AJ Bell Stadium is poised to become the centre of a battle for control between its two tenants, English Premiership rugby union team Sale Sharks and Super League rugby league club Salford Red Devils.
The Red Devils and Sharks have called the 12,000-capacity stadium home since it opened in 2012. However, the Sharks’ long-term future at the stadium has been unclear as it pursued other options.
In September, plans for a new stadium for the Sharks fell through after Trafford Council withdrew its support for a wide-ranging sports village development. In June, the club signalled its intention to return ‘home’ to a new stadium that would sit on the Crossford Bridge Playing Fields site in Sale. The plans included a multi-purpose sport and activity space that would have been anchored by a new “state-of-the-art community stadium” for the Sharks.
The Sharks also launched an unsuccessful bid to purchase ownership rights to AJ Bell Stadium in August 2017, and the Manchester Evening News has now stated the club has returned to this strategy by submitting a “serious” offer to buy the facility.
AJ Bell Stadium is jointly owned by Salford City Council and developers Peel L&P. A council source told the M.E.N.: “This time it is a serious bid by Sale Sharks. But at the moment it is a verbal offer and things are at a very early stage.”
The Sharks have yet to publicly respond to the report, but a joint statement has emerged from the Council and Red Devils. League Two football club Salford City FC is also said to be interested in playing at the stadium, and the Red Devils have said they are now preparing their own offer.
Paul King, Salford Red Devils executive chairman, said: “The club has recently been made aware of a proposal for the acquisition of the stadium. Although late in the day, and as a club without a benefactor, we are looking at making a bid ourselves to protect our Salford base.
“However, we must also look at extending our tenancy at the AJ Bell Stadium, safeguarding our future at our ground in the City of Salford, regardless of ownership. We appreciate the Council stating their ‘reassurance for commitments for Salford Red Devils’ upon any sale.
“Our current tenancy agreement is simply unsustainable for the club and we have been seeking a new deal on terms that we can afford. (Stadium company) CosCos have supported the club with rental payment arrangements in recent seasons, we hope that we can strike a new agreement that allows both parties a mutually sustainable level.
“Any ownership changes to the stadium that increases our rent above what is financially viable for the club would be devastating. We and the Council must work together now to keep Salford Red Devils in Salford.”
Peter Openshaw, Interim Strategic Director of the Place Directorate at Salford City Council, added:
“We are aware of rumours, but no decision has been taken on whether to sell the AJ Bell Stadium or on any terms of sale. We can confirm that the stadium company (CosCos) has been approached in respect of the potential sale of the stadium.
“In addition, there are ongoing proactive conversations between the Council and the management of Salford Red Devils on the stadium and safeguarding the future of the club. The Council has been integral in supporting Salford Red Devils and rugby league in the city for many years and we continue to do this in any way that we can.”
Image: Bill Boaden/CC BY-SA 2.0/Edited for size