A fortnight ago, Sports Shorts commented upon the liquidation of Bradford Bulls and the challenges that this posed to Rugby League’s governing body, the Rugby Football League (“RFL”).
To briefly recap the events that preceded the liquidation of the former World Club and Super League Champions and its immediate aftermath:
- Bradford Bulls, a former giant of Rugby League, but now competing in the second tier of professional Rugby League (the Kingstone Press Championship), was liquidated on 3 January 2017, having enduring three administrations within four years;
- the RFL swiftly sought expressions of interest from parties who wished to set up a new professional rugby league club situated in Bradford, with bids to be submitted by midday on 9 January 2017;
- this new Bradford side would be offered a place in the Kingstone Press Championship, albeit they would commence the season with an automatic 12 point deduction;
- the RFL set out a list of conditions that any new owner would have to fulfil, which included providing evidence that they had experience in running Rugby League and/or other sporting clubs and could provide personal guarantees that a resurrected Bradford side could fulfil its fixtures throughout 2017, 2018 and 2019; and
- the RFL had total discretion in reaching a decision on the expressions of interest it received, with that decision being final and with no right of appeal.
Whilst some within the Rugby League community expressed reservations about the approach adopted by the RFL, this didn’t deter twelve different parties submitting expressions of interest and four bids eventually being lodged.
A week ago, RFL confirmed that it had struck a deal with a preferred bidder and, on Tuesday of this week, the RFL formally confirmed Andrew Chalmers and Graham Lowe as the new owners of the soon-to-be-minted Bradford side. It is understood that Chalmers, a former New Zealand Rugby League Chairman, was reported to have been the same party that had a previous bid rejected prior to Christmas 2016 by Bradford Bulls’ then administrators , despite it being rubber-stamped by the RFL at the time. Given that Lowe also has a rich Rugby League pedigree, as former coach of Wigan, the pair certainly appear to fit at least one of the RFL’s requirements, namely to have experience in running Rugby League sides.
Indeed, the RFL stated that it was “confident that the consortium selected to run a new club in Bradford will provide an exciting and stable future for rugby league in the city” and, on Wednesday, purchased the assets of the old club from administrators, in readiness for the transfer of those assets to the new owners.
Given that Chalmers registered a company with the name Bradford Bulls 2017 at Companies House on 13 January 2017, it seems that the resurrected Bradford side will go by the same name it has adopted since its re-branding at the inception of the Super League in 1996. More importantly, the new ownership means that, not only will there will be side to carry on Bradford’s proud heritage in Rugby League, but that the Kingstone Press Championship would have a full complement of teams for the 2017-2018 season.
Inevitably, the process has not been without its critics, with one party who had submitted a bid complaining that the RFL were “amateurish” after it failed to inform them that their bid had been rejected. Moreover, the RFL has rejected claims that, by allowing the new Bradford side to start life in the Kingstone Championship, it has sent out the wrong message regarding the financial management (or rather the consequences of the mismanagement) of Rugby League clubs.
Indeed, the RFL Chief Executive firmly rejected the suggestion that the saga would cause a race to administration by clubs who had failed to marshal their resources correctly, whilst the RFL’s Chief Operating Office, Ralph Rimmer, stressed that thorough due diligence had been conducted of the new ownership’s business affairs, no doubt conscious that critics will cease upon any further financial travails at Bradford as an example that the RFL should have handled the matter differently (whether that criticism is justified or not).
In the meantime, Bradford’s first game of the season on 5 February 2017 is fast approaching. With a new coach in the form of Australian Geoff Tovey now appointed, the ownership’s attention can turn to assembling and readying a playing squad to attempt to claw back the 12 point deduction imposed on the new side and avoid relegation to League 1. Bradford fans, and many within the Rugby League Community, will now hope that they can focus on purely sporting matters for the foreseeable future.