With London Wasps deciding to up roots and move from London to Coventry 82 miles away, Sorcha O’Connor asks has money and greed driven sporting clubs to forget about the ordinary fan in the pursuit of wealth?
Pre-season, London Wasps RFC dropped the ‘London’ and by December will have a new home in Coventry. It’s true that this so-called London-based team have played in Adams Park in High Wycombe, outside the capital, for the last twelve seasons – Wasps fans already had to make a trek to see home games.
Now it is clear their traditional link with London will be well and truly buried, with Wasps’ ‘home’ games being played in Coventry’s Ricoh Arena. Of course, the nature of London is ultimately transient, with a very diverse, ever-changing population. However, this move by Wasps is an example of Londoners losing a traditional longstanding part of their city once and for all.
The club has struggled in recent years, almost going bankrupt two years ago but is an 82 mile move right into the Midlands territory of Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints really going to fix their problems?
Who exactly will their supporters be? The club isn’t going to become ‘Coventry Wasps’ so Coventry locals aren’t going to fall over to support these London ex-pats and the Ricoh won’t be decked out in yellow and black either, with the club owning only half of the stadium. Not exactly ideal if you want somewhere to feel like your base, your home turf. Ultimately, it seems that the professionalism of the sport has made the club focus on their business plans rather than their fans.
And what is Wasps business plan? It is to rely on TV money, with the likes of BT and Sky showing their games. However, this won’t make them survive as a community. Fans can only do that!
Moreover, with other London clubs such as Saracens playing home games in the suburbs of the capital will rugby in London begin to decline? Young fans can no longer just pay for a match ticket – travel expenses have to be taken into consideration as well.
Dai Young, rugby director at Wasps, believes the move will encourage players to stay with the club now that they will finally have a home in the best equipped, biggest arena in the Aviva Premiership. The Ricoh also has many added extras such as restaurants and a casino but is that really what fans are looking for when they want to support their local team? Players might be enticed by the stadium but fans might not.
In Ireland with GAA, we all know counties have their own grounds and then there’s the Big Day Out to Croke Park for the All Ireland. Our provincial rugby teams are the same with Munster set down firmly in Thomond Park, Leinster in the RDS, Ulster in Ravenhill and Connacht in the Sportsgrounds.
These teams are settled in supportive areas – but not without hard work. Connacht are such an example, running the ‘Front Up, Rise Up, Green Up’ campaign to encourage support.
With Wasps, they have certainly landed in a fan-less area. One could say does it really matter; if locals like rugby they’ll go for a look. But is that sustainable? How can a team move from one city to another and expect instant long-term loyalty – because it is long-term loyalty that the club needs to fill such a big stadium.
Connacht worked hard at their play, worked hard at recruiting support, have a well-established home ground and have greatly improved in the past few seasons. The Sportsgrounds is no Ricoh Arena but Connacht’s recent progress shows you don’t need to be flash to succeed. Every match cannot be a Big Day Out and people have certainly started to show up to more of Connacht’s home games.
It’s hard enough for teams to get supporters to away matches and re-locating to Coventry puts Wasps’ fans in a situation that makes home matches as far away as some away ones.
Sir Ian McGeechan, former rugby director at Wasps, wrote that the move to Coventry was a better outcome than having no matches at all; a real danger two years ago. This is a reasonable argument but with a sport like rugby, in which derby clashes between two well-established teams cause great excitement for fans, aren’t Wasps still in the danger zone? Money is key to running any club but there’d be no club without willing-to-pay fans; fans that Wasps will have to magic up from somewhere because, like it or not, BT nor Sky will not be able to fill the Ricoh for them.
By Sorcha O’Connor
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