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Explained: Why Salford Red Devils stadium could be set shock new ownership

Salford Red Devils have had a rough off season ahead of the new Super League season.

They lost star men like Ken Sio, Joe Burgess, Brodie Croft and Andy Ackers. They also feared the loss of their stadium after their tenancy agreement expired ahead of the new Super League season.

They have been able to agree a deal for 2024 but their wider future remained unclear but that could be clarified on February 13th at a meeting which will see the Salford Mayor lobby for the council to agree to own 100% of the stadium instead of just 50% securing the future of the Red Devils.

Salford Red Devils set for new stadium owners

Salford Red Devils v Leeds Rhinos Picture by Olly Hassell/SWpix.com – 09/07/2023 – Rugby League – Betfred Super League – Salford Red Devils v Leeds Rhinos – AJ Bell Stadium, Salford, England – Salfords Ken Sio celebrates his try with Ryan Brierley and Tim Lafai

Salford Mayor Paul Bennett has pushed for this in an open letter to Council Robin Garrido shared on X. He said:

“I would therefore sincerely hope in the interests of the City of Salford’s Community Stadium, the Salford Red Devils RFLC and the work of the club’s Foundation that yourself and Salford’s Conservative Party Group will be able to get behind the full acquisition (the City Council currently owns 50%) of the City’s Community Stadium and support the 150 year old club / institution in ensuring that the Conservative Government delivers for the City of Salford, our Community Stadium, Salford Red Devils RFLC, their Foundation and rugby / sports & leisure more generally within our great City of Salford, the only City in the country to top flight teams in both codes of rugby playing out of the same Community Stadium and the birthplace of William Webb Ellis.

“It seems that Oliver Dowden MP is supportive of rugby (League & Union) and wants to see it succeed within England. Working with the Government / DCMS, their appointed advisers and requesting that their work is extended to incorporate the RFL seems an obvious starting point here, in addition to supporting Salford Red Devils RFLC with their future application to the DLUHC’s Community Ownership Fund.

“Yourself, along with members of Salford’s Conservative Party Group in the City of Salford have always been supportive of these large-scale important initiatives in the City of Salford, whether it be £19m invested into RHS: Bridgewater, £20m sponsorship deal for the BBC Philharmonic over 8 years or the millions we’ve invested in our much loved Lowry Theatre & Art Gallery since it first opened its doors in 2000.

“Therefore, I invite you and members of Salford’s Conservative Group to get behind the anticipated decision on Tuesday 13th February 2024 to fully acquire our City’s Community Stadium, like you’ve supported RHS:Bridgewater, the BBC Philharmonic and our much loved Lowry Theatre & Art Gallery.

“The City of Salford not only rightfully deserves an excellent horticultural, classical music, theatre & art offer, it also rightfully deserves a great sports & leisure and rugby offer! Let’s get behind our 150 year old club / institution: Salford Red Devils RFLC, let’s support the fantastic work of Salford Red Devils Foundation, let’s deliver a Rugby & Sports & Leisure strategy(ies) for our City of Salford and fundamentally, let’s collectively demonstrate the Spirit of Salford in showing political leadership that ensures the work of the City Council speaks to everyone’s hopes, dreams, aspirations and interests in our great City of Salford.

“Let us not play politics with the decision scheduled for Tuesday and the vision to create a Community Stadium in the City of Salford as the home for our 150 year old club / institution; Salford Red Devils RFLC. You often talk to me about joint working in the interests of the City of Salford, its residents, families, children & young people, I therefore ask for your support and the support of Salford’s Conservative Group in fully delivering on the vision and aspirations articulated all those years ago when the original decisions were taken back in 2009/10.”

Councillor responds

Now Garrido has responded with an open letter of his own:

“Firstly, as I pointed out in my covering email to you, I am most disappointed that you have chosen to play politics on this important issue which in our opinion will have far reaching effects on our finances. You have used nearly two pages of your letter devoted to attacking the national Government and its economic policies rather than concentrating on whether we as a Council can afford to buy the Stadium. At this point can I be clear that all the comments I will be making refer to the ownership of the stadium and surrounding land and not to the Club (The Red Devils) but I necessarily have to refer to them during this letter because they are part of the financial considerations and the reason why you want to buy the stadium. We do not believe the only options for the club are for the Council to buy the Stadium.

“The other point I must make clear at this stage is that as you are aware the information Councillor Turner and myself have been supplied with to date including the various options being considered and the information discussed at the Growth and Prosperity Meeting and a subsequent briefing with officers in the past week have been on a strictly private and confidential basis which means that I have not been able to discuss the detail with the majority of my Conservative Group who of course make up the official opposition, nor can I impart any of this information in this open letter. Those reading this letter apart from yourself can draw their own conclusions as to whether this is fair or makes for good democratic decisions. Commercial reasons for gagging do not always outweigh democratic decision making.”

“Now let me start with a recap of the history concerning this stadium. In 2008 the first request to rescue the club, then at The Willows, was made for a loan from the Council to enable wages to be paid. In 2011 further loans were made totalling £1.5m to meet the clubs financial obligations. I understand that this loan still remains outstanding 12 years later (this was public knowledge having been the subject of a local newspaper report). Further loans were given as you know last year totalling £215,000 of which at least £175,000 is outstanding. Further sums of money have also been paid. Unfortunately it is in the public domain that the club have struggled and are still struggling to pay their way including full rent on the stadium.

“This unfortunately brings us to the situation which council taxpayers are now being asked to fund. Now as I have already said I cannot discuss any of the details surrounding the options the Council is considering but what I can say is that there are loans outstanding of £38m of which the Council is responsible for £30m and as far as I can see there is no realistic prospect of achieving sufficient income to pay off these loans together with any money required to purchase half the stadium from Peel (for the benefit of others reading this letter the stadium is currently owned by a company of which the Council and Peel are equal shareholders). You will of course say that the deal to purchase may also include the surrounding development land of which the Council will receive half of the sales proceeds as and when the land is sold but I doubt whether this income will be any where sufficient to pay of the debts the Council will be acquiring.”

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