A pain in the Butts…?
Back in December an article in the Coventry Observer suggested that Coventry RFC were in discussions with Coventry United, a Midlands Division 1 team, about a proposed groundshare that would see Coventry United relocate to The Butts Park Arena.
Despite serious ‘logistical difficulties’, the ‘powers that be’ in Coventry were ‘interested’.
At the time it was quickly dismissed by supporters and nothing more thought of it, but revisiting it today, I missed something that I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere either:
He (Jon Sharp) added: “I’d like a community set up there where we can have all sorts of sports and kids running around on that pitch all year. I want to make it the heart of the community.
“It requires some investment, there’s some going in at the moment and something else will be coming along in the next few weeks
Did we ever find out what that ‘something else’ was – I read it as a cash injection, but that isn’t necessarily the case? It was all very low key, but in retrospect it might be significant.
Fast forward four months and in Sunday’s ‘The Rugby Paper’, there’s another article alluding to a possible Coventry RFC ground share, only this time with Coventry City. It seems as if the originally idea has been upscaled somewhat, with Jon Sharp admitting that a ‘groundshare agreement with Coventry City, the Sky Blues, is under consideration’.
Lots of words come to mind here…ambitious, innovative, exciting or just plain bizarre? The reason appears to be an attempt by the Club:
to attract further funding to boost further income streams ahead of a push for promotion to the Championship.
I do like the way Jon Sharp seems to be so focused on the vision he has of Coventry playing Championship rugby. It’s what every supporter wants for their club, an ambitious Chairman who is prepared to pull out all the stops to achieve what is a shared dream…namely, success on the pitch. The Chairman probably doesn’t get enough credit for the time he has invested in Cov, or indeed the financial input…in the same article it appears the success of his own personal interests are now all tied up with those of the club.
All my business, playing and coaching ambitions are designed towards the long term survival of Coventry Rugby Football Club and to reclaim its place in the Championship
It seems as if the driving force for everything is the success of the club and certainly from this supporter’s perspective, that is refreshing to hear. It would appear he’s here for the journey and that’s definitely reassuring to know.
However, I’m already a little confused.
I’m sure whilst there are no deadlines attached to Coventry’s promotion into the Championship, there would be an expectation that a move would come within the next two or three seasons – that would seem a reasonable time-span in which to be working. Rowland Winter has said that he’s ambitious himself, so that would also fit in with a 2-3 year plan.
No confusion there, but if the idea of a merger with Coventry City is to attract further funding from a groundshare ahead of a push for promotion, then I’m definitely struggling with that.
I just can’t see how the timing works. Plans would need to be agreed by the two clubs, then put forward to the Council and approved (and I’m sure there would be a fair few objections to work through) and then the build completed, with all the cash injection that would require, in time for a Cov to benefit from the resulting funds to make that promotion push. And all in the space of just 2-3 years.
And if 2-3 years for promotion is a reasonable period of time to allow for the team to make that step up, then a full-time squad has to be in place in two years for this to happen. The money therefore has to be available a few months before that. So actually, we’re talking about the funding being available in 18-20 months time (I’m sure that the full-time squad was to become before any anticipated promotion)…if it’s going to happen, then it would seem to me that that good as this groundshare might be, it’s very much a long term solution to a mid-term problem.
That said, Jon Sharp goes on to say that discussions with architects and those who understand how facilities are developed and funded have already taken place.
With turnover having doubled to £1.3 million in the last four years and ‘the balance sheet clear of debt’ (is that the same as clearing your debts – in the current fiscal climate I’m not quite sure if that’s one and the same?), then the club is obviously in a much healthier financial state. However, as Jon Sharp makes clear, the ground is grossly underused and the potential for further income is massive…the pitch is only used for 15 games a year and there are three sides of the ground that don’t actually bring in any revenue at all.
I have no business acumen at all but it does seem to me that there is huge potential there. Interestingly, Jon Sharp goes on to say there are a number of what he calls ‘pillars of income’ coming into the club which he lists (including gate money, food/drink/use of the facilities/conferencing and eventing). He goes on to say that all these have been ‘maximised’ over the last four years, although I guess this is probably not the case this season as far as the first two are concerned.
Last season the average home attendance was just over 1500, which works out as roughly 22,500 spectators through the turnstiles over the course of the whole season. This season it’s down to 1132, with just one game remaining, giving 16980 spectators this season, which is roughly a 25 % reduction. Presumably, that equates to a 25% reduction in match day revenue as well, which is significant, which includes a similar reduction in bar takings. Okay, it seems that the boom conferencing and eventing will more than make up the shortfall, but even so it’s still money that’s no longer coming into the club.
Hopefully, Rowland Winter’s appointment, a new squad and some decent performances in the friendlies will have a positive impact on gate returns and Coventry’s attendances always increase as results improve, so there every chance next season that the turnstiles will be busier than they have been in the last 12 months or so.
It seems now that Coventry will have to install a 4/5 or ∞G pitch before too long. The ‘business model’ necessitates it. The Chairman has once again alluded to The Butts becoming a multi-sport facility and given that there’s only one pitch available, the only way it can be used regularly is if the grass is removed and an artificial surface put in its place (…by the way, if any one from the club does ever get to read this post, please could I put in an order for just 8 square metres of Cov turf when it’s dug up, just enough to make a decent lawn for the grandchildren that should stand a bit of wear ‘n tear? Just remember, I’m first in the queue). Sports that could be held at The Butts once the facilities have been improved besides those of rugby union and league and professional football include hockey and athletics.
If all this goes ahead, and who’s to say it won’t at the moment, it would be a very different looking Butts to the one we know today. But change is inevitably if we are to progress and much as I’ll miss the old-fashioned mudbaths of yesteryear this is one way forward, not necessarily the way forward, but certainly an option. One of the criticisms directed at the Board back in the mid-70s and 80s is that directors sat back and did too little whilst the visionaries in the boardrooms of clubs like Bath and Leicester planned for the professional era. That certainly isn’t something Jon Sharp can ever be accused of; he won’t let that happen again on his watch if he can help it.
His vision might not be everybody’s choice, but I am passionate about the club and passionate about it’s place in national rugby, so if that’s what it takes to reach the next tier, then it has to be seriously considered. Sharing The Butts with the Sky Blues isn’t ideal…however, if the goal is Championship rugby, does the end justify the means?
A pain in The Butts…? Perhaps, but one worth considering.
The arrival of Rowland Winter should herald a new era in Coventry RFC’s long and respected history. An innovative Head Coach working with an ambitious Chairman…
…sounds a promising start to me.
Someone yesterday came onto the blog and in so doing unwittingly notched up the official one hundred thousandth viewing of the blog. There’s no way of knowing who it was, but whoever you are – thanks, and thank you to everyone else who logs on to the blog on a daily basis. The actual number is much higher because it doesn’t allow for multiple views or for those who receive the posts via email, but even so I’m delighted!