|WASPS WANT GROUND STAKE
(Tuesday 4th January 2005)
Speculation and rumour on a possible move by London Wasps to gain a bigger stake in the assets of Adams Park stepped up another notch this week following further comments by the Rugby club's officials through the national media. David Davies, Chief Executive with Wasps, was quoted in The Times on 4th January 2005 as saying “We want to stay and are pushing all our resources in that direction but it would have to be on a basis that suits us." It's become common knowledge that the local council are very supportive of the idea of Wasps staying in High Wycombe. However, the Football Club will have large reservations about giving up regular income derived through a tenancy arrangement to a ground sharing scheme that would see rent and other associated income dry up for the sake of a share stake in the Football Club. Davies added “We have written to them to ask for a formal meeting to talk about the way forward. We believe we bring as much to the table in terms of commercial clout as the football club or any other potential partner. It is not just about staying but the basis upon which we stay. Clearly we can’t lag behind Leicester and Northampton (financially) too much longer because eventually it will catch up with us. We are missing out on significant revenue streams.”
Davies also claimed through the local press in December 2004 that Wasps were also considering moving to The Kassam Stadium in Oxford should a deal at Wycombe fall through. He told the Bucks Free Press “It’s quite clear that Wycombe are our favoured option but there is still the possibility of going to Oxford”. Discussions are also touching on the primacy of tenure issue where RFU rules state their member Clubs must have first say on when fixtures are played. However, Davies has rubbised the relevance of these rules, particularly with Leicester Tigers RUFC and Leicester City FC suggesting a jointly owned ground. Davies added “The rules are there to keep promotion and relegation at bay. If Leicester and Wycombe both want to go into 50/50 partnerships it would be very difficult to sustain the arguments. It doesn’t make any economic sense for a rugby club to buy their own ground, particularly in London. Going into a partnership makes more sense”
London Wasps are currently contracted to stay at Wycombe until the end of the 2004/5 season but have openly expressed their reservations regarding the 10,000 capacity restriction of Adams Park. The capacity meets current RFU requirements but a new RFU ruling states that Premiership rugby clubs need to have, or have plans in place for a stadium with a minimum capacity of 12,500 fans by the 2006/7 season. Wasps also want to increase the capacity in the short to medium term in order to maximise matchday takings and are understood to have held talks with Council and local land owners with a view to solving the traffic issues which could release the full current physical capacity of just under 11,000. A 'Travel Plan' was launched along with the ground tenancy agreement back in May 2002 but any progress has largely been of a token nature with local residents given occasional lip service, rather than any real commitment to solving the long term problems or following up promised actions.
More fuel has been thrown on the gossip inferno by the fact that Wasps Chairman Chris Wright has recently disposed of his 15% share stake in Queens Park Rangers. Wright bought QPR along with London Wasps in 1996 and formed Loftus Road plc. He stood down as Rangers Chairman in 2001 but retained his Chairman role with rugby club. This final release of interest in QPR seems to have dismissed the option of Wasps returning to Loftus Road, while opening up the possibilty of Wright looking to buy shares in Wycombe Wanderers plc. Wright spoke to the media in May 2004 regarding the situation at Wycombe, saying "Here (Adams Park), we are like orphans with extremely nice foster parents. But we need more space. I would be prepared to work out a situation where Wasps build the extra capacity on some basis." Wanderers Chairman Ivor Beeks was quick to react, commenting to the Bucks Free Press shortly afterwards, "If he wants to come to me with £2 million to improve our ground we would have to talk about it." He also suggested that Wasps would not be allowed to buy into the ground, adding "It's not on the agenda for Wasps to have a stake in the ownership of the ground. That's not possible."
Any proposal to dispose of the Football Ground by sale or lease would be open to scruntinisation by the 'Founder Shareholders' who were entrusted with a number of 'key matters' following the conversion of Wycombe Wanderers to a PLC in the summer of 2004. A simple majority of 'Founder Shareholders' would have to give the go ahead should a sale or lease proposal be tabled. It would then be passed to a vote of the 'Ordinary Shareholders', the vast majority of these shares being held by three members of the PLC Board.
Wasps will also have to fend off any legal implications of not returning to Loftus Road where they are contracted to play for eight more seasons following the completion of what was a temporary deal at Wycombe. It is believed the compensation claim from QPR would be in the order of £1.5m. Wasps are understood to have been required to give provisional indication of their plans to the RFU by 31st December 2004 and a final decision by March 2005.
Since this story was first published Wanderers plc Director Steve Hayes has spoken to the press about this story. Hayes was responding in particular to suggestions that Wasps owner Chris Wright wanted to buy shares in Wycombe Wanderers plc. Hayes told the Bucks Free Press published on 7th January 2005 "There has been no move. He has not contacted the club and we don't expect him too." However, Hayes did not rule out talks in the future, adding "There has never been a proposal from Wasps to own part of the club but if there was it would be in the club's beat interest to listen."
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