Phoenix prepared to fight for 09/10 league entry

Friday, 3rd April 2009

Manchester Phoenix are preparing to stand their corner and if necessary, battle all the way with six of the Elite League clubs who appear ready and prepared to cast adrift those clubs they see as the poor relations of the league.

Representatives of the Nottingham Panthers, Sheffield Steelers, Coventry Blaze, Belfast Giants, Cardiff Devils and Hull Stingrays met last Monday and voted to re-structure the Elite League next season without canvassing the views of Manchester, the Edinburgh Capitals or Newcastle Vipers all of whom struggled to balance their books last season. The three clubs were fully aware of the meeting taking place, but were not invited to attend due to reservations previously voiced privately within the league about operational criteria going forward.

The six who met now want to increase the salary cap to £7,000 nett per week and allow eleven import players on the teamsheet on any given gamenight - a move that could spell financial suicide for smaller budget clubs unless massive additional financial support in secured.

If Manchester, Edinburgh and Newcastle agree to the proposed changes, a £10,000 bond will be required to guarantee entry to the re-structured league. This bond, would be on top of the original share purchase at the inception of the Elite League. To remain in a re-structured Elite League and remain competitive would massively increase the pressure to secure increased revenue streams from corporate advertising and sponsorship in an economic climate hardly conducive at this time. Phoenix officials are not ruling this out, but without increased financial support to enable them to match the recruiting spending power of the likes of Nottingham and Sheffield, they would risk the club lounging in the lower reaches of the table in terms of on-ice results and potentially endangering the financial survival of the organisation.

Despite a superb season where the club finished sixth in the league - it's pre-season target - and reached both the Challenge and Knockout Cup Finals, as well as boasting the Elite League Player of the Year in record goalscorer David-Alexandre Beauregard, Phoenix have had to fall back on the personal support of their owner Neil Morris in order to keep their heads above water.

At the inception of the Elite League following the collapse of the import dominated Ice Hockey Superleague, one of the original goals of the new league was to steadily reduce the reliance upon imported talent from North America and Europe in favour of homegrown British players. Undoubtedly, more British players have progressed, but the return to a blanket eleven import structure must be seen as a potentially retrograde step.

As late as November last year, nine of the ten clubs that make up the league agreed to reduce the quota of import players for next season to eight, but that mandate has been blown asunder by the clubs who met last Monday.

The new structure for the league also stipulate that going forward, clubs are highly unlikely to receive any financial assistance from the league. Neil Morris advises, "Manchester has not asked for any financial assistance this season, nor last. We were assisted during the 2006-07 season when completion of our new rink was massively delayed, and we remain extremely grateful for that aid that kept us alive after playing on the road for almost two thirds of that season."
A Phoenix spokesperson went on to add, "Furthermore, we were extremely disappointed in newspaper articles elsewhere this week that insinuated that we'd had the begging bowl out asking for more financial support. We have not. All we've asked for is some thought on a league-wide basis on a number of issues, including the salary cap, the number of import players and policing of the salary cap. One of the problems as we see it is that actually any organisation run by its however many owners is always likely to be dysfunctional. Too often, the meetings that we've attended have failed to look at issues from the perspective of the league as a whole, and the interests of individuals have tended to prevail. We remain convinced that if everyone had left their individual club hats in the boot of the car and donned a league hat every now and again, a lot of the problems that have arisen could have been avoided... to the benefit of all."

One of the biggest arguments of the lower budget clubs is the policing, or rather non-policing of the annual salary cap settings. Clubs have openly admitted to salary cap busting, but no punishment or sanction has ever been levied.

Meanwhile, Manchester Phoenix continue to prepare and build for the future with the re-signing of player coach Tony Hand to a new three-year contract. Morris added, "Tony has been my best ever signing in Manchester and I believe that his agreeing a long-term contract is a true indication of the stability that we're building here. I am delighted he's staying with us and I look forward to the club continuing to grow progressively both on and off the ice."

A further meeting of the Elite League clubs is planned for next week and Phoenix await the outcome that could determine which league they'll compete in for the 2009-10 season.

Neil Morris at the Ice Dome

The personal support of Phoenix owner Neil Morris has helped to keep the club afloat this year

Manchester Phoenix Community Sports Foundation

Manchester Phoenix Supporters Club

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