WHERE next for Coventry City? Having abandoned the Ricoh arena following a rent dispute with landlords Arena Coventry Ltd, the cash-strapped club League One outfit are currently playing ‘home’ games 34 miles away at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium.
The Football League sanctioned the move on the strict basis that the club return to the Coventry area within three to five years, but disgruntled supporters are calling on them to head back sooner that that.
And even though the Sky Blues have moved into advanced talks over a deal to buy the Brandon speedway stadium site in Coventry, fans are demanding a return to the Ricoh.
Around 30 protestors have been lobbying Coventry council under the recently launched ‘Get Cov Back to the Ricoh’ campaign. The group’s petition received over 1,000 signatures in a week.
Having previously charged over £1m a year, ACL (majority owned by the council) offered a rent of between £100,000 and £400,000 during the summer, but this was rejected by the club’s owners, Otium.
Stuart Colgate, founder of the campaign, has put pressure on the council to re-open discussions with the club, saying: “You could say we’re a city in crisis – without a football club in the city, we’re losing money. The council have got the key to open that up. They offered deals to others – why not offer the same deal to the legal owners of the football club?”
He added: “Having our owners say we’re to build a new stadium somewhere in Coventry is farcical. We have a stadium purpose built for Coventry City Football Club and the council hold the key to get that back.”
Coventry Council leader Ann Lucas insisted that the Chamber “know how passionately people feel about the issue”. However, she also believes that the Ricoh Arena can survive without Coventry City FC.
The rent from the Sky Blues reportedly only accounts for around seven percent of the total revenue generated by the Ricoh. As well as attracting other major sporting events, such as some 2012 Olympic events, the stadium also hosts concerts in the arena. Earlier this summer, Bruce Springsteen attracted 38,000 visitors to the venue.
In addition, £4 million has been invested by Compass Group to boost the catering business in the arena. A hotel is also operated there by De Vere, with an attached casino which has played host to the PokerStars UK and Ireland Poker Tour (UKIPT).
However, Coventry Council are still fighting to see the club return. “Nothing has changed since this began. The Council wants the Sky Blues playing great football successfully and sustainably at the Ricoh Arena,” said Cllr Lucas. “I and my colleagues will do all we can to make this happen. But sums need to add up.”
She continued: “The Ricoh Arena can survive without the club – there’s no doubt about that. The business model is robust and there are well-developed plans to grow the business in a number of ways. If the Ricoh Arena has to do without the football club, it can do. But that’s not what we want.”