Right in the heart of Coventry there is a sporting story which is gathering both momentum and attention, bringing a special blend of engagement and ambition for success both on and off the field.
Coventry Rugby is one of the traditional powerhouses within English rugby. In the 1960s and 70s Coventry was the biggest and most respected team around – forget your Leicesters, Northamptons, Exeters and Saracens, it was Coventry where others feared to tread, with the club’s squad featuring a host of England international players such as David Duckham, Fran Cotton and Peter Rossborough.
Based for over 80 years on Coundon Road, in 2004 Coventry Rugby moved to Butts Park Arena, which had been the club’s first home in the late 1800s. This move was sandwiched by strong flirtations with financial difficulties, but in the last five years Coventry Rugby has become a phoenix steadily rising back towards its former glories.
The investment provided by Jon Sharp, the founder president and CEO of Engine Lease Finance Corp, was complemented by the fundraising of dedicated supporters, and is now being rewarded by a team which is heading into the 2019/20 season full of positivity.
This foundation has rapidly turned into a good news sporting story for the whole area, according to Head of Commercial Operations, Toby Costar.
“You cannot overstate how much Jon has done for Coventry Rugby,” he says. “He is a long-standing supporter of the club, everything that he has done has come from the heart, and he is also giving something back to the city as a whole.
“Jon’s wholehearted commitment has been rewarded on the field with steady improvement and a second season in the Championship, and we’re seeing that reflected in the interest that the city’s business community is having in the club. It is both a positive news story to be a part of, and Butts Park is a place where business leaders know they will have an enjoyable afternoon watching good rugby.”
Following promotion into the Championship – English rugby’s second tier – a year ago, 2018/19 was always going to be about survival and consolidation. That this was achieved with games to spare was a good achievement in itself, but it is not enough for the club’s management, who are now setting their sights on bigger and better things.
On the field players with proven Premiership pedigree such as Luke Wallace and Henry Purdy are actively choosing to continue their career in the West Midlands. Meanwhile Managing Director Nick Johnston is using all of the experience and expertise garnered from nearly 20 years at successful clubs to put a management group together to ensure longer term sustainability and growth on the balance sheet, something essential if the club is to reach its targets.
Transformation on this scale inevitably takes time, but by walking into Butts Park Arena you can see that it has already begun, and in some style, too. Gone is the worn-out grass pitch, replaced by a state-of-the-art artificial surface which will enable the venue to become a multi-sport hub for the entire community, taking the Butts Park location back to its roots as a home in the heart of the city for a variety of sports and teams.
The pitch is not even completed, but there are already bookings coming in and it looks likely that Butts Park will be a hive of sporting activity throughout the week. The club is also now able to provide a top-class surface for some of the city’s other sporting organisations, Coventry United Ladies FC – who this season are playing in the FA Women’s Championship – and Coventry United FC, and Coventry Bears rugby league team.
Furthermore Coventry Rugby itself will be able to have all its teams – first team, Development team and Under-18s team – train and play at the venue without having a detrimental impact on the surface.
This really is a game-changer for both the club and the wider community, and this engagement is being reflected in the introduction and expansion of initiatives such as Wheelchair Rugby and Project:500, which will be using rugby to inspire some of the thousands of children living in poverty within the city.
Given the speed and nature of this resurgence it is no surprise that Coventry Rugby is working with an increasing number of West Midlands businesses from across the economic spectrum, from accountants and legal firms through to accident repair centres and suppliers to the building industry.
The club is also working with Champions to increase profile among the business community throughout the West Midlands, and to show that there is an option for partnership and hospitality which delivers high quality and value-for-money, with the added bonus of seeing a tangible outcome to the investment.
Costar, who took up his position in late 2018, believes that he has joined Coventry Rugby at exactly the right time.
“I knew when I came into the club that there was potential,” he adds, “but now that we can see that potential start to be realised it is an increasingly exciting place to be working.
“The players are working hard to get better and better, the supporters are energised, and the wider business community is engaged with what we are working towards.
“I cannot wait to see what the future brings!”