The AJ Bell Stadium has a capacity of 15,000. Credit: Google Earth Studio

Salford ground swap hopes dashed

The proposed move by Salford City FC to the AJ Bell Stadium looks doomed, as the bid by its partnership with Sale Sharks to buy the site failed to meet the vendor’s aspirations.

Both the football club and rugby league side Salford Red Devils, co-tenant with the Sharks at the AJ Bell, suggested the council is seeking sole ownership of the venue.

Over the course of this year, negotiations have taken place over a deal that would see the ambitious football club buy the AJ Bell in partnership with rugby union club Sale, allowing the Red Devils to leave and take over what might for them be a more fitting venue at Moor Lane.

The Red Devils and Sharks pay rent to Coscos, a joint venture between Salford City Council and Peel L&P, on terms the league club has described as “unsustainable”. Both rugby clubs have spoken of their desire for more control over matchday activity and income streams.

The football club, headed by Manchester United’s Class of 92, had been looking to buy the AJ Bell Stadium in alliance with the Sharks for 18 months.

SCFC has built up the Peninsula Stadium at Moor Lane to a 5,000 capacity, the maximum it can realistically achieve at the site, which has no room for additional facilities.

The club thus wants to leave for somewhere that can accommodate its aspirations to grow support and become a more sustainable business. The AJ Bell Stadium, with a capacity of 12000 (with potential to expand to 15,000) and plentiful hospitality facilities, is just such a venue.

However, those plans now look to be dashed. In a statement posted on Salford City’s website yesterday, the club said:

“We would like to provide an update on our proposed move to the AJ Bell Stadium.

“As supporters are all aware we have been in talks with Salford City Council for 18 months to purchase the AJ Bell Stadium.

“However, we were informed in the last two weeks by Salford City Council that they will now purchase the Stadium outright and that we wouldn’t be considered.

“Whilst this news came as a surprise to us, we will continue to monitor closely the progression of the purchase, but at this moment our immediate future is to remain at The Peninsula Stadium. There will be no further comment from the Club.”

In a brief statement, Salford Red Devils said:

“Salford Red Devils are aware of the council’s intention to purchase the stadium outright.

“We are currently in dialogue to secure a long-term tenure that will present the club with the opportunity to increase match day controls and the associated income streams to ensure the long-term sustainability of the club.”

The local authority, for its part, did not address the specific assertion that it is seeking sole ownership of the AJ Bell, a motorway-adjacent asset surrounded by acres of developable land.

A council spokesperson said: “The council and Coscos have been in extensive negotiations with partners about the sale of the stadium – but unfortunately we have not received a proposal which satisfies our aspirations for this great community asset. We are now looking at other future options.

“It is important to note that we have been liaising closely with executives at Salford Red Devils and Sale Sharks who are fully briefed.

“We will provide further updates in the new year.”

Sale Sharks CEO Sid Sutton said: “We will continue to have a long-term home at our stadium, however we can confirm that following 18 months of discussions, our proposed bid to buy the stadium as part of a joint venture has been declined.

“We are now working very closely with Salford City Council to ensure we reach a robust agreement that allows Sale Sharks to both enhance and control the matchday experience for the benefit of our supporters, and benefit commercially from matchday activity.

“We have always maintained that taking control of the stadium is integral to the long-term future of Sale Sharks and that remains the case. But equally, we were clear that we wouldn’t proceed with any course of action until Salford Red Devils have secured a place to play.

“Salford City Council’s proposed agreement will enable this to happen while ensuring that the stadium remains the home of Sale Sharks.”

The desire of the existing Red Devils leadership to leave may not be an issue for long. In November, it was reported that local businessman Sebastian Gerrard was bidding to buy both the club and potentially the AJ Bell. The club needs to act one way or another, as its current lease expires in 2023.

Your Comments

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Great news! The rugby league club got the venue built after 10 years of hard graft. Sale swam in and circled once it was opened. Hope Salford RLFC can find an investor to make their rent affordable. The current capacity is only 12K, with room to increase to 15K.

By Satan

    Thanks for comment – article amended re current capacity

    By Neil Tague

Very shocking decision with a lack of long-term vision from Salford City Council. Sharks and SCFC are hugely ambitions and are both on course for future success whilst the Red Devils have already stated how the stadium is unsustainable for them and the future of Rugby League looks bleak. Sharks and SCFC will most likely explore options for building their own stadiums either solely or in partnership and leave the stadium to SCC and an unsustainable rugby club.

By Big Dub

Why on earth does the Council want to own such an asset. Would they not be best retaining a ground rent interest and sell a long lease interest for a capital sum

By Anonymous

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