15th August 2019, 20:29
END OF AN ERA AS BULLS CONFIRM MOVE TO TETLEY STADIUM FOR 2020
READ Andrew Chalmers' latest column - as he details the club's temporary move to the Tetley's Stadium, the reasons why and discusses talks are already ongoing regarding a return to the city.
“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I’ve heard this quote before, and its underlying meaning rightly sets out the best way to approach the Odsal dilemma in what is a very complex problem to solve.
For a considerable period, Odsal Stadium has seen the Bradford Bulls journey from global world club champions, to League 1 participants, as the club in its various forms transitioned through the relegation and promotion trap door.
From 2002, when Bradford Bulls Holdings entered into a 150 year lease with the City of Bradford Council, a set of circumstances were enacted, whereby the future burden of an aging Council owned Odsal Stadium, effectively transferred to the leaseholder. Whilst some will point to the fact that the lease transaction at the time allowed the construction of the Southbank Stand, as the then Bradford Bulls Holdings received a cheque worth around 4 million pounds, it also passed across from the Council the inevitable maintenance burden that accompanies an infrastructure asset such as a large aging stadium.
The Rugby Football League stepped in to assume the lease-hold interest around 2012, to protect rugby league being played at Odsal, and in doing so enabled the club at that time tenure to play, but under challenging economic circumstances.
The reality is that Odsal Stadium, should have had a “sinking fund” set up to deal with the inevitable repair, redevelopment and replacement of the stadium. This is like an account allocating funds over a long period of time to deal with the inevitable issues and of course replacement at the end of its economic life. From my observation, this didn’t happen, and was one of the major concerns I flagged when I was being asked to sign a lease of Odsal Stadium. The other concerns were the unknown maintenance cost, the unknown burden associated with complying with future health and safety issues, the true cost of opening and running the stadium, and what is an uneconomic business rates and rent burden. For all these reasons I refused to sign a lease.
In the 946 days since I arrived in Bradford the club have indeed answered sufficient of these questions to know that 1st September 2019, will represent the last date that the Bradford Bulls will play at Odsal Stadium, representing an end of an era. Our NO DEAL – BEXIT scenario will indeed become reality as the Bulls vacate to the Tetley Stadium, Dewsbury for the next two years, thanks to an extremely favourable deal signed with Dewsbury Rams owner Mark Sawyer.
The fact that no deal was able to be agreed with the Bradford City Council and the Rugby Football League, isn’t a reflection on the hard working efforts of the executive officers of both organisations. But the fact remains as I clearly outlined – that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, wasn’t going to happen.
Valley Parade was unable to be considered due to the uneconomic cost associated with modifying their pitch, and their existing lease terms, and underlying expensive facility costs and existing commercial agreements. Horsfall Stadium, despite the intensive efforts of our friends at Bradford (Park Avenue), was ruled out on the basis that the ground was simply too small, and required the club to operate a ballot for those fans wishing to attend. Expanding the capacity was considered, however the cost estimates associated with expanding the capacity to 5000, were uneconomic, and unfortunately the stadium location meant exemptions being required to operate at that capacity, which in consultation with the Bradford Council, seemed unlikely to be given – for valid reasons.
Our new home, Tetley Stadium, Dewsbury is approximately 10 miles from the M606, and is a boutique and intimate rugby league stadium, with an existing capacity of 5,100, and expandable to 8,000 if required. Having played there and undertaken significant due diligence, this stadium represents an affordable economic choice for the Bradford Bulls, whilst we work through the task of developing an equally affordable boutique stadium development in Bradford.
Our home for the next two seasons, is not only painted in our red amber and black colours, but also boasts covered and uncovered terracing, covered seating in the North Stand, along with indoor hospitality, and corporate boxes, and parking for over 500 vehicles. I can envisage Tetley Stadium being sold out this next season, and what a fabulous atmosphere for the Bradford Bulls fans to enjoy. We will also include subsidised bus transport options from Odsal Stadium to Tetley Stadium on match days to assist our Bulls fans enjoy supporting their team.
I can also confirm we have already begun the process of identifying potential alternative stadium development sites, and one of these has been raised with the Bradford Council already. We have also had discussion with an experienced stadium developer in the region, and have signed a memorandum of understanding with this large group to work to evaluate an affordable development option within the Bradford city boundaries. I emphasise affordable because it’s important that the club can meet the future cost of being based there.
This will realistically be a two to four year process, but as I am outlining, it’s something we have already commenced work on and are committed to. I will keep you updated on this initiative, as I understand the importance of the club having its long term home within the city. This club will always be the Bradford Bulls, whilst I’m the guardian of its ownership.
Serendipitously, we play the Dewsbury Rams at Tetley Stadium this Sunday, so a great opportunity for all our fans to bounce down to check out the facility and perhaps eye up which seat or terrace they wish to reserve for the next season, as our season ticket launch will commence shortly. Additional bar and food capacity to cater for the sheer numbers for next season will be added in time for kick off next season.
Some of you will point out that the Bulls are a decent chance to make the playoffs this year assuming we can overcome Dewsbury, Sheffield and Rochdale. What happens if we won promotion to Super League whilst being committed to this ground for the 2020 and 2021 seasons? Well, the simple answer is that we would expand the temporary seating capacity at Dewsbury, and upgrade the lighting to meet the TV broadcast requirements. Our team will certainly be attempting to win every game as we wind towards the regular season close for 2019, and of course if we make the playoffs, leave nothing in reserve and try and win promotion. That goal has never changed.
I believe this decision is firmly in the best long term interests of the club, provides financial sustainability, protects the history and legacy of the Bradford Bulls, and allows the Bulls to focus on developing young rugby talent through our Tong high performance academy, under the careful eye of our coaching and development staff. Young players whom we all want to see representing this club, its legion of fans, and all its stakeholders in years to come.