Expansionist Blog: Coventry a brilliant example of an organic expansion club

Drew Darbyshire

Coventry might not have thousands to spend and a huge fanbase, but they are gradually growing and are a fine blueprint for a non-traditional heartland club.

The Bears were founded in 1998, and were accepted into the semi-professional ranks of League 1 ahead of the 2015 season.

They have a fantastic owner and chief executive in Alan Robinson, who formed the club, and is continuously finding new ways of bringing income into the West Midlands club.

Irishman Robinson struck a deal with a local production company, Clean Cut Sports, to deliver a webcast of a friendly against Leeds Rhinos, charging over 150 fans £5 to watch the game.

On Robinson, Bears coach Tom Tsang said: “Our chief executive and owner Alan Robinson is on the forefront of thinking in terms of trying to expand the brand of Coventry Bears.

“He pushes the boundaries of what’s been tried in rugby league in terms of marketing the club. We know where we are situated geographically, so we need to try different things to break into what is a busy sporting market in Coventry and the Midlands.

“There’s a professional ice hockey team that does very well, football is popular and rugby union side Wasps are on our door step, so if we can try and get a foothole and force to do things differently than what might be the traditional methods in rugby league then that’s great for us.

“Alan has been working on things like of online streaming for a while and we were very successful in streaming the Leeds game and we made a small amount of money from it. We need to look into it further if it was to be a long-term thing but as a trial, it proved useful.”

The Bears would probably have to change their fixtures if they were to show games regularly though, with Rugby Football League laws stating clubs can’t show games between 1pm-5pm on a Sunday afternoon.

Coventry have also come on leaps and bounds on the field since they joined the RFL pyramid, having beaten traditional heartland clubs – Keighley Cougars and Hunslet – for the first time in their short history.

Tsang added: “There are a lot of sad stories in rugby league at the moment with some clubs going through rough patches but hopefully that won’t be us because we feel we are doing things the right way.

“This is the start of our fifth season in League 1, so we are still a baby club. We are making small steps but we are definitely going in the right direction.

“We got a couple of decent wins last year against some of the more traditional clubs and they were obviously a bit of surprise to some people, so the aim this year is to make more of an occurrence so that it isn’t a surprise when we beat the bigger teams.

“We are doing things the right way, so we just need to continue on the right path.”