Fixture primacy uncertainty delays Leicester ground-share plan

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The Independent Online

A revolutionary ground-sharing plan between Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Tigers Rugby club might have to be shelved before it can be put into action.

A revolutionary ground-sharing plan between Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Tigers Rugby club might have to be shelved before it can be put into action.

Cash-strapped City are negotiating with the owners of the Walkers Stadium to buy the ground back. The American company are apparently happy to do so in principle. In order to reduce the fiscal burden on the football club, the Tigers have agreed to go 50-50 on the cost of the purchase, which would then be held through a third party, a company set up by the two clubs to own and run the stadium as a commercial enterprise.

While it makes sense, with City needing the cash and Tigers needing to house their growing army of followers - demand for tickets invariably exceeds the 17,000 capacity at Welford Road - it may require a rewriting of the England Rugby Board's (ERB) criteria for ground-sharing with football clubs.

But nothing has been signed as yet and, while the Football League is happy in principle, a spokesman said last night: "The main stipulation would be that the football fixtures have to have primacy." That will alarm the ERB, the body set-up by the RFU and Premier Rugby Ltd to run the domestic game. According to their criteria, in any agreement between football and rugby clubs it is the rugby fixtures which should have priority, meaning the rugby club should be free to stage fixtures whenever it suits them, sponsors or the television company.

The Tigers are prepared to be flexible and stage the odd match on a Friday evening or a Sunday, but they may not be persuasive enough. The ERB is yet to see a formal proposal.

But something has to happen for the rugby club sooner rather than later. The lease on the Tigers' Leicester City Council-owned ground has just 12 more years to run and the Tigers want to sort out their future as soon as is feasible. The Tigers also considered an expensive development of Welford Road and a fresh start at a new ground.

The problem with sharing is that neither club will have primacy of tenure, only security of it. No deadline has been set for City to clinch the deal, but the Tigers want it closed by the end of the football season so work can begin on relaying the pitch to allow a football match and a rugby match to be staged on successive days. That work alone will cost up to £1m. They will need to sort out fixture primacy before such a financial commitment is made.

Odd Couples

Major sharing deals

JJB Stadium: Championship side Wigan have preference over Wigan Warriors as Super League games are moved to Friday

Madejski Stadium: Reading FC own the ground and have priority over Premiership rugby outfit London Irish

Vicarage Road: Watford are tenants and have precedence over Premiership rugby club Saracens, whose matches move to Sunday

KC Stadium: Over three years, League One side Hull City and Super League's Hull Sharks have avoided fixture conflict

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