Super League team Salford Red Devils has hit out at what it claims is Salford City Council “inaction” over the ownership of its stadium, stating that with its lease deal due to expire the future of the club is in severe jeopardy.
The rugby league club has issued a lengthy statement on its situation at Salford City Stadium, highlighting what it states is lack of progress made during almost three years of discussions. The Red Devils and Premiership rugby union team Sale Sharks have both played at the 12,000-capacity stadium since it opened in 2012.
However, the future of the venue formerly known as AJ Bell Stadium has been shrouded in uncertainty from the time its co-owner, Peel Holdings, announced it would sell its stake in a venue that is jointly owned by the developer and the Council.
Various ownership scenarios have emerged for the stadium since then. In December last year, Salford City’s proposed move to the Community Stadium appeared to have fallen through, with the League Two football club stating that the Council intended to purchase the venue outright.
Salford City had joined forces with the Sharks to submit a bid to buy the ground from the Council. The Sharks and Salford City outlined their joint bid to buy the stadium back in September 2021. Any bid for the stadium would have required the Red Devils to find a new home.
With the Red Devils’ current tenancy arrangement due to expire on December 1, the club has now spoken out. It said: “Until this point, we have been bound by good faith and an understanding that our cooperation would result in a timely and fair agreement on securing our future at the stadium built for our club over a decade ago. It is clear that our cooperation has been misinterpreted as our consent for inaction by some officers in the Council.
“After endless pontification and procrastination by Council officers, we are less than a month away from having no such (lease) agreement, and the stark reality now is that without their action in the coming days and weeks, the future of the club is at risk.
“Nearly three years on from the initial approach made by Sale Sharks to purchase the stadium – a move which would have compromised our home and, as a result, our Super League status – the club has continually struggled yet continued to operate under the terms of an unfavourable lease agreement that has hampered our ability to become self-sustainable and grow.”
The Red Devils have also detailed what it claims have been a “series of failures” that have impacted its financial standing, along with commercial agreements it has entered into that have been hit by the uncertainty surrounding the stadium. Full details of these can be viewed here.
The Red Devils’ action comes with concerns over its Super League position amid the broad reforms being promised by the Rugby Football League (RFL) through its partnership with the IMG agency.
Seven top-tier Super League clubs last month received Grade A status in the indicative phase of a new process being introduced by IMG. The Red Devils received a Grade B rating, along with the remaining Super League outfits.
The RFL published the finer details of the grading system back in July. Clubs who receive 15 points or more will receive a Grade A licence and be automatically admitted to the Super League and be exempt from relegation. They will be joined by the highest-rated Grade B clubs, with Grade C teams to be barred from the Super League.
The grading criteria will define how Super League, Championship and League One clubs are assessed from 2025. The Red Devils added: “A failure to resolve (the tenancy agreement) places the club at risk of a compliance issue with the RFL in respect of minimum standards due to not having a minimum five-year tenancy agreement in place.
“As a result, this would severely impact our IMG grading and potentially put our Super League status at risk, reducing our central distributions from £1.31m (€1.5m/$1.6m) to circa £50k per annum and effectively liquidating the club.
“We urge those involved to deliver on their word of recent years with urgency, and in doing so ensure that the future of Salford’s club is safeguarded.”