Wasps, the oldest of the London-based clubs currently playing Premiership rugby, today won unanimous support from councillors in Coventry for a £20m buy-out of the city’s Ricoh Arena and are expected to play matches there from the start of next season. As the two-time European champions are also planning to build a training base at their new home, they will effectively sever links with the capital after almost 150 years.
Backing for the move, which has been heavily criticised by many of the supporters who followed the club out of the London postcode to their current rented home in High Wycombe, was sealed at a late-night meeting on Monday. Wasps have been given a 250-year lease on the 32,000 all-seater stadium, although the council will retain the freehold of the site.
There have been many expressions of concern – not only from Wasps followers, but from locals who support Coventry RFC, a once great club fallen on hard times, and the even more troubled Coventry City football team, who until recently were playing their matches in Northampton following a financial dispute with the current Ricoh Arena management company. But it seems likely that there will be a rugby-football groundshare at the stadium, while Coventry RFC officials have agreed to work with the newcomers in an effort to maximise rugby’s presence in the area.
“The benefit of having a top rugby club playing here alongside a successful football club is enormous,” said the council leader, Ann Lucas. “When Wasps played a Heineken Cup match here in 2007, it brought about £6m to the local economy.”
A nomadic approach to life during rugby’s professional era has done Wasps few favours on the sustainability front: Premiership clubs with their own grounds have had a huge commercial advantage. But this is a high-risk attempt at a solution, with front-line players, as well as supporters, wondering if Coventry is a move too far.Reuse content