"It's ridiculous to think of the sport without a strong Salford...." Andrew Rosler
Yesterday, in the midst of the Salford Red Devils' precarious position in the Super League, Capricorn Security and the Supporters' Trust launched a crowdfunding appeal – the Squad Builder Fund – asking supporters to donate money to the club with "contributions to assist in the potential procurement of players, as we approach the all-important middle 8 section of the season".
The appeal runs until August 5th and, with eleven days to go, has currently amassed just over £2,000 from thirty two backers, plus an offline undisclosed donation from Capricorn Security.
"Capricorn's roots are based in Salford, we are huge fans of the city, the people and the club so we are delighted to have the opportunity to kick off this squad builder with the opening donation" said Paul King, Director of Capricorn Security "We are asking the Club's fantastic supporters to rally around and contribute as much as they can before transfer deadline on Friday..."*
While some supporters and fans of other clubs have greeted the appeal with derision, the facts are that the Salford Red Devils' fate is very much in the hands of the community.
The Salford Star recently interviewed director, Andrew Rosler, asking him some straight questions about the debts, the ownership, the possibility of relegation and the future, as a follow-up to the previous chat*...
Salford Star: Who actually owns Salford Red Devils?
Andrew Rosler: Marwan Koukash gifted shares to a new holding company called Salford RD Holdings and anyone can be a director or a member.
AR: I think we've had one inquiry from someone asking how they can be a part of the holding company but we never heard from them again.
SS: If a fan wants to go to a board meeting, can they?
AR: No. But for £10 a year supporters can join the Trust and have a direct dialogue with the club...What's important is that if you open the door to everyone it's not particularly efficient and you have to question people's motives but there is open communication with the club via the Trust.
I suppose the community owns all the shares but trying to define what 'community' is and how it works is a little bit difficult. We're looking at some non-executive appointments but it's all volunteer work. If someone wants to join just so they know what's going on, that's not going to add value so they need to be committed and have some time or resources.
SS: What is the status of the club's debts?
AR: The holding company owns the shares of the company that is heavily insolvent. Marwan agreed to write off his debts on condition that the club is sustainable until the end of next season. The club is responsible for the CVA payments, so even though the debts within the CVA relate to the previous regime Salford Football Club 1914, it was an obligation enforced by the League that Marwan's new company, Salford City Reds 2013 had to pay the debts.
SS: What is that total debt?
AR: That is complicated; some are in the CVA, some outside it, but it's around £2million.
SS: What are the chances of calling in debts from old directors, Wilkinson et al?
AR: The club has got no recourse against the old directors. That's the commercial decision of the creditors.
SS: The AJ Bell Stadium deal lasts until 2023. How much of a drain is playing at the place?
AR: It would be unfair for me to comment on commercial arrangements with the stadium company. What I would say is that we need to build up more revenue on match days. There isn't a club shop, and there's not even enough merchandise, so other than programmes and the lottery club doesn't make anything. If fans pay a premium for hospitality there's a slight margin. Our problem is that we need to take advantage of companies that go there on none match days – how we can get them involved in rugby league or some other activities.
SS: Is rugby league a dying sport?
AR: If you look at the Rugby League World Cup in 2021, it's significantly based in Manchester and has Northern Powerhouse funding; there will be huge investment in the area...The next three years will see the biggest promotion and community legacy ever of our sport. We're the only club in Greater Manchester, bar Wigan, and we're surrounded by a growing population and economy. Anyone who watches the game with no preconceptions will see they are getting a great product and we shouldn't be ashamed of promoting it.
SS: But attendances at the AJ Bell Stadium aren't great?
AR: It's a fallacy to say we were massively supported at the Willows, we weren't. We've never had a long term plan to grow the fan base; we've not looked at fans and people's attitudes to how they consume sport, and it's not just about Salford. I don't think it's fair to say that Salfordians don't care about the club. I just think that we haven't had the strategy in place to involve the community; we've not advertised it as a family day out.
What we do see is that forty million people visit the Trafford Centre and x million live within a drive of the Trafford Centre – it's the most accessible stadium in rugby league...as a destination it's probably got more going for it than any other sports club in the UK.
There's a significant number of houses, apartments, offices and retail planned for Trafford City. There's no bigger concentration of things like that in the country and our stadium is in the middle of it all. What we need to tap into is that...I think encouraging people to that area is quite easy...maybe we need to attract fans from outside our traditional heartlands, whether it's for one game or five games per year. We need to make it more enticing for everyone.
SS: What would you say to Mr Smith who's been slagging off Koukash on social media and hasn't been to watch the Reds for years. How are you going to get him back?
AR: I've been utterly dismayed and disillusioned by the decline in our club, for whatever reason, and the sport to some degree. You lose a few games and you lose hope, so I do get that. What we don't want to say is that the collection buckets are coming out, throw your fivers in otherwise we'll go out of existence – you need to sell some hope, based on fact.
There's long term issues that need to be solved immediately with little resources, so we're putting together something that we feel is meaningful and that people will buy into, new fans and old fans.
The vision will be based on re-engaging community clubs, youth development, and the need to build a transparent valid pathway for young lads to come to our club. As a Salford fan I obviously want to see a successful team, and it gives you some extra interest if you know you are developing your own talent. That is a huge initiative.
The club needs to be financially sustainable and if that means we spend less next year - because that's how big our cloth is - then that is sensible, although it's pretty difficult to get into debt when you have a zero credit rating! The business model will be that the more income we get in, the better our team will be.
SS: Would it be better to go down a league and then re-build and come back stronger, like some Premier League football clubs do?
AR: There's no point saying it will be a disaster if it's a possibility. It's how you get back up. Very few clubs have gone up. I think there will be some challenges if we go down and I don't think they are insurmountable.
We're talking about 100 years of history and the future, so the things we do off the pitch have to be relevant, irrespective of what division we're in. We need every fan and player to give 100% but we're hoping the fans and business community see what we're trying to achieve.
I do get the frustration and the anxiety that people just don't know what's going on but it's not for want of trying. I believe we have a really positive future and if any fan wants to look back over the last 15-20 years and say those were the good times I'll have an argument with them and say 'No!'.
The club has been supported by benefactors over a number of years, it's always had a negative balance sheet which means that every penny that goes in generally is consumed with improving the product on the pitch.
SS: So how is that future going to be secured?
AR: You need to make sure you've got a big sustainable team off the pitch. Key areas like marketing, business development, fan engagement, fan experience, keeping in touch with what other sports are doing and thinking about revenue away from match days...
...We've not done that and we've not got a benefactor, and in a few years SKY may not renew its contract and lot of clubs would lose significant income. Because of that we have to be extra creative, work extra hard and be extra efficient to make sure we can survive any of those shocks.
It gives us an opportunity to do something quite unique because we have to. I hope the fans are a little bit more patient and see that we're all responsible to contribute towards this. It's so important to the city and the sport not to lose a club in this area. It's ridiculous to think of the sport without a strong Salford...
To donate to the Squad Builder Fund – click here
Salford Red Devils play Leeds Rhinos this Friday – for details see the website – click here
See also previous Salford Star interview with Andrew Rosler – click here
Also see recent Salford Star article on the Salford Red Devils Foundation - click here