Stung by Wasps?

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.

Keep Your Eye on Rugby League

Twitter: @Tony_Williams88

1 Comment

  1. I have to say I am strongly against the aspiration of Wasps to be parachuted directly into the Super League through the acquisition of a franchise. The franchise system was ditched in favour of the current mess we’re stuck with that waits until the very last second of the season before making some poor bunch of players unemployed.

    If Wasps want an RL franchise than they have to do it the way the Toronto Wolfpack are doing it, you start in League 1 and you work your way up to it. Leigh did it. Toulouse are working hard on establishing themselves in the Championship before an assault on the Super League, the Wolfpack are working very hard in League 1 to achieve promotion. This is the way to do it. Work towards promotion don’t just nbuy a place in Super League.

    Growing the sport in this country, and in France since WWII, has proved difficult due to the Union bias, and activities of the the RFU and FRU, but recent developments show we can put down roots, League 1 shows teams across the country, ok attendances may not be massive, but the growth is there, there is growth in the community too, all of which is positive. This is how to grow the game, not dumping a top flight franchise on an area that may not be open to the idea.

    Wasps could link up with the Coventry Bears, with a view to a buyout and rebranding, why not, they could play as Wasps RFL to complement their Wasps RU business, shared training facilities, exchange of ideas, players, dismantling the ideas of the past, looking to build positively like they seem to do at Leeds, although I believe the clubs at the AJ Bell stadium are not so close, but someone could correct me on that. I know that Newcastle Falcons (?) RU were exploring the idea of closer ties with League, that’s not the worst idea in the world, if there is a mutual benefit then move forward on that basis, but it has to be organic sustainable growth on a firm basis and not just the acquisition of a franchise.

    I support strongly the efforts of the people in Toronto, they have shown real vision and commitment, starting at the bottom and working towards Super League, looking to grow the sport, develop the brand, build the business, and bring that Canadian and American dynamism into our sport, they don’t have the burden of August 27th 1895 on their shoulders, they don’t have the experience of the bigotry, hypocrisy, bias, and assaults on our game, they like what they see and see what they like, we must embrace them for everything they bring to the game. I am almost tempted to get myself a Wolfpack polo shirt to show my support, but black and white, being a Hull KR fan, living in Hull, it’s not the done thing, someone might get the wrong idea and suspect I am…it’s too hard to write…an FC fan!!!!!

    If the game was to grow to such an extent there was demand for an increase in the size of the Super League, then perhaps something along the lines of the American setup with smaller Leagues in the regular season with an end of season competition towards the Super League title, as you see in the NFL, NHL, and NBA could be organised. That would allow for clubs who meet the financial and sustainability requirements to be added to the Super League in the long run, and give hope to the smaller clubs and fallen giants or regaining Super League status if they meet the targets. I’d love to see Featherstone, Halifax, Toulouse, Wasps, etc., all compete at the top level, but only on a firm stable base.

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