Bradford Bulls set for move from historic home

Bradford Bulls has announced it will leave its historic Odsal Stadium to groundshare with fellow Championship rugby league club Dewsbury Rams, amid plans to develop a new home in the Yorkshire city.

Odsal is considered one of English rugby league’s most historic stadia, but the facility, along with the Bulls, has fallen on hard times in recent years. Odsall first opened in 1933 and famously drew a crowd of 102,569 for the 1954 Challenge Cup final replay between Warrington and Halifax. The stadium still attracted large crowds as the Bulls enjoyed great success in the 1990s and 2000s. However, the team went into administration in 2012 and was liquidated in 2017, forcing a rebirth in the lower leagues.

Odsal is owned by Bradford City Council, but the Rugby Football League (RFL) was forced to step in to assume the lease-hold interest in 2012 amid the financial troubles surrounding the Bulls. In a statement released yesterday (Thursday), Bulls chairman Andrew Chalmers outlined the difficulties the club has faced in remaining at Odsal, and the reasons behind the decision to move.

Chalmers said: “For a considerable period, Odsal Stadium has seen the Bradford Bulls journey from global world club champions, to League 1 participants, as the club in its various forms transitioned through the relegation and promotion trap door.

“From 2002, when Bradford Bulls Holdings entered into a 150-year lease with the City of Bradford Council, a set of circumstances were enacted, whereby the future burden of an ageing Council owned Odsal Stadium, effectively transferred to the leaseholder.

“Whilst some will point to the fact that the lease transaction at the time allowed the construction of the Southbank Stand, as the then Bradford Bulls Holdings received a cheque worth around £4m (€4.4m/$4.9m), it also passed across from the Council the inevitable maintenance burden that accompanies an infrastructure asset such as a large ageing stadium.

“The reality is that Odsal Stadium, should have had a ‘sinking fund’ set up to deal with the inevitable repair, redevelopment and replacement of the stadium. From my observation, this didn’t happen, and was one of the major concerns I flagged when I was being asked to sign a lease of Odsal Stadium.

“The other concerns were the unknown maintenance cost, the unknown burden associated with complying with future health and safety issues, the true cost of opening and running the stadium, and what is an uneconomic business rates and rent burden. For all these reasons I refused to sign a lease.”

The Bulls have therefore announced it will play its last game at Odsal on September 1. The club has said it will play at Dewsbury’s Tetley’s Stadium during the 2020 and 2021 seasons after striking what Chalmers described as an “extremely favourable” deal with Rams owner Mark Sawyer.

Chalmers also disclosed that the Bulls had considered playing at Valley Parade, home of League Two football club Bradford City, and Horsfall Stadium, home of Bradford (Park Avenue) FC, before settling on the deal with the Rams.

He continued: “Our new home, Tetley’s Stadium, Dewsbury is approximately 10 miles from the M606, and is a boutique and intimate rugby league stadium, with an existing capacity of 5,100, and expandable to 8,000 if required.

“Having played there and undertaken significant due diligence, this stadium represents an affordable economic choice for the Bradford Bulls, whilst we work through the task of developing an equally affordable boutique stadium development in Bradford.”

Regarding future stadium options, Chalmers added: “I can also confirm we have already begun the process of identifying potential alternative stadium development sites, and one of these has been raised with the Bradford Council already.

“We have also had discussion with an experienced stadium developer in the region, and have signed a memorandum of understanding with this large group to work to evaluate an affordable development option within the Bradford city boundaries. I emphasise affordable because it’s important that the club can meet the future cost of being based there.

“This will realistically be a two to four-year process, but as I am outlining, it’s something we have already commenced work on and are committed to. I will keep you updated on this initiative, as I understand the importance of the club having its long-term home within the city. This club will always be the Bradford Bulls, whilst I’m the guardian of its ownership.”

The move to Dewsbury will be subject to RFL approval. The League told the BBC: “Bradford’s request to use the Tetley’s Stadium as a home ground remains subject to the approval of the RFL Board, who are charged with making a decision in the best interests of the sport. We have not received an application, and it would be inappropriate for us to comment until we do.”

Commenting on the Rams’ agreement with the Bulls, Sawyer said: “It is important that we help such an iconic club as Bradford through this transitional period. We have negotiated mutually acceptable terms for the use of the Tetley’s Stadium as well as protecting our own interests in this two-year period.

“Our current capacity is capable of coping with the demands of Championship rugby league and should the Bulls be successful in obtaining promotion then we already have plans on how the ground capacity can be increased to meet Super League standards.”

Image: Bradford Bulls