It is with great sadness that the recently crowned Laidler Conference League Champions have no choice but to announce, that due to circumstances beyond the teams control, the Eagles will play their last game at the 2017 Playoff Weekend in Sheffield.
On 13th March the Eagles management team received official correspondence from the Blackburn Ice Arena Management. In the letter was details of the ice contract offer for the Eagles to compete in the Moralee conference for the 2017/18 season, although major changes had been added compared with the Eagles existing ice contract. The letter confirmed that the Eagles would now face a flat weekly cost for ice time throughout the season, rather than an hourly charge dependant on usage. The new flat rate works out that the Eagles would be required to pay double the amount over the course of the season in comparison to what they have paid for the 2016/17 season. It was also made clear that if for whatever reason the team was allowed to play in the Laidler conference for another season, that no ice contract would be offered to the team.
As if this was not enough, the letter also advised of a convenient new ‘company policy‘ stating that there will be “no internal advertising of Alcohol and Nicotine products including but not limited to shirt advertising”. Meaning that after 2 years of financial support, our local booming business Totally Wicked, taking pride of place on the front of the Eagles shirts, would no longer be able to be the main sponsor for the team. This comes from the arena where advertising boards for alcohol have been on show for more than 20 years.
So now with the Eagles facing obvious increased travel costs, a 100% increase in ice time and the issue of finding a new major sponsor, the goal posts moved once again with the arena stating they would now provide box office facilities moving forward for Eagles games. A total reversal of a change for the current season where the Eagles were forced to run their own gate as advised by the Arena Management. To add insult to injury the letter also stated that “Stewarding for games to be provided by the Blackburn Eagles, in line with Licensing / HSE requirements at Blackburn Eagles Cost.”
As if the above changes were not enough, the payment terms for the team were completely taken away and invoices for 2017/18 season were to be paid in advance, even though there was a bond required at the beginning of the season.
So why the announcement now? A week after getting the trophy, season not finished, playoffs in two weeks. Well the letter from the arena management stated that the contract for ice time for the 2017/18 season must be signed by 24th March 2017. The day before teams meet with the EIHA and Ice Hockey UK to discuss the future of British Ice Hockey and a potential league structure, two weeks before the official end of the season. There was more to the letter but these are the main points and they are factual.
The rumour is that the Eagles are to be replaced, by a Blackburn Hawks academy team to enter the Laidler conference. A team of players under 25 years of age, a team to be assisted with funding by the Blackburn Arena.
As can be expected the Eagles players and management were extremely disappointed to learn that in effect it would be impossible for them to compete next season given that the budget for the team would be nearly double that of the current season, with a change of major sponsor and no time to secure any funding at all for the 2017/18 season. The cut off to sign the ice contract has passed, and the teams days are numbered.
We asked for comments from Coach Barnett “Although this is terrible news for the team it does not come as a surprise. We expected an increase in ice costs but what we have been presented with is unrealistic and has a purpose behind it. It has been a constant battle for the past few seasons on and off the ice. We have dealt with a number of things off the ice that could have been avoided. Things that people away from Blackburn have found hard to actual believe. There have been various rumours about our future making the rounds and in true Eagles fashion we have published the facts for all too see. It’s sad when you look down the team and see just how many of the players have dedicated numerous years to Blackburn Ice Hockey whether as a junior or senior player.”
“We have not just been thrown together to satisfy a paying crowd. The team feel like they are being forced from their own rink. They feel that the arena management are scared of the success of the Eagles because we have come so far in such a short space of time. People have been very complimentary of the team for the past few years in the hockey community, the way it has been run, the dedication from the players and the continuous improvement, the development of young talent. Other teams have implemented their own versions of some of the things we have started. They obviously feel threatened, why else would they want to make things so difficult for a team that has paid a lot of money in to the arena, not just on ice time but encouraging secondary spend.”
“Personally I had stated to those close to me that this would likely be my last season coaching the team, this changed when we beat Widnes and Hull in the same weekend to secure the league title. I had conversations with the management team about next year and although nothing was finalised we had an eye on a busy summer to try and make it work, even if that meant finding the team a new head coach. That decision was made for me and for the players, a team of league champions that have worked hard for what they have earnt and they now face an uncertain future in the sport. Nobody can take away what we have achieved, not just this year but previous seasons as well. Playoffs will be a true end of an era for those involved in the team and I would just like to personally thank everyone that has supported us and helped us get to this point, both myself and the players are extremely thankful for all the help we have received.”
Your Laidler Conference League Champions will play 4th place at the playoff weekend. The Eagles opponent has yet to be decided but it has been confirmed the team will play their semi final at 4.30pm on Saturday 8th April. We look forward to seeing you there.