Belfast Giants form all new team
The Belfast Giants players and staff have departed the club en masse - and re-signed to a new company amid a row with the owner, it has emerged.
Monday, 18 February 2013
In a dramatic development for the ice hockey team, the Odyssey Trust which operates their home venue has moved against American investor Christopher Knight over "major issues".
Knight bought a 90% controlling share from long-term owner Jim Gillespie last November - for a reported £145,000 - but has now been left owning a club with no players or venue.
The players have signed up to a new company intending to keep the Belfast Giants name and remain at the Odyssey, but under a new management regime.
It is understood that the Odyssey Trust first intervened at the start of the month, activating a clause in its contract with the Giants over the use of the arena.
An agreement was put in place allowing the Giants to keep playing at the Odyssey, as long as Knight committed to selling is stake in the club.
The Odyssey Trust sought to buy him out, but no deal was reached by the agreed deadline of Friday past and the agreement around the use of the venue was terminated.
But weekend games, including a fundraiser for Breast Cancer Care, went ahead after the players wrote to Knight claiming their contacts were no longer in effect.
"They played this weekend for free," Giants General Manager Todd Kelman told UTV, adding that the team's commitment to the fans had remained a priority.
"They were insured to play, but they took a chance and decided to play without contracts."
You have four, five thousand people coming to a hockey game two nights in a row ... We wanted to make sure there was a hockey game.
Todd Kelman, Belfast Giants
Kelman had already resigned from Knight's company days earlier, but has now joined the new company established by the Odyssey Trust as a consultant.
Doug Christiansen will continue as the players coach.
It is understood that, while the Odyssey Trust claims to have taken control of the naming rights as they were not owned by Knight, he retains merchandising rights and disputes the right for a new team to be created.
But it is understood that unless a third party seeks to buy the club, the Odyssey Trust intends to retain ownership going forward and secure the Giants' future.
"We became aware of major issues relating to the new owner of the Belfast Giants on February 1st," Brian Burke, chairman of the Odyssey Trust, said.
"We immediately moved to protect the Odyssey complex by conditionally terminating the Belfast Giants (2008) Ltd's contract to play at the Arena, while entering into a without prejudice agreement to ensure the team continued with its games and its commitment to the league and its fans until the end of the season.
"Today, the entire staff - including players and administrators - will be signed to an Odyssey Trust owned company, permitting the team to finish the season and continue the battle to retain their title."
We would like to assure the loyal Belfast Giants fans that we are committed to protecting the excellent reputation and long-term future of the team.
Brian Burke, Odyssey Trust
The Belfast Giants are looking to defend their title after winning the Elite league last season.
"This has not been an easy period for the Belfast Giants, but it is highly commendable that the players - who were without contracts - fulfilled their commitment to the team's two games this past weekend, including helping to raise money for the team's nominated charity at the match on Friday evening," Burke added.
A lawyer for Mr Knight said that her client did not want to comment on what she said were private negotiations with the trust.
"The discussions between the Odyssey Trust and Christopher Knight are confidential," she said.
The Belfast Giants will play Dundee Stars in Scotland on Thursday, before taking to the ice at the Odyssey on Saturday night against the Sheffield Steelers as scheduled.
"It's business as usual," Kelman added.