19th Sep, 2018

EXCLUSIVE: Coventry City still 'hopeful' of Butts groundshare as Cov rugby rule out dealing with Sisu amid 'damaging' campaign

Les Reid 18th Jan, 2017

COVENTRY City remain ‘hopeful’ of a groundshare at an expanded Butts Park Arena following a decision by Cov rugby’s board not to deal with Sisu amid anti-Sisu campaigning – which the Sky Blues warned today could end up ‘damaging’ the football club.

Cov rugby’s chairman Jon Sharp, asked today to clarify whether discussions will continue with Coventry City rather than its parent company Sisu, told the Coventry Observer only: “The board of Coventry rugby cannot deal with Sisu given the anti-Sisu sentiment in the city.”

In response, Coventry City warned in a statement to us that this season’s renewed ‘Sisu Out’ campaigning – driven by a city newspaper and some fans’ group leaders who want to take over the club with no current clear prospect of succeeding – was potentially jeopardising the club’s quest to obtain vital stadium revenues, and a return to a central Coventry home.

Many Coventry City fans – even including leading figures at the anti-Sisu Sky Blue Trust – last year welcomed further exploration of the Butts groundshare option as a potential city centre-based solution, while others preferred a long-term Ricoh Arena future.

Mr Sharp also refused to confirm or deny rumours that an anti-Sisu legal clause – to prevent the Sky Blues’ involvement in a multi-sports Butts groundshare – was inserted into last month’s deal to transfer the Butts head lease to the rugby club from previous head-leaseholder Chris Millerchip.

The two traditional Coventry sporting clubs continue to have business relations through a commercial Joint Venture, which includes Coventry City’s ticketing and marketing operations being based at the Butts Park Arena.

The Coventry Observer in 2015 exclusively revealed the Butts groundshare plan, in which the two clubs would benefit from extra revenue from expanded commercial stadium activities, should the head-lease be obtained.

We also exposed last May how a leaked email from Butts freeholder Coventry City Council to the rugby club sought a legal condition in the lease transfer to prevent any professional football at the Butts.

Mr Millerchip – a former Cov rugby player and lawyer who funded the council-backed ‘Coventry – A City of Rugby’ project – has also expressed his personal opposition to the Coventry City groundshare proposal, but was reported to claim no legal conditions were attached to the lease deal.

Mr Sharp re-iterated he was not in a position to say anything more, when pressed by us to comment further on the lease deal terms, or any future for a groundshare involving the Sky Blues – with or without Sisu.

He added only: “The position taken by the board is that we don’t want to deal with Sisu.”

Coventry City Football Club told us today: “Coventry City Football Club values the existing relationship with Coventry Rugby Club and remains hopeful that the option of a future ground share deal can continue to be explored.

“Critically, the club must have access to matchday revenues beyond ticketing and further non-matchday revenues to give CCFC a platform to build a sustainable future.

“We also understand the fans’ request to keep the football club within the City of Coventry. Butts Park Arena fulfills both of these requirements.

“Following recent local media anti-owner campaigns, the club is concerned that continued protests and campaigning aimed at damaging the club’s owners will instead cause longer term damage to the football club.

“We would like to stress the importance of supporters getting behind the manager and the team for the rest of the League One campaign.”

Although the club’s priority focus has been on the Butts, Sky Blues chairman Tim Fisher insisted last month that other stadium options would continue to be examined.

News is still awaited on whether Sisu will press ahead with a second High Court judicial review (known as ‘JR2’) against Coventry City Council’s decision to sell the Ricoh Arena to the then London Wasps rugby club in 2014 on a 250-year deal not offered to the football club. It followed a long dispute over Ricoh revenues, rent and ownership.

Ricoh owners Wasps – with £43million debts and ongoing losses but success on the pitch – last year cited ongoing legal action as a reason for calling off talks with Coventry City over a deal for the Sky Blues to remain there after next season, when the current rental deal expires.

The Sky Blues have said they received a paltry £73,000 for the whole of last season in matchday revenues from the stadium – with Wasps creaming off the rest – and nothing in commercial non-matchday stadium revenues, which could otherwise be ploughed back into the team.

There remains no willing buyer of seller for any takeover of Coventry City.

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