Stung by Wasps?

Tony Williams

Late on Sunday the BBC broke the news that according to chief executive David Armstrong Wasps rugby union club – late of London and now of Coventry – were considering bringing Super League to the Warwickshire city.

The news doesn’t come as very much of a surprise. Talk of Super League clubs being established in – or moved to – cities across the country has been going on for a few weeks, with Coventry among those advanced as potential new locations for what would effectively be Super League franchises.

Nor is this the first link between Wasps, the current owners of Coventry’s Ricoh Arena, and the sport. Coventry Bears – to whom we shall return – played Keighley Cougars at the Ricoh last May, and the stadium played host to a Four Nations double-header in October.

Former Wasps CEO David Thorne was among the parties biding for Bradford Bulls earlier this year, though no intention to move the club to Coventry was mooted during the bidding process.

It is now Wakefield Trinity who, rumour has it, could be making the switch from West Yorkshire to the West Midlands. The Yorkshire Post reported firstly that the club were considering selling their place in Super League, and secondly that although chairman Michael Carter denied that such an option was being considered he had also refused to rule it out completely.

So far, so much speculation. But would allowing Wasps to bring Super League to Coventry – whether by moving an existing club or creating a new one – be a good idea?

Rugby league history indicates that setting up new top-light clubs in areas where the sport has yet to fully establish itself seldom if ever ends well. It also teaches us that rugby league clubs set up with the purpose of providing an additional revenue stream for another sports club rarely have a long-term future.

The very purpose of Wasps trying to bring Super League to Coventry, lest anyone should miss the point, is to provide an additional revenue stream. Wasps are currently struggling to make a profit according to reports in the Coventry Telegraph, with more income required in order for the club to repay its £35m Ricoh Arena bondholder loan. With the possibility of Coventry City – Wasps’ current tenants at the Ricoh – relocating sooner rather than later, it’s easy to see where the interest in Super League comes from.

Is this a promising situation for rugby league to enter? Hardly – once the new franchise fails to provide the financial fillip desired by its parent club it will presumably be jettisoned, left to either sink or swim.

Those who hold out hope that Wasps would prove more charitable than the union, soccer and greyhound-racing clubs which have traversed this road before should be mindful of the way in which Wasps’ conduct has aggrieved supporters of both Coventry City and Coventry RFC. And Coventry Bears – the city’s existing rugby league club – are potentially next on the list of local sides to be aggrieved by Wasps.

Earlier this week the Bears launched In This Together: The Story of Coventry Bears Rugby League Club, recounting the club’s journey from its formation in 1998, entry into the RL Conference in 2000, National League Three Grand Final victory in 2004, to entry into the semi-professional ranks in 2015 – two decades of sustainable progress. Have the Bears’ efforts to establish themselves as Coventry’s rugby league club been for nothing?

With expansion back on the rugby league agenda this proposal may appear a great opportunity, but the risk is high for rugby league, Super League and Coventry Bears to be stung by the Wasps.

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Twitter: @Tony_Williams88