Should fans take the Bulls by the horns?
The Bradford Bulls Supporters Trust was set up three years ago by volunteers who shared two beliefs: the success of the Bulls was vital to the well-being of Bradford; and fans could do more to help than just turn up and cheer.
Not blessed with much spare time and confident the club's directors must know what they were doing, the trust decided to focus its attention on the team's talent pipeline. And so BullBuilder was born, a democratic organisation designed to subsidise the club's academy and junior teams.
What the trust was not designed to do, however, was form a board in waiting for that moment when those directors who must know what they are doing announce the club needs £1m by the end of April or else. That moment came late last month when Bulls chairman Peter Hood revealed the gory truth of the club's finances.
In 2004, Iestyn Harris joined Bradford Bulls after a contractual fight with former club Leeds. Photo: Getty
Having just asked the fans to cough up half of that million by 6 April, Hood added: "If we haven't got the cash, we can't stay alive. It's that serious." This warning was repeated by chief executive Ryan Duckett when he said "there might not be a Bulls" if the "Quest for Survival" appeal did not work.
But it did work - just - and the board must now turn pledges into cheques and implement its plan for raising the second £500,000 it says it so desperately needs. That plan is likely to involve more traditional fundraising methods than those of recent weeks. Instead of sponsored car washing, memorabilia auctions and bucket collections, we should expect news of "fresh investment" and perhaps the sale of a player or two.
More of the same then. The same approach that has left one of rugby league's most famous names on the brink of bankruptcy and the same business model that is producing losses throughout the sport.
Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting things to turn out differently was Albert Einstein's definition of insanity. Nobody is suggesting the directors of the Bulls, or any other club, are insane, but this crisis should prompt serious analysis of what has gone wrong and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.
The Super League's 1996 launch as a summer competition undoubtedly revitalised the game. Few clubs, in fact, did better than Bradford out of the move to the warmer months and pay television. Having swapped the old name of "Northern" for the sexier "Bulls", they won four of the first 10 Super League titles, claiming two Challenge Cups and three World Club Challenges to boot. But the last of those league triumphs came in 2005.
Subsequent seasons have seen the team that once featured stars like the Paul brothers, Tevita Vaikona, James Lowes, Paul Deacon and Lesley Vainikolo fade badly. They have not made the play-offs since 2008.
This run has unsurprisingly had a negative impact on the finances, but what really did for the Bulls was their most bullish move, the 2004 signing of Iestyn Harris when he returned to league after a stint in union.
Harris might not have set the world alight in the 15-man game but he was a points machine in league. He was also, unfortunately for the Bulls, supposed to give his old club, Leeds Rhinos, first refusal on any 13-man code comeback.
Already handsomely paid, Harris would go on to cost the Bulls considerably more once the Rhinos finished with them in the courts. The settlement has never been made public but a look at the club's accounts reveals "administrative costs" of £1.3m in 2009 and £1.2m in 2010. A final chunk of "appropriate compensation and costs" was due last year.
The knock-on effect of this calamitous transfer coup was that in January the Bulls were forced to sell the lease on their Odsal home to the Rugby Football League, who then rent it back to the club. This deal brought in £1.2m but it hardly touched the sides as £700,000 went back to the RFL to settle a loan and the rest was swallowed by other creditors, the taxman prominent amongst them.
If that was not bad enough, the deal had the unintended consequence of changing the terms of the club's relationship with the Royal Bank of Scotland. The bank denies cutting the Bulls' overdraft but there will be no more credit until "alternative security" is provided.
For most Super League clubs, "alternative security" means finding a sugar daddy who is willing to make good the annual losses that Hood claims average £500,000 a club. This, he says, has risen 10-fold in just six years.
Earlier this month, Hull Kingston Rovers chairman Neil Hudgell described the game as "bankrupt", while St Helens chairman Eamonn McManus said the Super League could not sustain its current 14 teams.
Tweaking the numbers and reallocating TV cash would probably help, for a while, but there might be another solution. Why not build on a fortnight that has seen hard-pressed fans dip into their pockets once more to save a community asset?
Despite misgivings about the board's performance, BullBuilder decided not to add strings to its contribution. But should it be so deferential again?
In a statement published on the trust's website on Wednesday, BullBuilder set the board six challenges, including a demand for full disclosure on what has gone wrong and "some form of representation at the highest level".
There are already three fan-owned clubs further down the pyramid - the Bramley Buffaloes, Hunslet Hawks and Rochdale Hornets - and they operate on the co-operative model proving so successful in football.
There might be an argument that a Super League franchise is simply too big a business for this model, but the annual turnover of the Bulls is comparable to the fan-owned football clubs at Brentford and Exeter City. You could also argue, given the mounting losses, that a current Super League franchise is too big for the local Mr Big.
But there is more to this debate than simply who runs these clubs. What matters is how they are run, who they are run for and what safeguards are in place to make sure they will still be running tomorrow. After all that has happened, could the fans do any worse?