Coventry Rugby Club’s decision to pull out of any further discussions with Coventry City regarding a possible ground share met with a fairly muted response from supporters last week, which was something of a surprise given the interest it generated following Chairman Jon Sharp’s comments at the last Members’ Forum, back in April.
On the Wednesday following that meeting, there was plenty of media coverage in the local papers and the feeling was that the proposed 15000 – 25000 stadium was definitely on the cards, with plans already drawn up and talks underway.Less than 4 months later and any redevelopment of the ground that includes a groundshare with Coventry City are now dead in the water with Chris Millerchip, who owns the land lease for The BPA site, finally losing patience with Coventry City’s owners. It appears that he had insisted that City’s owners hold ‘peace’ talks with the likes of Coventry Council, Wasps and Coventry Sports’ Foundation, all of whom the owners are currently in dispute with.
A failure to reach an agreement meant that preconditions for further discussions between Cov and Coventry City weren’t met and Chris Millerchip then had no option but to break off further talks with the football club.
However, according to Simon Gilbert’s article in the Coventry Telegraph (Simon Gilbert – Coventry Telegraph (10/08/16) Coventry Rugby Club are still pursuing other avenues in order to create a multi-purpose sports’ facility. Although Jon Sharp is very much involved in exploring these opportunities, it is Chris Millerchip who holds the lease and it is he who will have the final say. With Jon Sharp’s attempts to purchase the lease for the land from Millerchip stalling, it appears the ex-Cov player, and now wealthy businessman presently residing in New York, holds all the cards.
Simon Gilbert goes on to say that Coventry are looking to attract other partners ‘which they say they are in discussion with’.
Whilst the thought of a ground share with Coventry City might not have been the most popular of options amongst either set of supporters, Jon Sharp has made the point on a number of occasions that if Coventry are to create a club capable of sustaining not only top National 1 rugby, but also a fully professional squad competing at the top end of the Championship, then it has to look to generate additional revenue streams. And with the average match attendance well down on the previous year, the club has to look at further ways of attracting more businesses to invest in the club, as well as developing its conference facilities.
I very much doubt whether 15 matches a season at The Butts on their own would generate the revenues needed for Cov’s current expenditure let alone a further expansion of the playing side of the club. So whatever the final outcome is, there has to be a significant change in the way the ground and facilities are used if the club is to achieve its long term objective of becoming an established Championship side.
Both JS and Rowland Winter have both previously referred to the need for a synthetic surface at The Butts, especially from a playing point of view as it would make it much easier to run a 2nd XV, as well as allow year-round training. If this is to happen, then presumably Cov must look to make even better use of the ground, ensuring the facilities appeal not just to local and national businesses, but also creating the opportunities for other sporting groups to make use of the synthetic pitch 24/7 .
If Coventry are to continue to progress towards the ambitious targets it is setting itself, then it has to be proactive rather than reactive.
That’s why I’d be happy to see further development of The Butts, both of the ground and buildings, as well developing partnerships with other local teams, provided everything that is done is done for the benefit of the our rugby club.
And as Jon Sharp has previously stated that any profits made would be ploughed back into the club, then this strikes me as being the right thing to do.
The expansion of the rugby club must be the main focus for any future developments and I firmly believe that both Jon Sharp and Chris Millerchip will only consider redevelopment of the ground if this is indeed the case.
Over the last 30 years, there have been a plethora of clubs that have succumbed to the financial pressures of professional rugby; clubs with a proud history and tradition. The likes of Wakefield, Waterloo, Rosslyn Park, Fylde, Orrell, Gosforth, Otley and Coventry have all struggled to move with the times and the demise of Wakefield, in particular, is a stark reminder of what the future could hold for clubs that aren’t able to meet the challenges of the modern game.
It is for precisely this reason that I think Jon Sharp is doing the right thing in pursuing all the avenues open to club at the moment in order to further increase monies coming into the club. Further development of the Butts Park Arena, including both the ground and its current facilities, is essential. Without it, it is hard to see how the club can move much further forward in its pursuit of that holiest of holy grails, for supporters that is, top flight rugby.
There was a time in the 70s and 80s when the club sat back and did little to adapt to the professional era, whilst the more forward thinking clubs like Leicester, Exeter, Worcester, Newcastle and the like, clubs that barely featured on our fixture list in the early 70s, seized the opportunities afforded to them by attracting wealthy backers who had a vision and a plan to achieve it.
The sport of rugby has its own form of natural selection.
Those clubs best adapted to their environment tend to be the ones that survive and thrive – which probably explains why we so very nearly cease to exist on two occasions in the last 16 years.
Just as anything organic needs to evolve in order to survive, so does the inorganic.
And under Jon Sharp the club has indeed evolved to the extent that most supporters accept that the club is in a far healthier state now than it was back in 2011/12 (?) when he took over the helm.
And it would worry me far more if the Board wasn’t exploring opportunities for further expansion, including ground shares with local football teams, and was simply sitting back and accepting that provided the club remained able to maintain it’s place in National 1 year-on-year, then that would be sufficient.
Crucially, it seems to me that the three main ingredients required to take the club forward to the next level are now all in place:
…an owner who is enterprising…
…a resourceful Chairman who wants the very best for the club…
… and a DoR who has the raw ambition and the vision to match their aspirations and commitment.
However, whilst the right ingredients might well be all present, the recipe as yet appears uncertain and that remains a nagging concern for me.
It is hard to see how most of what RW still wants to bring to the club – a second team, a synthetic surface, a fully professional squad and even even Championship rugby – can be achieved without further development of the club and an additional, and significant, increase in revenue that should bring with it.
I’m heartened by the news that the club is in discussions with other potential partners and that the redevelopment of the ground is still very much part of the club’s thinking. Although. it will almost certainly mean the nature of the club will in some way change, in reality that is already happening this season with over half the squad now full-time and a rebrand of the Club currently being undertaken. That shouldn’t even be a consideration.
There’s always going to be an element of blind faith in all this as far as supporters are concerned as we will never be privy to what goes on behind closed doors.
And nor should we.
Supporters are the heartbeat of the club, but not necessarily the brains.
More often than not, we speak out of passion for our club and our emotions take control. That’s why a more reasoned approach is needed and that’s also why I put my trust in the likes of Chris Millerchip and Jon Sharp to do right by the club.
That’s all we can do…