The Football League have issued what they regard as a 'final request' to Coventry City to commit to where it will stage its home matches during the 2019-20 season. They have set a deadline of March 5th 2019 as a deadline for the League One side to agree whether it will be playing at the Ricoh Arena or another venue for next season, and state that if Coventry fail to respond or provide a satisfactory solution, then they will call a League EGM on April 25th, to consider their expulsion from the Football League.
The current situation concerns Coventry City owners SISU and their ongoing row over the leasehold agreement and ownership of the Ricoh Arena. The stadium is currently owned by rugby side Wasps, but with the current leasehold due to expire this summer. SISU are currently attempting to take legal action against Wasps and previous stadium owners Arena Coventry Ltd, claiming that Coventry City Council (who co-owned Arena Coventry Ltd) had undervalued the stadium by £27 million when it was sold to Wasps in 2014.
Coventry City's row over the Ricoh Arena stems back to Arena Coventry's ownership of the stadium, where they claimed that their leasehold agreement was unfair, and they attempted to force a new agreement with ACL back in 2013, ultimately moving to groundshare with Northampton Town at their Sixfields Stadium during the 2013-14 season before returning to the Ricoh Arena in September 2014. With Wasps buying the stadium in November 2014, SISU found they had new landlords, and they have been unable to agree a new leasehold agreement with Wasps. The rugby side now have decided that they will not entertain a new agreement whilst Coventry continue their legal action.
With that impasse continuing, the EFL are now giving Coventry an ultimatum - to find an alternative stadium for the 2018-19 season, to resolve their problems with Wasps, or to face expulsion. The League have said that they have set the April 25th ultimate deadline, to ensure that the situation is clear before any final day of the season, or play-off matches are played. EFL Chief Executive Shaun Harvey says of the situation:
"The matter of Coventry City's efforts to secure a home venue for 2019-20 season and beyond has been a serious concern for all parties for a significant period of time and the objective of the EFL, as it has always been, is to secure an appropriate solution for the long-term future of the Club as they are a much valued member of our competition. The course of action taken this week is with reluctance, but the League has to ensure the integrity of our competitions is maintained and all Clubs meet the obligations that come with being a member of the EFL. We remain in regular dialogue with the Club and will provide all practical available assistance in line with EFL Regulations."
The League do not mention it in their statement, but there are unconfirmed reports that the League would not sanction Coventry moving as far away as Sixfields on this occasion, having told Coventry that they must secure a stadium move within the Coventry 'area', with the obvious question being how far away they would allow them to stage matches, either on a temporary or permanent basis.
There is an obvious League Two relevance. If Coventry are expelled, then given the League's deadline, this would almost certainly result in only one relegation place at the foot of League Two, with the need to rebalance the 72 club membership of the League. As such, in that scenario one club would be relegated from League Two, whilst two clubs would be promoted from the National League. The same principle would be established in terms of the relegation/promotion slots between League One and League Two.
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