17th Sep, 2019

BREAKING: New bid for Coventry City by ex-chairman Gary Hoffman REJECTED by Sisu amid Ricoh Arena dispute

Les Reid 20th Mar, 2019 Updated: 20th Mar, 2019

A ‘FIFTH bid’ fronted by former club chairman Gary Hoffman to take over Coventry City – amid the ongoing Ricoh Arena dispute – has been rejected by owners Sisu.

It has been rejected as derisory with no proof of funds, it is claimed, and lacks transparency over the identity of the would-be ‘investors’.

It is not clear which other parties have been involved in any capacity with Mr Hoffman’s latest failed offer.

It is understood Mr Hoffman is bidding on the basis that such a takeover would ensure Coventry City would remain in Coventry at the Ricoh Arena after its tenancy arrangements expire this season.

It follows years of attempts by various parties to oust hedge fund Sisu, which continues to hold the keys to the club and wants a return on its tens of millions of pounds of investment in the club.

The turmoil comes as Mark Robins’ exciting young team is challenging for promotion from League One.

Off the field, Ricoh owners Wasps and the stadium’s freehold owners Coventry City Council are repeatedly insisting Sisu must drop their legal action over the council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity’s 2014 Ricoh sale to then London Wasps on a 250-year deal not offered to the club.

Council leader George Duggins failed to show up for crucial Westminster talks last week held by the culture, media and sport secretary Jeremy Wright MP. Top brass from all other parties attended, including Wasps chief executive Nick Eastwood, alongside the national football and rugby authorities.

Mr Wright called for continuing talks to find an urgent resolution to keep the 136-year Coventry City Football Club in Coventry – with the English Football League set to vote on the Sky Blues’ expulsion from the league on April 25 if they cannot state where they will play their home games next season.

The football club says it is being forced to consider a groundshare outside the city it does not want, while its efforts remain focused on trying to break the Ricoh Arena deadlock.

Mr Hoffman has repeatedly previously bid for a ‘debt free’ acquisition of the club, while Sisu and related companies are looking for a return on loans since its takeover in 2007, when the club was at the brink of administration under Joe Elliott and the then board.

Sisu says it will drop legal action in return for “commercially acceptable” arrangements to remain at the Ricoh Arena, and support for a new stadium for the long-term from Coventry City Council.

Otherwise, it says legal action – with an appeal outstanding in the Supreme Court after numerous court defeats – represents the club’s best chance of securing the stadium revenues it needs to survive and thrive.

Mr Elliott and Mr Hoffman – who hire a corporate box for Sky Blues home matches at the Ricoh Arena – have failed with various takeover attempts since their departures from Coventry City Football Club’s board.

Ricoh owners Wasps, £55million in debt, take nearly all the stadium revenues. Around £35million of Wasps’ debt resides in a retail bond scheme, which will have to be paid back to bondholders in 2022.

Mr Elliott fronted a failed would-be attempt by American property investor Preston Haskell IV in 2013. In that year, several takeover attempts, some with the involvement of Coventry City Council, failed via an administration process – amid a multi-party dispute over Ricoh Arena stadium rent, revenues and ownership.

Mr Hoffman fronted another failed takeover attempt in 2011, and later tried and failed with a takeover using Chinese investment.

He returned to try several more takeover attempts in 2017, with consortium members eventually conceding that Sisu will sell the club only if and when it is ready to, at a price it accepts.

Later bids that year were said by Mr Hoffman to worth £12million with potential add-ons if City get promotions, but it was worth much less in up-front cash.

One fans’ group The Sky Blue Trust and associated groups have campaigned for ‘fans’ or ‘part-fans’ ownership for years, but have failed in that time a clear plan for achieving it.

We reported yesterday that Coun Duggins claimed at a full council meeting that private talks had taken place yesterday between agents for CCFC and council officers –  and on previous occasions about a new stadium, while he re-iterated legal action should be “traded off” in return for staying at the Ricoh.

A statement from Sisu Capital reads: “We note the recent comments regarding a ‘bid’ for the football club.  Given the football club’s current league position,  this seems to be little more than an effort to undermine and distract from the club’s on-pitch performance.

For the avoidance of doubt, yet again this was an extremely low bid.  It has little credibility and as usual provides no proof of funds nor confirmation of the investors/consortium members (as had been included in the past).”

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