Bradford Bulls has offered assurances over its long-term future at Odsal Stadium after the Rugby Football League (RFL) announced it is seeking to sell off the lease to the historic venue.
Championship club the Bulls returned to Odsal in May 2021 after agreeing an initial 18-month occupancy deal to play at the venue. Bradford left Odsal in 2019 to groundshare with the Dewsbury Rams amid plans to develop a new home in the Yorkshire city.
Odsal is owned by Bradford Council but the RFL was forced to step in to assume the lease-hold interest in 2012 amid the financial troubles surrounding the Bulls. The RFL holds the lease on a 150-year term, with the deal agreed with the Council on a peppercorn rent basis. The Bulls, along with the Odsal Motorsport organisation, currently hold rental deals with the RFL to use Odsal.
Robert Graham, the RFL’s director of finance, facilities and central services, told local newspaper the Telegraph & Argus: “The RFL purchased Odsal in January 2012 because of a specific set of circumstances, which at the time involved a real danger that an historic venue for rugby league could be lost to the sport.
“This was never envisaged as a permanent position for a national governing body, and after acting as custodians for more than a decade, and with two tenants in Bradford Bulls and Odsal Motorsports Ltd, the circumstances have now developed sufficiently to explore options for sale.”
Bradford Bulls CEO, Jason Hirst, added in a statement: “We are aware that the RFL are now seeking expressions of interest to potentially sell their leasehold of Odsal Stadium and we understand their reasons for this; particularly with the new IMG grading system being introduced, which puts significant obligations on stadium owners.
“We have been continually reassured that the RFL’s primary objective has always been the protection of professional rugby league in Bradford and this was and has been repeated once again as part of this potential sale process. Given those assurances, we don’t, therefore, believe there is any immediate threat to the club’s occupancy of Odsal Stadium and as such, fully expect the club to play all of its’ home fixtures at the stadium in 2024.”
In January, the Bulls pledged to drive forward with their stadium plans after the club failed to gain funding support from the Government’s Levelling Up scheme. Bradford Council in September spelled out plans to transform Odsal Stadium into the largest covered stadium in England, as part of ongoing efforts to revitalise the historic venue.
The reimagined home of the Bulls, along with a regional skills centre for the sport, is envisioned to form part of a new complex for elite sports which aims to put the West Yorkshire city back at the heart of the 13-a-side code.
The plans would lead to the delivery of a world-class training complex for elite sports in Odsal accompanied by a skills, training and education centre for rugby league and a new 25,000-capacity home for the Bulls, which could host international matches and significant domestic matches such as the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup.
The project had sought £50m (€57.7m/$61m) in Levelling Up funding, but all four bids proposed by the Council were turned down. Odsal 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.