Salford Red Devils in peril as board accuses council officers of dithering over stadium deal

AJ Bell Stadium

Salford Red Devils Rugby League Club has accused officers at Salford City Council of “dithering” and “inaction” over the purchase of the AJ Bell stadium, thus threatening the club’s financial viability, their Super League status and the very existence of the sport in Salford.

In a damning statement issued last night the club has slammed “endless pontification and procrastination by Council officers” and said the club is now less than a month away from having no agreement on a home stadium, thus putting their very future at risk.

“The endless negotiations are unravelling an incredible amount of hard-work and opportunities generated by Salford Red Devils. We are routinely reaching for the stars, whilst simultaneously having our arms tied behind our backs,” the club said.

Salford Red Devils have opposed the sale of the purpose built AJ Bell stadium to Rugby Union Club Sale Sharks, owned by entrepreneur Simon Orange, claiming it would be no better than the “unfavourable lease agreement that has hampered our ability to become self-sustainable and grow.”

The club were careful to heap praise on Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett who they say has “admirably” supported their efforts to stay at the stadium and supporting the “transition to community ownership” and the purchase of the stadium from Peel Holdings by Salford City Council. 

However, at the heart of the unhappiness with the current rental deal is the current stadium company StadCo retaining 100% of food and drink sales on Salford Red Devils matchdays, and StadCo taking an additional minimum 8% of ticketing revenue.

The club was also stung by comments by an opposition politician in Salford who claimed the club was “not paying its way”, something the club says is untrue, and that a poor deal on the stadium means the club has had to sell key players and take out a £175k loan from Salford City Council.

“We are now subsequently making repayments with interest on a loan that had the expected progress been made, would never have been needed.

“The Club is personally loaned and guaranteed to its limits, having made incredible sacrifices to survive – including the subsequent sales of star players that were only necessary due to a lack of resolution over the stadium deal. Had this been in place when expected – prior to February 2023 – access to the proceeding income streams would have made unforeseen reductions to central distributions less significant a blow and our position now be much stronger,” the club said.

Salford’s current tenancy arrangement expires on 1st December, but new gradings for Super League clubs, proposed by sports consultants IMG, require a minimum 5-year tenancy.

Without this Salford could be denied Super League status, thus reducing their central distributions from £1.31m 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.”

Speaking to earlier this year, Cllr Robin Garrido (Conservative) said the Salford Red Devils need to repay loans to the council and suggested the club may not be suited for Super League with such a small fanbase.

“Paul Dennett believes in a socialist state owning public buildings. He complains the Council has no money and is suffering from austerity.

“I say the money would be better spent on repairing pot holes in the roads and on community facilities.”

Garrido had “called in” the arrangement between Club and Council for scrutiny and added: “Salford Red Devils Rugby League club need to get their own house in order and make the club self-supporting, they’ve had every opportunity to make themselves successful with a free stadium that is usually only a third full.”

Salford City Council have been contacted for comment and this story will be updated.