the football we want to play.
So looking at the proposal, it is clear that there will be concerns surrounding the adverse affect that the temporary move could have on the team. Posters on The Hotel End, a Northampton Town FC fan forum raised concerns about the share with particular reference to the state of the pitch, criticizing the condition last year when the surface was being used by one team, thus raising serious doubts about the likely condition next season when the Sky Blues will add to deterioration through excessive use.
The Football Leagues own regulations state that when considering a groundshare, consent will not be granted unless it is reasonably satisfied that such consent
13.7.3 would not adversely affect such Club’s Officials, players, supporters, shareholders, sponsors and others having an interest in its activities;
So the players and management are likely to encounter an adverse affect through the additional wear and tear of the pitch, hampering style and more importantly, results. Both sets of supporters have been vocal. What about others on that list – the sponsors?
On June 23 2013, The Coventry Building Society announced that the company was breaking ties with the club, withdrawing club related benefits offered to account holders and also the end of future partnership deals with the club. The company stated that
unfortunately, due to the situation at the club, we are unable to proceed with a new contract at this time.
The shirt sponsorship deal with CityLink also ended last season, after the company decided against extending the option to continue, removing their financial support. No details of a replacement have been announced. How many corporations will want to be associated with a club where the majority of fans are at least suggesting a major boycott due to the proposed move and its own CEO’s suggestion that SISU have alienated over two thirds of its own support base? Attendances at the Ricoh last season averaged 10,973, down from 15,120 on the previous season in the Championship. Fisher expects around 3,000 for the coming season in the first division if the groundshare goes ahead. Gate receipts will be well below levels from previous seasons and any sponsorship deal is likely to be heavily discounted.
One major obstacle for the FL is that club have been offered a stadium to play in by their former landlords, ACL. A sizeable number of supporters have suggested that even this would not encourage their continued support, but it is clear that gates, and income, would increase if the offer was taken up and opens up sponsorship possibilities. Team performance is likely to improve. ACL have offered the Ricoh rent-free to CCFC Ltd whilst in administration. Negotiations earlier in the year were set to reduce the terms of the rental licence, from £1.2 million a year to £400,000 which, according to Peter Knatchbull-Hugessen, a ACL director present, was agreed upon.
We have put our best and final offer on the table after months of negotiation with both SISU and CCFC. It was a reasonable and generous offer, as recognised by all 3 CCFC directors in attendance on 29 January 2013, as they verbally accepted it and shook hands in confirmation.
Shaking hands on a deal has been the accepted way of doing business for centuries and continues widely today, across continents and cultures. The deal was there to be done, yet SISU pulled out. The major stumbling block that remains unresolved is the access to other forms of sponsorship and match day income, from the naming rights of the stadium and stands, to food and beverage sales. The catering income is currently collected by a separate company part owned by ACL. In order to compete in the league and comply with the new Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, SISU need to increase revenues. In the short term at least, performing without sponsors in a reduced capacity stadium with a sizeable fan boycott in place does not suggest that the proposed move will not have an adverse affect on the ability to compete, clearly restraining resources available for the wage bill. SISU and the club have plans to bring the club back to the city and construct a new stadium in the mid to long term. The telegraph reported back on 18 May 2013 that
City plan to groundshare with another club for three years while they build the new ground, with their plans to be presented to the Football League at the start of June.
In the same piece, Fisher was quoted as saying that
We have started the process of procuring land so that we can shift the new stadium build forward at a pace. The stadium will be in the Coventry area in accordance with Football League rules.
We are now in July and neither the purchase of land nor the plans of the new ‘Highfield Road’ have been released to the press. The new project is already looking well behind schedule – the deadline set down by FL regulations stipulate a return within three years. Any planning application submitted to a council within the Coventry area will inevitably be met with resistance from local residents – either from Coventry City fans who wish to remain at the Ricoh or by those disinterested in football and do not wish for a stadium to be forced upon them. A plan for a completed stadium within three years looks very optimistic indeed. Maybe advanced plans are in place but the club, and SISU, are holding back from making these public at this time.
One further issue that could prove contentious is that SISU have requested a judicial review into the the refinancing of the loan from the Yorkshire Bank to the owners of the Ricoh by Coventry City Council in January 2013. The council intended to refinance the money taken from reserves under a government-approved scheme called Prudential Borrowing. The redevelopment of Sixfields will be also funded by money borrowed from the local authority, for a very similar amount. Northampton Council leader David Mackintosh stated today that
The loan we are making to the football club is not money from the taxpayer. As a public authority we have access to funds that the football club don’t have and the developments will pay for the stadium improvement. Until then, this loan will allow the club to get started.
It remains to be seen what form of funds Northampton Borough Council are drawing from and the position SISU will now take on the use of taxpayers funds to help with the construction of a commercial stadium. It seems unlikely that they will now call on an extension to the terms and depth of the original request. However, supporters on forums have expressed a desire for a judicial review into the whole process of the administration. Perhaps this will present an opportunity for the matter to be resolved in, and by, the courts and as Sillet suggests, supporters will then finally find out exactly what’s been going on.