Nomadic Wasps seek return to London nest
Tuesday 02 September 2008
Wasps, among the most nomadic of England's professional clubs as well as the most successful, hope to be playing their rugby back inside London's city limits within a decade. "We are nowhere near fulfilling the potential of the Wasps brand," said Tony Copsey, their chief executive, yesterday, "and while we have a very good ground-share agreement with Wycombe Wanderers, it won't be long before demand outstrips supply. Our long-term vision is to play at our own stadium, and we'd like it to be in the capital."
With the new domestic season getting under way this weekend, Wasps have shifted 5,000 season tickets for the first time in their history. This means around 50 per cent of the available room at the Premiership champions' current Adams Park venue, situated in one of the more anonymous corners of High Wycombe, has already been sold.
"We're very confident of filling more of Adams Park more often than ever before," said Copsey, acutely aware that for all their success on the pitch – four championship titles in the last six years, plus a couple of Heineken Cups – Wasps have struggled to command a following among the paying public commensurate with their status. "Our business plan is centred around spending another five years where we are and we're making improvements all the time, with the help of the local council, which has become very proactive. But I'd never shut the door on the dream of going back to London. We'll have a much better idea of our options by Christmas."
Their traditional heartland of north London, from which they moved at the start of the professional era, is better served by the Watford-based Saracens. But Saracens are being heavily linked with a move to east London following the 2012 Olympics, which would help them maximise business in the largely untapped Essex market. That could leave the way clear for Wasps to reconnect with their natural audience and see three elite teams playing in the capital. At present, only Harlequins have a London address.
The champions might have spent less of the professional era trawling the Home Counties for a pitch to call their own had they been better blessed in the cash department, but they have never been the wealthiest of clubs. On the face of it, they should be able to cash in on the new agreement between the Premiership clubs and the Rugby Football Union, under which handsome sums of money will be paid by the governing body in return for increased access to England internationals. Wasps have 14 players in the Test and second-string Saxons squads named by Martin Johnson in the summer.
However, the decision of the clubs to divvy up the money among themselves will cost them the best part of £1m this season. "We have to grin and bear it," Copsey said. "We're not overly delighted, but we understand why the agreement is structured as it is. We buy into the fact that the Premiership needs to be strong as a whole – it's why we have the best league in the world. Are we too philanthropic? It's a difficult situation, but if we can have this many players and still make it into the play-offs next spring, it will be a massive achievement."
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