Last week, the transfer of ownership at Super League side Salford Red Devils was finally complete, as a group of local businessmen and women assumed control of the club from previous owner Marwan Koukash. Here, League Express senior writer Aaron Bower meets one of those members of the trust, Andrew Rosler, to discuss the future of Salford.
Aaron Bower (AB): Now the takeover is complete, have you had time to draw breath?
Andrew Rosler (AR): I can’t afford myself the luxury of drawing breath. This isn’t a traditional takeover as in what you’d normally see -. Every day there are new people who I wouldn’t have dreamt would be interested are coming forward and the things we’ve been working on behind the scenes thinking they’d work, we now know they’ll work. There’s almost too much potential, but it’s a case now of getting on with it.
AB: Explain the structure of the ownership, please.
AR:In essence, the club used to be owned by Marwan. But the company that trades as Salford Red Devils is known as Salford City Reds 2013. All that has happened is that the shares aren’t owned by Marwan, they’re owned by a parent company which we’re all members of. I’m the only executive member of the trading club though, so I’ll have more day-to-day involvement.
AB: So how are the shares distributed within that holding company?
AR: Well, the holding company owns all the shares, we don’t own any of it as individuals, we’re just guarantors for the company. We’ll never receive any money – we will eternally be unpaid. If the club does well and has surplus cash it will be reinvested into the club. We can never sell.
AB: Will the four of you ever be financially reimbursed?
AR: No. Absolutely not. If someone incurs some significant expense they may with consent be reimbursed.
AB: Will you – or have you already – invested your own money?
AR: I have made some investment financially – but I’ve always been a sponsor so I’ve just done a bit more sponsorships than normal. It’s not envisaged though, and that’s not why we came in. We’re here to bring significant commercial and financial expertise so the club runs as a business.
AB: What are the main benefits of operating as a community club?
AR: Well we’re attracting the sort of businesses we wouldn’t normally have access to. For example, the University have always been involved but because we’re trying to portray this as a hub of community activity, we’re getting far more buy-in from the schools, businesses and University. They know it’s a team effort.
AB: Have you sensed that buy-in?
AR: It was promised initially but not validated before. Now the takeover is real and has happened, absolutely. It’s not just about Salford too. Our goal is to make sure there are five-year-olds running around the parts of Greater Manchester where nobody really knows what rugby league is playing the game. It doesn’t take billions, it’s just a bit of redistribution on what we’re spending our money on. Well no other club can compete with what we’ve got on our doorstep. I think it’s quite unique. I live on the edge of a hill in Bolton and out of my window, I can see the Pennines, six or seven towns and cities and billions in economic activity – but no other Super League club. We’ve got Media City, the Trafford Centre and so much more on our doorstep. Those opportunities don’t exist anywhere else.
AB: The club generated a loss for years, how long before you’re breaking even.
AR: This season.
AB: How realistic is that?
AR: It’s got to be realistic. Anyone can pull down accounts from Companies House. I can’t go into too much detail but I’ve had significant exposure to the finer details of those. The club has made historical losses but they’ve reduced quite drastically over the last two or three years, so following that curve of reduction, we will be in a position to at least break even, probably even turn a modest profit this year.
AB: But with such historical losses.. how does that happen?
AR: The club hasn’t had investment in its back office like this, probably ever. The four of us are all professionals and we’re bringing that expertise to the club for absolutely nothing and also can rely on our own professional contacts. That level of support and advice would cost a fortune. That means the business side of the club is as good as, probably better than, any other club. It has underperformed from a commercial point of view for as long as I can remember. Now, it’s already better this season than it ever has been.
AB: The club’s most recent accounts are three months overdue – when will that be resolved?
AR: We’ve committed to having those concluded and filed before the end of January.
AB: But how sustainable is this project of crowds of 2,000 people?
AR: The attendance figures do worry me. There is no way there should be an empty seat in the stadium – we’re not trying hard enough. We need to motivate away fans to come here and make it a good experience with everything we’ve got surrounding us as well as our own fans. We want to encourage more buy-in from neighbouring towns, too. We’ve got 350 people working actively in a Supporters Trust which we’ve empowered to look after the running of the stadium on match-days, so the experience on match-days will belong to them and we’ll have structure dialogue with them on a frequent basis.
AB: In the short-term, this season, perhaps, how high can you get the crowds?
AR: Hand on heart, I’m expecting that we could sell out one or two games: maybe even more. To sell out against Catalans would be fantastic because I’ve already discussed with the Council the possibility of having a ‘Celebrate Salford’ day.
AB: But Marwan let everyone in for free against Catalans and only 4.827 turned up..
AR: That was a terrific gesture to support the victims of the Manchester Arena bombing. But it was a very difficult time and there was a lot of activity going on and some people may have took the view that they’d done their bit. If people come here knowing the money they’re putting in makes the club sustainable and help the community, there’s a bit more buy-in I think.
AB: What are season ticket numbers like compared to last year?
AR: A lot of people have held off I think. If nobody buys season tickets but pays on the gate, we’re doing alright. I’m not getting too hung up about that; the numbers are a little bit down but I’m fairly confident we can nudge the final numbers up by 150 or 200. If we sell another 300 it’s our record number for season tickets. Every single game will be promoted uniquely – something that wasn’t done last year.
AB: Onto the stadium – what is the club’s relationship with Peel Holdings and the Council like?
AR: The relationship with Peel was and is good, and I think the relationship with the Council will now be as it should be. I’ve met Peel on a number of occasions, they’re very supportive of Salford and they’ve got big plans to invest significant sums in the area which will elevate its profile and hopefully have a knock-on effect for us.
AB: Sale Sharks have made noises to say they may move – does what they do directly impact on Salford?
AR: Well nobody has actually said the ground is for sale, first of all. Neither Peel nor Salford Council have to sell it; Sale may need to buy it though because of commercial decisions and they want to control the revenue. We would like the same thing ourselves. I think this stadium should be controlled or belong to the very club and community it was built for.
AB: Is it a realistic proposition in the next few years you could own this stadium?
AR: It’d be unrealistic for us not to have achieved that – it doesn’t make sense. If we can take ownership of the stadium it guarantees the future of this club. Even if it’s in a few years, if there’s a plan there, we will work closely with the joint venture that owns it. Nobody is after making a profit; we can and will assist with the aspirations of Peel and the Council.
AB: Are you committed to spending the full salary cap this year?
AR: There’s not much room; I’m sure Ian Watson would like to squeeze one or two more in. We can spend what we can afford – the key from that perspective is having a joined-up approach with the performance side of the business and the Foundation. There’s no strategy at the moment for getting the lads from the fields of Salford to the first-team – that pathway is crucial.
AB: Does that mean you’ll reintroduce an Academy?
AR: Well we have a Category 3 Academy. There’s no Category 2 Academy anymore. We’ve got projects coming up which will get kids boys and girls playing Rugby League in Salford and the talent pathway is very important to us..