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Instead of leaving, Sale have now changed tack about the AJ Bell

By Sam Smith

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Sale have changed their stance regarding the AJ Bell and rather than seek to move the club elsewhere, as was planned last year when they teased out plans to build a new ground in Manchester, they are now negotiating to buy outright the stadium where they are currently playing. Their altered thinking has emerged in a Q&A posted on the Sharks website with CEO Sid Sutton, who outlined what Sale want to do and why owning their own ground is so important in the current climate.   


Let’s start with a bit of background – how did Sale get to this point?
“It has been an ambition of this club for a long time to own our stadium and to have a place to call home. We want a home with a brilliant atmosphere that the fans love to come to, and we want a stadium we are in control of. One of the options we looked at was building a new stadium at the Crossford Bridge Playing Fields, in Sale, but the Trafford Council withdrew its support for that plan in September.

“That was really disappointing for everyone at the club, partly because an awful lot of time, money and effort had gone into the process, but mostly because we believed that taking the club back to its roots in Sale was the best way to grow the club and secure our future.

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Matt Dawson and Mike Brown on their favourite rugby memories
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Matt Dawson and Mike Brown on their favourite rugby memories

“Since that point, our resolve to find our own home has remained as strong as ever and we have spent a huge amount of time exploring potential options. The option of acquiring the AJ Bell has been in the background for a little while but it became quite pressing when our existing tenancy agreement was due for renewal in July this year.

“We could have rolled over into another long-term tenancy, but we decide to accelerate the option of buying instead. It was very apparent that both the existing AJ Bell owners, the council and Peel Holdings, were keen to sell purely for commercial reasons. We firmly believe that if we’re going to continue growing the club on and off the pitch, we must invest into a home for Sale Sharks.”



Why is it so important for Sale to own their own stadium?
“This is about the fan experience. We want to be able to control what we can do at the stadium and at the moment we are very limited in terms of what we can do with things like having a band outside, running fan parks, choosing the catering and that kind of thing. If we enhance the fan experience, then we believe we will grow the fanbase and attract more fans to the AJ Bell and that will help us grow the club commercially too.

“The other point is that the cost of renting makes no financial sense. We want a stadium where we can create other revenues other than the match day. The financial structure of the existing lease agreement is not good for the club. This is all about ensuring the long-term viability of Sale Sharks. Owning our stadium is crucial to the future of the club.”

There are obviously other parties involved here – what does this mean for Salford City FC and Salford Red Devils?
“Owning our own stadium is so, so important, but we have said that we won’t put in an official bid until Salford Red Devils are being looked after or until they have been consulted and have found a place to go. That question has been a huge factor in the negotiations so far for me. 

“We are a community club and we have a good relationship with Salford Red Devils. We want to play an active role in securing their future and we’re doing everything we can to do that. During the due diligence process, it became apparent that financially remaining at the AJ Bell Stadium wasn’t an option for Salford Red Devils. 


“In addition, they openly said that they couldn’t afford to either buy the AJ Bell Stadium or stay there as a tenant so we actively sought a second party to buy the stadium with us. Salford City FC are a willing party with huge ambition and a need for a new home, they have also the financial ability to be a joint owner of the AJ Bell. 

“Both Salford City and ourselves are completely aligned that Salford Reds need to be catered for before any deal is done on the stadium. Several joint fans forums have been held to ensure all parties are being open, honest and crystal clear with their own fan base. Commercially it makes sense to us, but the most important thing to say is that the council and Salford Red Devils are still looking at other possibilities and we won’t be pushing forward until this is resolved.”

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