COVENTRY City’s chairman claims the club is not planning to move out of the city and may still consider groundsharing at an expanded Butts Park Arena home of Cov rugby IF a council ‘political embargo’ is lifted.
It came as one MP claimed in Parliament the Butts proposal was a ‘smokescreen’.
Sky Blues’ Tim Fisher – in minutes the club website published last night of a phone conference held last Thursday with the Supporters’ Consultative Group (SCG) – said the Butts remained a possibility if Coventry City Council and others dropped the ‘political embargo’.
He suggested a Butts groundshare and redevelopment could take three years if it were to gain planning permission from the council.
It came as Coventry Labour MPs Jim Cunningham and Colleen Fletcher – who made the ‘smokescreen’ claim despite Coventry rugby club chairman Jon Sharp publicly revealing the Butts groundshare possibility last year – spoke in a Parliamentary debate in which all sides including fans and the club’s Ricoh Arena landlords Wasps were urged to sit down to resolve issues and the club’s long-term future in Coventry.
Mr Cunningham told the debate he recognised there were “differing views about what has happened” with the football club’s demise, while sports minister Tracey Crouch declined his request that she personally arrange mediation in such all-party talks. She added it was not for the government to intervene.
She also defended the Football League, saying its test of whether club owners were ‘fit and proper’ remained “under review” while it had introduced measures including Financial Fair Play rules. Coventry City’s owners had also reduced the club’s debts, she added.
While the MPs called for talks with fans, it is understood a second conference between Mr Fisher and the SCG is scheduled for tomorrow.
Mr Fisher told the fans group: “We are not looking to move the club out of the city. When we reviewed Butts Park as a potential solution we recognised it was in Coventry and every time I talked about opportunities outside of the city people said it should be Coventry City IN Coventry.
“However, we will do what we have to do to preserve CCFC. We do not want to move out.
“The one thing I will say is: fans have a right to protest and can shout what they like such as ‘Sisu out’, but could I encourage people to reflect what they think negative chanting does for the lads on the pitch – do they think it is motivational?”
“… Let me be clear, all this anti-ownership protest hurts the football club and hurts the people who work at the football club.”
In alleging a “political embargo”, Mr Fisher said the council first wanted the club’s owners Sisu to drop legal action concerning the Ricoh Arena dispute and its council and Higgs charity sale to Wasps. Mr Fisher said the club could not influence parent company Sisu’s decisions on legal action or the political embargo, but had to “assume” it could all be “set-aside” in future.
He suggested that might also enable a longer temporary rental “short-term rolling deal” beyond 2018 at the Ricoh. Wasps would first have to reverse their publicly stated position that talks were off due to Sisu’s legal action against the council, which Mr Fisher alleged was part of the “political embargo”.
Mr Fisher re-iterated the club needs to own a stadium to gain commercial revenues to support the team, and overcome a “wrong business model” of having to sell players like other League One clubs.
But he said the club was now self-sustainable. He presented forecast ‘unaudited’ accounts figures, claiming revenue was set to rise to £5.4million this year, up from £4.8million last year, with £700,000 profit this year from selling players relative to a £1million loss the previous year.
Operating losses last year of £3.8million were expected to fall to £1.7million, he claimed.
Of the Butts where the club already has “joint venture” arrangements, he said: “We’ve previously developed a scheme which comprises a stadium, residential, a hotel, student housing and retail.
“The massing exercises and financial modelling shows it works and we have two potential institutional investors interested in the development. This scheme would be good for Coventry City as a club, Coventry as a City and the community – providing inward investment.
“However, at this time the development scheme will not move forward. There is a political embargo. The club cannot move forward on the site.
“The council want the owners of the club to stop legal proceedings. I cannot influence this situation at all. I can only focus on the things I can influence and that I can change.
“However, if at some moment in the future, the political embargo is set aside or falls away then we would have an opportunity to potentially build-out Butts Park,” which he claimed could be expanded to up to 25,000 capacity.
Mr Fisher referred to a leaked council email – revealed by this newspaper – which earlier this year showed the council suggested blocking the football club from moving into the Butts.
He added: “Our business is at a competitive disadvantage to other League One clubs. Unlike other clubs we only receive match day ticketing revenues. We don’t get any meaningful match-day food, beverage and catering revenue. We got a paltry £72,000 in total last year which compares like for like with Highfield Road of between £1.3 -1.5million each season.”
He added: “We see the financial performance – overall business loss to profit – as travelling in the right direction. Indeed, we have halved our operating losses season on season. It is critical we access further operating revenues. This ultimately requires us to own our own stadium.”
He said Wasps were not in a position to share income at the Ricoh, adding they would “likely need every pound of income to manage their operational cash flow and, on the other hand, I suspect that supporting the bond covenants equally requires every pound of income.”
As we have reported, £35million of Wasps debts reside with retail bond holders. As part of that deal, there are covenants in place relating to Wasps’ delivering annual profits and the previous £48million valuation of the Ricoh Arena remaining in place. Wasps accounts are due next month.
Mr Fisher said another medium-term plan was to co-locate the crucial youth academy with a new training centre, with the current one at Ryton potentially up for sale for housing.
He said Sport England would move to block planning approval for homes at Ryton without a replacement training ground, a position which has been re-interated by Rugby leading councillor Heather Timms.
Read more at http://www.ccfc.co.uk/news/article/2016-17/scg-minutes-tim-fisher-10102016-3356957.aspx