Rochdale Hornets are in serious trouble, again. The town’s rugby league team owe £190,000, of which £55,000 needs to be paid to the taxman before 14th January just to keep the side afloat. To be frank, even if that amount is raised (which would be nothing short of remarkable), it is hard to see a future for Hornets at Spotland. With attendances down to around 550, Hornets can no longer justify playing at Spotland when they clearly cannot afford it.
It’s not as simple as apparently leaving the stadium and downsizing; Hornets received a loan of £50,000 from the Rugby Football League in 2007 and put up shares in the Stadium Company as collateral; therefore if Hornets go bust the RFL would own a 45% stake in the Stadium Company (the other shareholders are RAFC’s 45% and Rochdale MBC’s 10%). If this does happen, the RFL would have an equal share in Spotland to that of the Dale, but are unlikely to want that; it would be a drain on the RFL’s funds for no apparent advantage. The RFL would likely sell. But to whom?
The obvious answer would be to RAFC itself. If the RFL are only interested in regaining the £50,000 value of the loan to Hornets, RAFC could buy 45% of the Stadium Company for a bargain price. But at that price it is likely to attract interest from various outside parties, and RAFC have no first-option to buy these shares due to them being the RFL’s and not Hornets. In short, it could end up with an outsider with no interest in either football or rugby owning a 45% share in the Stadium Company and being able to veto any plans that RAFC have for the stadium.
The idea of Rochdale AFC owning Spotland is a very attractive one, but there are still countless obstacles to overcome before that happens. Come January 14th, Hornets might have raised the cash and appeased the Taxman for at least another six months before the whole thing rears its ugly head once again. What is clear is that Hornets cannot continue at Spotland given their dire attendances. But the inevitable downsizing might take years and might have some negative consequences for RAFC and the town itself.
With hindsight, it seems that Hornets should have got out of Spotland sooner than later. When given the chance to be bought out of the Stadium Company by RAFC, they instead chose in conjunction with the RFL to receive the £50,000 loan with the hope of improving attendances and becoming more self-sufficient. Instead it seems all they have done is build up more debt, get behind on more rent and potentially lose the shares they have in Spotland, which is the club’s biggest asset. The future looks grim for Hornets in their current situation whatever the outcome on 14th January.