28th Apr, 2017

REVEALED: Wasps' Ricoh Arena charges Coventry City for pitch repairs due to fans' Wembley celebration

Les Reid 7th Mar, 2017 Updated: 7th Mar, 2017

THE Wasps-owned Ricoh Arena has tried to charge tenants Coventry City for half the cost of expensive repairs to a heavily worn pitch – because of a friendly fans’ on-field celebration of the team going to Wembley, we can reveal.

The move has been branded an insult and a farcical blaming of Sky Blues fans, given the damage to the pitch caused by multiple rugby games – including Wasps’ home games and a Rugby League international Four Nations double-header involving two games in one day in November last year.

The Coventry Observer has learned Ricoh Arena managing director Andy Gibb contacted the football club after the Sky Blues’ Checkatrade Trophy semi-final against Wycombe Wanderers on February 7.

We can confirm that Mr Gibb’s demand that Coventry City meet half the costs of thousands of Euros per month for pitch repairs was NOT made on the basis of Sky Blues’ matches, but solely on the basis of his claim that an already worn pitch had been “completely wrecked” by the friendly pitch invasion.

Fans had run onto the pitch in elation at the final whistle which meant Coventry City were to return to Wembley for the first time in 30 years.

Mr Gibb stated he would be sending a bill for 50 per cent of the costs of hiring grow lamps and germination sheets and the work would be for a minimum of one month.

Wycombe Wanderers manager Gareth Ainsworth said after the match that the pitch for the game had been “terrible’, adding: “You cannot pass on it.”

Coventry City former manager Russell Slade had stated on several occasions throughout this year that the state of the Ricoh pitch was poor, backed by comments in the media and by many fans on social media.

Wasps replaced the Ricoh Arena pitch in 2015 with a part-synthetic surface which was supposed to be hard-wearing enough to withstand rugby and football matches.

One of our sources, who did not want to be named, said: “Blaming Coventry City fans for the state of the pitch is ridiculous. The pitch has been deteriorating all season. Everybody knows a pitch invasion by a few hundred people does not wreck a pitch.

“It would appear to be one example of how Wasps are financially distressing the football club.”

Relations between indebted Wasps and the football club have been poor since last year when discussions over a fairer share of matchday and non-matchday revenues for the football club broke down.

Wasps have cited ongoing legal action by the Sky Blues’ parent company Sisu against Coventry City Council’s deal to sell the Ricoh to Wasps in 2014 – on favourable 250-year terms not offered to the football club – as the reason for calling off talks.

A three-year deal for the Sky Blues to play at the Ricoh expires at the end of next season and there is uncertainty over where Coventry City will play home matches. Discussions over a groundshare at the Butts Park Arena have stalled.

The football club says it received no non-matchday revenues, and a paltry £73,000 in matchday revenues last season from car parking and food and drink sales around the stadium concourse, with Wasps pocketing around 90 percent of those revenues even for Sky Blues’ matches.

Wasps have access to all the non-matchday revenues from 24/7 commercial activities, including corporate events, sponsorship, naming rights and concerts – with which they hope to make inroads in their £43million debt and ongoing annual losses from higher costs, and with success on the pitch.

Minutes of the October 7, 2014 meeting of Coventry City Council – in which councillors approved the deal to sell the Ricoh to then London Wasps Holdings Limited – show one condition of the deal had been that the football club’s “future and security” would not be compromised.

The Ricoh Arena and Mr Gibb declined to comment.

Andy Gibb, MD of the Ricoh Arena