LEAGUE EXPRESS can reveal that the board at Super League side Widnes Vikings have knocked back approached from a number of non-heartlands territories in regards to selling their Super League franchise and moving top-flight rugby out of the town.
League Express revealed earlier this year how the RFL had indicated to clubs they would be open to them moving their franchise to a new area such as London or Coventry, if they so desired.
Reports had previously linked Wakefield with interest in a move away – which the club subsequently denied – but League Express can reveal that Widnes have fielded expressions of interest from investors looking to develop profitable franchises in new cities.
It is understood that The Vikings have been assessed by potential suitors as being one of the most attractive and realistic targets by prospective Super League investors.
With a smaller fanbase than some clubs and limited fixed assets such as a tenant in their stadium, they have been identified as a potentially obtainable club for purchase.
The club have also been identified as having an attractive and replicable business model for investors, with the Vikings board bringing sustainability to the club in recent years – as well as the club’s Academy and foundation projects considered to be among the best in Super League.
The Vikings declined to comment when approached by League Express. However, it is understood the offers were rejected due to a commitment to their fanbase and the town retaining a top-flight presence.
Vikings directors still believe the franchise has a future in the town despite advances from areas and bidders elsewhere – with an Academy system that has developed more than 15 of their current first-team squad this year.
However, with increasing commercial pressures away from the field, it is understood the investors who had their approaches knocked back are continuing to monitor the situation in a bid to tempt the Vikings into selling their franchise.
In 2016, the Vikings achieved their highest-ever Super League finish of seventh – but the club struggled to capitalise on the position, with the Vikings experiencing a net reduction in membership income.
CEO James Rule revealed that while new members had bought season tickets, around £150,000 of non-renewals from 2016 members resulted in a reduction of income.
Crowds have also suffered this year as the Vikings struggle at the bottom of Super League; less than 4,000 home fans attended their most recent home fixture, the defeat to Hull FC.
In a recent statement on the club’s website ahead of Monday’s fixture against Leeds Rhinos, Rule appealed directly to stay-away supporters, saying: “At a time when we have faced an unprecedented number of injuries to our first team and struggled to find form, it can be tempting to stay away.
“I understand that, but in reality any reductions in our income restricts our ability to recruit both this year and next season.”