Crisis and confusion at Coventry City
Posted by John Beech on April 6, 2011
Since the end of January there have been various changes in the membership of the Coventry City Board, then we saw the sacking of Aidy Boothroyd, the tenth sacking of a Coventry City manager in the last decade (1). Saturday’s three points against Watford brought at least some cheer to City’s fans, and the fear of relegation is receding.
With a certain irony, what has emerged at board level is a split into a new ‘old guard’ (Ray Ranson and Gary Hoffman) and a new ‘new guard’ (new Chief Executive Ken Dulieu, thrusting Canadian internet entrepreneur Leonard Brody and others parachuted in by SISU).
Brody is “a respected international entrepreneur with a strong track record in business, finance and online media. He is President of Clarity Digital which is a subsidiary of the Anschutz Corporation, a large US-based sport and entertainment group and is also a two-time Emmy nominee” (2). Quite.
Brody offered an interesting explanation, as part of a new improved communications strategy, of what had been happening:
“What you were witnessing was three years of a dispute between shareholders, people who had different visions and different ideas about where the club was and what they wanted to do. The key difference here is unity. You now have the shareholders dispute resolved and a new board that is committed not only to the team but also to the community.” (3)
He paints an intriguing picture of a three-year battle between shareholders. I have to say that I find this an unlikely picture. The parent company, Sky Blue Sports & Leisure Ltd had six shareholders: SISU Capital Private Equity Fund A, SISU Capital Private Equity Fund B, SISU Capital Private Equity Fund C, SISU Capital Private Equity Fund D, and SISU Capital Private Equity Fund E, who together held 84% of the shares, the remaining 16% being held by R2 Sports Group plc, a Ray Ranson company. So it’s the battle between the five SISU Fund Managers that has been holding the club back, is it??
He also says he is “saddened to hear fans think we’ve lost the brand“. I would have to say that ‘losing the brand’ is not a phrase particularly featuring in conversations I have with City fans. They are more concerned about survival, in the Championship, and simply surviving as a club.
Another interesting thread in this saga is the question of buying the stadium. Al parties seem to agree that the Ricoh is a highly attractive ‘cash cow’, and that acquiring it would be a key to solving the club’s problems. SISU have undoubtedly put money into the club since taking over, but clearly not enough to buy the stadium. Either they do not have the funding to do so, or they do not have the inclination to do so. No evidence points towards the latter.
How then can the exciting new board team move forward in the acquisition of the stadium? Of course, new investors!
Her I see two major obstacles. If you, as a potential investor, you were approached by SISU with an offer to invest in a club which could be a goldmine if only it could acquire its stadium and the associated revenue streams, once you had overcome your suspicion (‘if it’s such a great opportunity, why isn’t/hasn’t SISU seized on it in the last three years?’), you may well think ‘a cash cow, well, I want some slice of the action as at least a co-owner’. Yet SISU insist that the club is not for sale. We shall see.
The new board has already scored a PR own goal, which is not encouraging. Ken Duliweu announced at a press conference last week that he was about to hold talks with the local Council about their 50% ownership of the Ricoh, a claim promptly and frostily denied by the Council (4). As the Council statement out it, “The club has talked about a new era of openness and transparency, which we would welcome as a Council. But so far, in their dealings with us, they have not shown this and we’re disappointed they’ve now said twice they’re meeting with us when no approach has been made to us.” If there is to be a new policy of openness in communications, the messages should at the very least be accurate.
The only optimistic sign I can see is the talk of a bid by Gary Hoffmann (5) to buy the club. But a) it’s supposedly not for sale, and one suspects, in the circumstances of his departure from the board, especially not to him and b) it depends on him finding investors.
The only comforts for fans is that the club is no worse off than it was when SISU took over (but arguably no better off), and that it could be worse for them – they could be Plymouth Argyle fans.
Available online is the full interview I gave Late Kick Off last week, just before the Coventry City press conference.