By Jason McKeown
The Bradford Bulls will not be groundsharing at Valley Parade next season, according to Bradford City’s Director of Communications Ryan Sparks.
Last week the Bulls owner Andrew Chalmers set an August 15 deadline to decide where the Rugby League club will play from September, arguing Odsal has “reached the term of its economic life” and needs significant investment. It has been claimed that unless the RFL or Bradford Council can provide assistance with maintenance, the Bulls will not continue to play at Odsal, where they currently pay £72,000 a year in rent to the RFL.
Valley Parade is one of three alternative options that has been mooted in the Telegraph & Argus, along with Bradford Park Avenue’s Horsfall Stadium and Dewsbury Rams’ Tetley’s Stadium, 13 miles outside of Bradford. But whilst City and the Bulls have held informal discussions, Ryan confirmed that no formal talks have taken place about the Bulls returning to Valley Parade.
Given Bradford City currently pay a significantly higher amount of rent to the Gordon Gibb family pension fund as part of the lease agreement at Valley Parade – plus other operating expenses, which added to the rent cost City a seven-figure amount annually – it would surely be significantly more expensive for the Bulls to move in with the Bantams and share these costs.
Chalmers has also written in the T&A arguing the council should look into developing a purpose-built stadium for both of the city’s major sporting clubs. But whilst the Bantams aren’t ruling out a long-term collaboration with the Bulls, they continue to see Valley Parade as their home.
Ryan confirmed that City’s Valley Parade lease is due to run out in 2028, at which point there is an option in City’s favour to take up a further 25-year lease. This is still almost a decade away, but at the moment it is an option the club would be likely to take up. If someone was to build a brand new stadium in Bradford, it would naturally be of interest. But City look set for to remain at Valley Parade for decades to come.
Ryan was speaking at the latest fans media group meeting, on Monday night, alongside City’s Relationship Manager/Player Liaison Laura Hutchinson. Joining myself in putting questions to the pair was Cathy Louise (Bradford City History Makers Facebook group), Rod Lawson (Bantams Talk) and Nick Kitchen (Bantams Small Talk). With the summer holiday season in full flow, many other regular fans media attendees couldn’t make it.
One of the biggest talking points amongst supporters over the past fortnight has been the financial windfall City have received as part of Oli McBurnie’s £17 million move from Swansea City to Sheffield United. If there were still some supporters who doubted City had a sell-on clause – following Sun journalist Alan Nixon claiming otherwise earlier this summer – Ryan and Laura confirmed that City have indeed received 15% of what Swansea have received so far.
Whilst it could mean there is some extra money for Gary Bowyer, the club will not be recklessly blowing this bonus money on big signings. There are FFP rules to consider, for one thing. And, besides, spending the best part of £2.5 million on extra players could backfire badly if the club failed to earn promotion this season.
Instead, the McBurnie monies will allow City to be on a much sounder financial footing, as the club continues to recover from the damaging over-spending of last season.
I asked Ryan and Laura if all of this meant Bowyer’s transfer plans were somewhat in limbo, until high-earning players can be moved on. They played this theory down, stressing that Bowyer is happy with his squad and was in full control to bring in and move out players as he wishes, within the agreed budgets. Time will tell if others leave.
They stressed there are still four weeks to go before the League Two transfer window closes. The shutting of the Premier League and Championship windows this week is likely to see the loan market pick up, as players not in the first team plans of clubs in the top two divisions inevitably to want to move somewhere else for regular football.
Laura, who midway through last season started to combine her relationship manager role with the player liaison position, commented on the contrast in the atmosphere amongst the players. Unlike last season, the training ground is now full of laughter – and the players are upbeat and excited about the season ahead.
Much of the questions on the evening came from Bantams Talk message board users, which Rod had coordinated to bring up. This included criticism over the fact the club’s iFollow commentary and highlights packages hadn’t worked over the weekend, which Ryan explained was not Radio Leeds’ fault, but due to some issues at the Football League end which will be rectified.
Another talking point was whether the club could look to sell half year season tickets at December time, which could entice back supporters who didn’t renew after last season. Ryan confirmed this is something that might be considered, but it all depends on how City are doing at the time. Laura added the club sold around 300 further season tickets (including flexi-cards) around the Liverpool game, such was the extra level of interest in the Bantams that the glamorous pre-season friendly attracted.
It was confirmed that City are now publishing accurate matchday attendances, with the 14,810 crowd against Cambridge a true reflection of how many tickets were sold. All season ticket sales are still included in the overall figure, regardless of how many season ticket holders attend each game. The total attendance incorporates total season ticket holders, matchday flexi-card sales, one-off matchday sales, and away fans.
There were questions about the total number of season ticket and flexi-cards sold for this season, and though Ryan and Laura did not have the exact figure to hand, they confirmed there are roughly 12,000 season ticket holders and around 1,500 flexi-card holders, bringing the overall total to just over 13,500.
Just short of 1,000 priority away cards have been sold for this season. Ryan confirmed that for every away fixture, priority card holders will have the first opportunity to buy a ticket, then it will be open to season ticket holders, and then go on general sale. Saturday’s trip to Grimsby is a 1,800 sell out, and the uptake was so strong the club never got to general sale stage.
One Bantams Talk user put forward a question about Stefan Rupp and how interested he really is in City. Ryan and Laura revealed Rupp was at the Cambridge game, and that even when he is not present he is in regular contact with Julian. Ryan added that Stefan has trust in his staff to do their jobs and doesn’t feel the need to be over in Bradford all the time, checking in.
Back on current matters, Ryan and Laura were quizzed about the Valley Parade big screen and if more could be done with it, such as goal replays, highlights of recent games, and more information about the opposition. This is something they will look into.
Then there were the toilets, with Cathy and Rod providing anecdotal stories on the run-down facilities in parts of the ground. Ryan and Laura took notes to investigate certain issues, but added there is now a matchday cleaner for each stand, who check and clean the toilets during the game. A lack of hot water is an ongoing issue, but the water tank at Valley Parade struggles to cope with large crowds and would cost a significant amount of money to replace.
It was another enjoyable meeting, and it is to the club’s credit that they are prepared to meet and engage with fans media groups. No question went unanswered, and this greater level of transparency is valued.
If you represent a Bradford City fans media group and would like to come along to a future meeting (the next one will be September) please get in touch so I can include you in the invite. And let me end with an open offer to one particular fans media group. The Cows Arse – you are 100% invited to the next meeting. The club confirmed they would love to hear and answer your questions.