Phoenix make tough decision

Friday, 17th June 2005
Manchester Phoenix have reluctantly made the decision to defer the return to active competition from playing Elite League ice hockey for another season.
Phoenix withdrew from season 2004-05 in favour of working towards a new permanent home and have waited as long as possible before making the decision that they, their fans and the rest of the Elite Ice Hockey League clubs feared.
Managing Director Neil Morris advised, “We’ve come an awful long way towards getting a new ice rink built,  but the simple fact is that the new facility won’t be ready in time for the start of the new season on September 17th. All the basic negotiations are completed, the re-amended and finalised plans have been submitted to Trafford Borough Council and now we await the final sitting of the full council meeting to ratify the scheme. Trafford have moved as quickly as their machinery allows and we accept that these processes take time. In this instance, the time factor has beaten both parties – both are keen for the scheme to be brought to fruition but disappointingly, the clock has worked against the timescale we hoped for.”
Asked if he and his management team had considered other options to get the Phoenix back into competitive play Morris expanded, “we’ve considered a myriad of options, however the only truly sensible course of action is to defer our return. We know this decision is going to disappoint and upset an awful lot of people, but I hope – on reflection – the fans, supporters and existing sponsors will see and try to appreciate the dilemma we’ve had to battle with in recent weeks.”
“The obvious counter to our own building not being ready in time is to play on the road for the opening weeks,” continued Morris. “But, that is far from an ideal situation on a number of fronts. Firstly, the opening couple of months of a hockey season are the most critical in terms of cash-flow and without any home gate income, the cash-flow direction therefore is predominantly outward which is not a viable business option. Secondly, a plethora of road trips early on means a similar plethora of home games later in the season and again, had we asked the fans to travel like crazy in the early weeks, we’d then be asking for them to practically live in our own building while we played catch up with the fixtures… and being brutally honest, that’s if we even got that far on the back of a negative cash-flow scenario.”
“The past couple of months has been frantic for us all,” emphasized the Phoenix boss. “We’ve had people talking to coaches and players about the possibility of coming to Manchester, and we’ve tried not to lead anyone up the garden path with false promises. The bottom line is we sat down a couple of nights ago and we all asked each other some point-blank, blunt questions. To a man, our hearts said ‘let’s play.’ Then the common sense took over and we agreed it would be a gamble and a gamble that would likely prove too difficult and therefore potentially damaging for the club and hockey in the long-term in Manchester.”
Andy Costigan outlined another factor in the decision to withdraw again when he noted, “Even if we had decided to play on the road for however many weeks would be necessary, it just isn’t that simple. First, we’d have to get a coach appointed and a squad assembled, and assuming that that went swimmingly well, the problem would then be obtaining sufficient ice time anywhere for pre-season training. The other rinks within relatively easy distance – Blackburn and Deeside – would find it difficult if not impossible to accommodate our training needs given their current commitments and remaining available ice time. As Neil has said, the expense of the early weeks is critical and then to add probably six weeks of almost continuous travelling not only to games but training as well, the toll on everyone mentally and physically is too big a factor to be ignored or over-ridden by the emotion of wanting to play.”
Mark Samaru stressed, “This decision has not been taken lightly, in fact it was harder to make this year than it was last year. Last year, in effect we had no building to play in. At some point during this season, our new building will arrive and it would have been great to christen it as soon as we can open the doors.”
Samaru continued, “Whilst this news is not the news we wanted to issue at this time, there are some positives to take from the decision. Firstly having decided not to ice a Phoenix team, the construction effort will be able to progress without one of us constantly breathing down their neck for a completion date. The building can be erected, decorated, trimmed with all the relevant fixtures and fittings and made ready for public use in a more realistic fashion and timescale. We will have time to formulate a junior programme on the back of the not inconsiderable interest we’ve had from local youngsters and with the building being open for public skating etc, between Planet Ice and ourselves, we’ll be able to iron out any shortfalls or operational problems well ahead of the first Phoenix game.”
Neil Morris closed saying, “It genuinely has not been easy to choose this course of action but we believe it to be the right course to ensure the future of the club and of ice hockey at a senior level. Once construction commences, it is our intention to publish via our website the plans of the building so that our loyal fans who’ve been magnificent in sticking with us and who’ve already committed their money in terms of season tickets can get to choose their seat for season 2006-07 when the Phoenix will return to competitive play in the Elite League.”