Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of Scoop.it! Football Finance

Moving on from ‘SISU OUT’

Posted by John Beech on August 15, 2014

It was a difficult choice of topic after so many months, but Coventry City is probably the obvious choice for me – I live about a mile from the old Highfield Road ground and could hear the roar on matchdays.

By chance, I was turning out last week and came across a copy of the Coventry Observer from 20 December 2007. My reason for keeping it was apparent on page 3 – two stories which began thus:

  • Last minute deal secures football club’s future
    Coventry City were just half an hour away from going into administration when pen was finally put to paper on a long-awaited takeover deal.
    with the clock ticking towards Friday’s 4pm deadline for a deal to be struck, the Sky Blues confirmed shortly before 3.30pm, the takeover by SISU Capital was going ahead – securing the club’s future and banishing the threat of administration…

  • Arena pledges support for club’s future
    Ricoh Arena chiefs have pledged to support SISU Capital’s efforts to return Coventry City to the Premier League…

Clearly much has changed since December 2007. The club had been through a disastrous period in the years immediately before. Debts had been reported as running as high as £38 million; year after year the club made operating losses; and investing in the new £60m stadium had proved a step too far. Indeed, the stadium, the brainchild of the club’s then Chairman, Bryan Robinson, had only become reality by the club passing the stadium project over to Arena Coventry Ltd (ACL), a joint venture company consisting of Coventry City Council (50%) and the Alan Edward Higgs Charity (50%), a trust set up to help deprived children from Coventry.

The then owners of the club – the major shareholders, owning 90%, were Craigavon (City MP Geoffrey Robinson’s family trust, and Sir Derek Higgs, son of Alan Edward Higgs) – announced their intention of placing the club into Administration. Apart from Sisu, the only potential buyer was ‘Greek billionaire businessman Alki David’, who rapidly backed off when he realised the scale of the debts he would inherit.

The club thus stood, to borrow the recent words of David Conn (or a Guardian sub-editor perhaps) on the edge of an abyss.

Coming in then as saviours of a club in distinct danger of liquidation, how then did we reach today’s situation of repeated legal confrontation and the club’s exile?

Sisu were by their own admission new to the football business. They brought in football business experts such as Ray Ranson and Ken Dulieu. Their judgement proved questionable and both departed. As the performance on the pitch deteriorated and the club suffered a further relegation to League 1, the fans became severely disenchanted, a situation compounded by Sisu’s almost non-existent transparency or engagement with the fans.

Opposition to Sisu became public and organised, and we drifted into phases of protest characterised by a series of slogans.

The first of these was the unequivocal SISU OUT. Understandable though this was, in my eyes it always seemed at best only half a strategy – and what next? The further Sisu sank funds into the club, the less likely it was that anyone else would want to buy the club. In the six and a half years of Sisu’s ownership only the brief appearance of Preston Haskell IV presented any viable alternative to Sisu. It became abundantly clear that a presumption of the SISU OUT slogan – that Sisu were willing to sell – was ill-founded, and even wishful-thinking.

The straw that broke the back of many fans was the decision of Sisu, in an attempt to force ACL’s hand in the increasingly bitter disputes over rent and matchday revenues, to take the club into exile at Northampton. We then entered a phase where the slogan of choice was BRING CITY HOME. A perfectly simple proposition on the face of it, but one which begged the intractable questions of how and under what conditions.

The most recent phase has seen protests with banners saying LET DOWN, which begs the question of by whom. Moz Baker of the Sky Blue Trust when interviewed on local television earlier this week cited Sisu and the Football League, and it’s not hard build an argument for either nomination. I would add to this list ACL and its joint owners, Coventry City Council and the Alan Edward Higgs Trust. I would also add to the list the previous owners of the club, for it was they who precipitated the current situation by deciding to move away from the old stadium at Highfield Road, which resulted in the separation of ownership of the club and its stadium.

From a business perspective, it is perfectly understandable and indeed reasonable that the club owners would want the matchday revenues, particularly with the restraints that Financial Fair Play protocols now place on spending . Equally understandable and indeed reasonable is that the owners of the stadium would also want the matchday revenues, particularly as the football stadium is the core of the revenue generating potential of the infrastructure.

