The ongoing row over the ownership of the Salford Red Devils stadium is already causing ‘significant financial hardship’ for the rugby league club.
This was revealed at a special Salford city council scrutiny meeting where councillors opposed to the authority becoming 100 per cent owners of the stadium were voicing objections.
The council already owns 50% of what is now the City of Salford Community Stadium (COSCOS) – also used by Sale Sharks – but property giant Peel who own the other half wants out of the deal.
City mayor Paul Dennett wants the council to buy Peel’s share and although the Salford cabinet has agreed in principle to a deal, Conservative councillors led by Coun Robin Garrido are fiercely opposed to the move.
Coun Garrido had succeeded in getting the decision ‘called-in’ – the process by which major decisions are reviewed – so convening a special meeting of Salford’s growth and prosperity scrutiny committee. But after a stormy meeting, the committee decided not to refer the decision back to the cabinet for further consideration.
As well as submissions from Mr Dennett and Coun Garrido, the committee also heard from Red Devils officials who took exception to suggestions from the Conservatives that they were not truly a community club.
Board member Oli Randall told the committee: “The delays over the clarification of the future ownership of the stadium is already causing significant financial hardship for it tenants. We can’t set prices for season tickets, which should already have been placed on sale in July. The current owners and management team have been in place for just four years during which time the Covid lockdowns devastated the revenue and commercial relationships during the last 12 months.”
Executive director Paul Trainor referred to ‘disrespectful comments’ made about the [lack of] community engagement of the club.
“We have hundreds of students and children a week playing in our rising stars programme, our building for the future programme engages with 100 schools across Greater Manchester, many of them in Salford," he said. “I think we are more than doing our part in terms of engaging with young people. It’s more than just playing on pitches, it’s about our players visiting schools, community clubs, and all the positive work going on around mental health – there’s a whole host of things that the club is doing for that which is integral to our work as a community club.”
Coun Garrido said: “Salford Reds are an important part of this city’s sporting heritage, and long may they continue to be so, but it does not need the city mayor or the council to purchase the stadium for this to happen.”
And he disputed Mr Dennett’s assertion that the future of the 150-year-old super league club could only be safeguarded if the city council took full control of the stadium.
He added: “The city mayor talks about improving sport throughout Salford by owning the stadium but they have been part owners for 13 years and what has been achieved? Have we seen a proliferation of new local sports clubs, particularly for our young people, I am afraid not.
“I am bound by confidentiality not to talk about negotiations currently being carried out with the city’s existing partner Peel, but whatever the detail it will inevitably cost this city millions of pounds bearing in mind that the city is already liable for £30million of the original £38m from the borrowings to build the stadium [in 2009/10] and towards initial operating costs.”
However, Mr Dennett hit back saying: “We made it clear, as the executive, that this is an in-principle decision, which means the decision has not yet been made. Therefore, there will be further reports brought to the mayoral team for consideration which will potentially address some of Coun Garrido’s concerns with regard to the finances.”
He said the city council was currently in the middle of negotiations and defended keeping elements of the dealing out of the public domain.
“Many of the reasons for this are in line with the law,” he said. “We have been advised that everything that is debated in private, has to be debated in private.”
Mr Dennett went on: “We are in the middle of negotiating an operating lease with someone who inevitably will run the stadium for the city council. And what we’re hoping will happen is that will generate a financial return that will come back to the city council every year while at the same time de-risking the entire operation of the stadium.”