Late bid to save Capital pro ice hockey fails despite league's cash offer

Elite League bosses failed in a last-ditch bid to keep top-level ice hockey in Edinburgh.

Friday, 25th May 2018, 4:26 pm
Updated Friday, 25th May 2018, 6:45 pm
Edinburgh won't see top-level ice hockey next season. Pic: Ian Coyle

The EIHL this week confirmed the loss of Edinburgh Capitals from the now 11-strong UK wide league. However, the Evening News can reveal that despite EIHL bosses offering financial incentives to the city’s Murrayfield Ice Rink – believed to be in the region of £50,000 – their 11th-hour attempt was unsuccessful.

This move came on top of the league encouraging secret talks between representatives of Racers Leisure Limited and former Edinburgh Capitals owner Scott Neil, looking for them to work together, or come to an agreement with Neil and the Capitals organisation, who had been an Elite League member for 13 years.

Edinburgh will be without a top-level team next season after ice-rink bosses decided not to renew the Caps’ ice-time contract – offering the package instead to the David Hand-led Racers Leisure group, who planned to resurrect the Murrayfield Racers, a name steeped in British ice hockey history, winning six league titles and numerous major trophies between 1966 and 1995.

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However, after applying to the Elite League for the Edinburgh franchise, the Racers bid was unanimously rejected.

Capitals had been tenants of Murrayfield throughout their 20-year history. However, fans had endured a number of disappointing seasons, culminating in holding company Capitals Hockey Limited being forced into liquidation last November. The club saw out the season’s fixtures during which they won only five of 56 league games – under newly-formed company Cool House Marketing.

Prior to liquidation, Capitals Hockey Limited handed their franchise rights back to the league and, after releasing a statement to fans promising new investment and the creation of a new board of directors, Edinburgh Capitals were expecting to continue as an EIHL club when the new season gets underway in September. However, the decision to award the ice-time contract to Racers Leisure spelled the end for the club.

Hand, who is current chairman of the Scottish Ice Hockey Association, explained the latest developments, saying: “Edinburgh Capitals went into liquidation last November - it’s the third time they’ve phoenixed a company and I believe the rink were not happy with how it had been done.

“At that time, we asked the rink if we could submit a bid for ice to run Elite League hockey from Murrayfield for the 18-19 season and the rink agreed. We also went to the Elite League who said they would not speak to us until we had guaranteed an ice-time contract.

“Both ourselves and Cool House Marketing spoke with the rink about the contract, we have a company with £100,000 capital in the bank and a £50,000 sponsorship deal ready to go. The rink liked our plans and chose to give us the contract.

“The EIHL rejected our application without us even being given a chance to discuss our business plan. However, the league then got back in touch and asked if there was any way ourselves and Scott Neil could work something out to keep Elite League hockey in Edinburgh.

“We made an offer in writing to Scott with a package worth £35,000 which would be paid for his assistance in our Elite League application process, and paid to him on our entry to the league. This would have been on top of the usual £40,000 franchise fee paid to the EIHL.

“Scott refused the money, and offered a meeting to discuss a joint board with representatives from both Racers Leisure and Cool House Marketing. We had money in the bank, but all their investment was hypothetical. We emailed back asking who was on their board, and how much was their investment, but we never got a reply.

“We would have offered Scott Neil a job as an employee in our company, and welcome discussions with any individuals wanting to invest with ourselves, but we were not willing to invest in Cool House Marketing. I’m shocked that he did not take the deal. It would probably have paid off any debts Cool House Marketing have incurred.”

Elite League bosses met last Tuesday to discuss the second application from Racers Leisure. However, just days before they had contacted Murrayfield Ice Rink offering a financial package, in return for the rink reversing their decision and giving Cool House Marketing and Edinburgh Capitals the ice-time contract. The Evening News understands any monies paid would have been over and above regular ice-time contract payments.

Hand found out just hours before the EIHL released their statement to confirm the 11-team league that their application had been rejected for a second time.

He said: “I received a text saying we’d been unsuccessful, and we’re very disappointed.

“We’ve been professional at all times and have done everything that has been asked of us. Everyone involved in Racers Leisure did this for the love of the sport and the belief that we could make hockey so much better in Edinburgh.

“It we hadn’t been very confident of our place in the Elite League we wouldn’t have put ourselves through this. We were ready to go and I believe it will be difficult for the Elite League running with 11 clubs, there will be more midweek games and teams will have to spend weekend nights sitting out.

“Would I sit down and revisit things with Scott Neil? Yes, I would. If he picks up the phone to me, we can meet in my office and try and put something together.

“I’d like to thank the rink management and owners who have acted professionally through all of this and have been a great help to us.”

When quizzed about Racers Leisure’s rejection and the financial package made to Murrayfield ice rink by the Elite League, rink managing director Richard Stirling said: “I’ve heard nothing from the league at all, but I received an email from Racers Leisure saying their application has been turned down yet again. Obviously, the business is bitterly disappointed, especially in light of the fact that the business helped the league see the season out following the liquidation of Capitals Hockey Limited, which stopped the whole thing collapsing two-and-a-half months into the season.”

Asked why a bumper financial deal to keep Edinburgh Capitals ice hockey at Murrayfield wasn’t attractive, Stirling continued: “Because we are contractually obliged in our agreement with Racers Leisure, we can’t discuss things like that with anyone else at the present time. There were no figures or anything like that mentioned, I don’t know what was on the table or anything else, but legally we were prevented from discussing that with them.

“Once we made our decision to go with the best plan that was presented before us (Racers Leisure), that was final as far as we’re concerned. I don’t know what’s going on with the league, whether they are applying their business head or their personality head, because if they’d accepted the bid from Racers Leisure there would have been an Elite League team playing out of here.

“Racers Leisure had a pretty realistic business plan, they were looking to build up and then work with a minimum crowd base of 1000, by putting a better team on the ice, that wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility.

“We expect to be in discussions with Racers Leisure this week to work on the best way forward.”

Scott Neil was contacted by the Evening News but declined to comment.