(Tuesday 12th April 2005)
Adams Park London Wasps appear to be pushing their brinkmanship to the extreme with regards to an extended ground tenancy agreement at Adams Park. Wasps officials have been touting comments through the media suggesting there is a "50/50" possibilty of the rugby club returning to Loftus Road for the 2005/6 season. It comes after Wasps were knocked back by the Wycombe Board on a proposal to enter into a 'partnership' on the ownership of Adams Park.
COTN understands that Wasps have been left with the option to continue under the present terms or seek alternative accomodation. An extended deal would see Wycombe continue to receive an annual rent of just over 300,000 while Wasps would have to be content with playing in a stadium restricted to a capacity of 10,000. Speaking to the Wasps premium rate 'Buzzline' telephone service on 8th April, Wasps Chief Executive David Davies commented "We have received no further counter proposals from Wycombe and despite discussions to try and improve that situation nothing has been forthcoming and I would say that the chances of going back (to Loftus Road) are improving by the day."
In reality Wasps will be desperate to stay in Buckinghamshire. They have seen their home attendances rise from an average of 5,800 in the last season at Loftus Road (2001/2002), to close to 9,000 during the current campaign at Adams Park. Ironically, during the same period Wanderers own attendances have fallen from an average of 6,700 in 2001/2002 to just under 5,000 this season. And while results on the pitch are a factor, there can be no disputing that Wanderers have lost out commercially on matchdays due to competition from a 'Premier' sports team creating divided loyalties in the floating spectator. Davies added "The increase in crowds has been phenomenal while we've been in the home counties and we had expected to stay there. The result of problems in negotiations terms are of deep disappointment to the Directors and Management." But Davies also admits that a return to Loftus Road could see crowds fall despite the increased capacity at the West London venue and that alone is enough to suggest that Wasps will have to grin and bear it at Wycombe under the current terms. A frustrated Davies added "It's a real kick in the solar plexus but the reality is that we don't have a deal that would see us improve on the position we have at the moment and until that situation changes then we are having to make plans to both stay and to move back."
However, onlookers have accused Wasps of bluffing of a return to Loftus Road and merely using the press as a bargaining tool to grab a cut rate deal at Adams Park and a slice of the ground at the same time. It's a situation that the local press seem only too happy to perpetuate. In the Midweek BFP published on Tuesday 12th April Davies claimed that talks had now re-opened, saying "It has taken stamping of feet to bring them to the table but there have been positive talks. It's still 50/50 whether we stay in Wycombe but we're getting to a point where we know what we are dealing with."
Amazingly, the negotiations between the Football Club and London Wasps on this extended deal began more than three months ago and are understood to have included from the start various proposals from Wasps on a stake in the equity of the ground. Such a move would require a majority approval from the 500 Founder Shareholders of the Football Club and it's a situation that has been closely monitored by the Wycombe Wanderers Founders' Trust. David McGee, Chairman of the Founders' Trust commented on these 'Enshrined areas' in a Founders Trust Newsletter published in March 2005, saying "These exist and represent one of the last areas of control we, as supporters, have over our club - it is important that we ensure they are adhered to." It appears that the Wycombe Board have rejected for the time being any release in equity of the ground and therefore Founder Shareholders have not needed to be consulted. Suggestions that Wasps could become landlords rather than tennants have also been dismissed by David Davies when he commented on 'Buzzline' "I don't think we would ever be landlords. The proposals put in front of Wycombe have always been on a partnership basis so we were two clubs moving forwards together, with neither of them having the stronger position. So I think I can dismiss now the thought that we would be in charge of it. But the reality is that we do want a partnership and even that seems to be a stage too far."
Disappointing to some from the Wycombe perspective has been the lack of comment from Wycombe Wanderers on the matter. It's understood that a verbal agreement between the two parties suggested that neither would go public until a deal had been finalised. A joint statement had been expected as long ago as February and Wanderers officials are understood to have been frustrated by Wasps' delaying tactics and attempted media manipulation. Meanwhile, Wasps followers have also been put out as they await confirmation of where they would have to travel to next season and Season Ticket information. David Davies went on to apologise to Wasps supporters through a column in their matchday programme of 10th April, adding "We had hoped that sufficient progress would have been made when we initiated discussions in December, however they have not resulted in a signed agreement and until this occurs, we have huge difficulty in going out with a package that has two venues and two sets of prices. It is this kind of frustration that has prompted me to give the negative opinion that has been commented upon in the press over the last week."
Wasps now say that they hope to be able to make an annoucement by Monday 18th April. As reported earlier a one year extension to the deal at Wycombe is fully expected but Wasps will have to satisfy QPR in the deal. They are contracted to return to Loftus Road and will have to come up with some sort of financial package to keep the lawyers at bay. Wasps and QPR currently share a training facility at Twyford Avenue that is partly owned by Wasps' Chairman Chris Wright, and this is likely to come into the equation.
Meanwhile, Davies concluded "While we hope that the situation at Wycombe will resolve itself quickly and amicably, as many of you observers of sporting politics will realise, nothing is certain 'until the fat lady sings'. The Club has stated regularly and publicly that it would like to complete a deal with both QPR and Wycombe Wanderers, to see us remain in the Home Counties area. However, in the absence of clear undertakings we have to protect the best long term interests of the Club, and therefore our return to Loftus Road remains both a viable and attractive proposition in the absence of an alternative."
Wycombe are unlikely to make any official comment until the new deal has been signed which at this late stage will be nothing more than a compromise for both parties, thus leaving the way open for a similar debate in 12 months time.
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