Salford Community Stadium set for full Council control

Featured image credit: Salford City Council

Salford City Council has agreed a decision to take full ownership of Salford Community Stadium, home of Super League rugby league club Salford Red Devils and Premiership rugby union team Sale Sharks, stating that the move will allow it to deliver on the initial vision of a “community stadium for the city and its people”.

Today’s (Tuesday’s) announcement appears to put an end to a lengthy saga surrounding the stadium, which is currently owned on a 50-50 basis by the Council and property company Peel Holdings.

The decision to take full ownership will provide the Council with full control of the stadium and its assets, including car parking areas and training pitches, with the development land around the site giving the local authority the ability to shape the future of the area.

The Council said “detailed negotiations” with the stadium company joint owner and stadium stakeholders, along with detailed legal and financial due diligence, are now “bringing the final steps close to completion”.

Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, said: “I am delighted that we are nearing conclusion of months of painstaking discussions. After being a joint owner, the Council is set to take the reins and full control of the stadium and surrounding site.

“This will enable the Council to deliver its aims and aspirations agreed earlier this year as detailed in the Strategic Statement of Intent, while also moving us forward in delivering the original intentions of decision(s) taken back in 2009-10. This includes securing the Council’s long-term interests by controlling future redevelopment and regeneration of the stadium facilities and adjacent development land.”

The Red Devils and the 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 Peel Holdings announced it would sell its stake in the facility.

The Local Democracy Reporting service said the Council’s deal to buy the stadium and surrounding land is expected to cost around £2m (€2.35m/$2.52m) in total. The deal will also reportedly see the Council taking on the £38m of debt owed by the stadium company.

Dennett continued: “We’ll be able to recommit to deliver the initial vision of a community stadium for the city and its people. The future will be grounded in a new sports, leisure and rugby strategy, with links to activity, culture and health and wellbeing and fair access and opportunities.

“These benefits will go far beyond activities on the pitch, with full development of the site creating an anticipated 790 new jobs, delivering £28m worth of social value and attracting £65m of private sector investment. 

“The city’s heritage and rugby history will be safe now for future Salfordians. William Webb Ellis was born in Salford and we’re proud that the stadium is home to two important clubs, Salford Red Devils RLFC and Sale Sharks.

“In a mission close to my heart, Salford Red Devils RLFC will retain their position playing in the City of Salford, which is why the Community Stadium was built in the first place all those years ago, along with it being a place to call home for Salford Reds and Sale Sharks.

“We have exciting plans to engage fans, community groups and grassroots rugby clubs, schools, education providers and residents with the city’s Community Stadium, along with Sports England, the Rugby Football League (RFL), Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Government, especially the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and the work currently being undertaken around the future of rugby within the UK.”

In December, it was announced that the Red Devils would remain at its home stadium for at least another year through the agreement of a 12-month extension to its tenancy deal.

The team’s previous tenancy arrangement at Salford Community Stadium expired on December 1, and prior to that the club hit out at what it claimed was Salford City Council “inaction” over the ownership of the venue, adding that the situation meant its future was in severe jeopardy.

The Red Devils’ action in November came amid concerns over its Super League position through the broad reforms being promised by the RFL under its partnership with the IMG agency. Seven top-tier Super League clubs in October 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.

Managing director of Salford Red Devils, Paul King, said today: “This is certainly a big step in the right direction, and hopefully this can now lead to a swiftly agreed deal.

“I can’t understate how important the conclusion of the deal is for the club. We’ve stretched as best as we can for as long as we can to get even to this point today, and once the agreement gets over the line, it really does give us access to some transformative opportunities.

“Whilst bringing forward a realisation of a shared vision based on what the stadium was originally built for, an agreement allows us to become a different Salford Red Devils – a secure, and self-sustaining Salford Red Devils that thrives within the City of Salford.”

Sale Sharks chief executive, Paul Smith, added: “The future of the Salford Community Stadium has been a protracted saga that has caused a huge amount of uncertainty both within the club and among our fanbase for too long.

“While there is still work to do, this announcement hopefully begins to draw a line under the questions around stadium ownership and allows us all to start working together to create a real hub for rugby, across both codes, in the north.

“There is a huge opportunity here to build a really special venue to support our community and develop top level sport in the region.”