So, we are in the situation where the entrenched positions of the two main proponents are understandable and reasonable from their own perspectives. The only way out of the impasse would be compromise by one or both parties. At present we have a war of attrition. There are unsubstantiated rumours that talks are taking place between Sisu and ACL. If true, we can only hope that ‘jaw jaw’ will stop ‘war war’. The present situation with the club in exile is patently bad for the owners of the club, for the owners of the stadium, and, above all, for the fans, and indeed for the Council Tax payers in Coventry (of which I must put my hand up as being one). The only gainers are the lawyers.

A return to the Ricoh is a no brainer. There must surely be some way forward through compromise.

 

[A reminder – this is a personal blog which is moderated.  Abusive comments will not be posted; counter-views are not considered inherently abusive.]

 

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4 Responses to “Moving on from ‘SISU OUT’”

  1. I broadly agree with the logic of your dissertation, with the exception of the compromise conclusion.

    For me the football club has to own all the match day and non-match day revenues associated with a major football club playing in its football ground. A compromise would mean our club would still be at a disadvantage with its competitor football clubs.

    A compromise would be okay in the short term until the club could build its own stadium, when it will have all of the revenues generated by the football club.

    Most of the former fans will be angry and disappointed that SISU have lodged an appeal over the Judicial Review verdict at the Court of Appeal. I think they are wrong, because the only way that our club will be back playing in Coventry at the Ricoh, is if the football club gain ownership of the Ricoh, otherwise it will be a stadium outside the city boundary! I am in a small minority, I know, but I hope that SISU win in court and ultimately gain control of the Ricoh. This for me is the best scenario for a successful Sky Blues.

  2. cw8888 said

    It’s interesting to see that Peter Chambers is the first one to comment with his customary pro-SISU argument.

    I don’t disagree with much that you have written, especially that much the blame that has to be laid out the feet of Bryan Richardson and other directors prior to SISU.

    However, I think that you have let SISU off very likely by ignoring the fact that under its ownership the club still ended up in Administration and how that process was used to its own advantage. Also not mentioned was the verdict from the Judicial Review which laid bare the motives and actions of SISU in trying to distress ACL with the aim of acquiring the stadium on the cheap. Despite SISU’s claims about building a new stadium in the ‘Coventry Area’ (wherever that is), where’s the evidence of any significant progress?

    Unlike the blinkered Mr Chambers, most of us who hold the club dear in our hearts (we’re not “former fans” as annoyingly labelled in his comment) realise that many of SISU’s/his arguments about ownership of the stadium are actually a red herring. Access to the main revenue streams is the key and there a plenty of existing arrangements in the PL and FL where this is evident from clubs not owning their own stadia.

    The one statement that I agree with from Mr Chambers is that he is in a very small minority.

    Sadly, through their actions SISU have now alienated so many of the club’s supporters that it would be a long and difficult path for them to regain our trust. A return to the Ricoh would be a first step.

  3. Phil Reynolds said

    Some good points in the article, but I still believe that a crucial point is being missed, especially by Mr Chambers, people comment on the situation as if Sisu are actually interested in the football club, the truth is they are not, they may have been a number of years back when their Plan A was for a swift return to the Premiership and a quick return on their perceived investment, when this failed they reverted to their back up, Plan B, which was to get hold of the Ricoh at any or in their case no cost. This is the only viable way that they can create money. Selling pies and beer at half time is a complete red herring. If as Mr Chambers wishes, that Sisu do win the legal argument, he will see that there will be no difference made to the Football team, all interests will be on cash generation from the stadium and the surrounding land, this is where the wealth lies and this is the only thing that Sisu are interested in

  4. Paul Hawkins said

    Sisu described the Higgs charity’s 50% stake in ACL as “worthless”. Following this logic,surely the other half is the same and it wants the complex for nothing. SISU elected to break a contract with ACL, manipulated the administration process, took advantage of a passive Football League and continue with the expense and agony of legal action . We have endured too much bullying and bluster to believe anything these characters say.

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