Why Sheffield Steelers want to buy the Steeldogs
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On Friday, The Star exclusively revealed that Steelers wanted to buy Sheffield Steeldogs, partly because it will help them improve their chances of bringing young talent up to Elite League (EIHL) standard.
Steeldogs play in the National League (NIHL) – and there has been a frosty reception so far to the idea of Smith moving into their territory.
Some NIHL club owners appear to want to move their businesses under the control of the Ice Hockey UK governing body, (IHUK) where they would have more autonomy over their own decisions...including which teams can play in their division and which can’t.
Smith has been negotiating to buy Steeldogs with their owner Ali Cree for 11 months.
But it is far from clear whether Steelers will be able to pull this off.
The Steelers owner says he has had a dialogue with the over-arching body, the IHUK.
But when The Star asked them for their contribution to the debate, they responded: “We won’t comment on speculation but we will always support any positive action for the development of youth players in the UK.”
That doesn’t answer many of the fans’ questions, especially for supporters in the lower-tier leagues, many of whom are desperate to see a fixture list.
The Star asked Smith a series of questions about the situation and his potential ownership of Steeldogs.
WHY IS A BUSINESSMAN INTERESTED IN A CLUB THAT ADMITS IT’S BEEN LOSING MONEY?
“You could say the same about Steelers 12 years ago. Sheffield wasn’t exactly the pick of the crop around that time.
“Steeldogs lose money because they haven’t got the model right, we want to help them and show them how to do it.
“We have got more commercial and marketing activity planned for them and a lot of Steeler sponsors have already agreed they will support Dogs in different ways.
“We would like to see more bums on seats and therefore secondary spend, there, so it could be a mini version of Steelers, only with the intention to bring more Brits through.
“We have lost Davey and Jonathan Phillips and we need to backfill and bring more homegrown kids in, like Cole Shudra,” said the owner.
“Ali wants to sell and we have made him a very fair offer which he accepted.
“We had the paperwork signed, sealed, and rubber stamped with solicitors, the money is ready to be transferred, but then it was stopped by NIHL owners who refused to have Steelers involvement in the league and also refused to enter into any dialogue with the Steelers.”
WHAT HAPPENS TO STEELDOGS IF YOU FAIL TO BUY THE CLUB?
“Ali would carry on if the League doesn’t want me, but we will support Steeldogs as best we can, and do the deal at some point in the future.
“We can revitalise the Dogs, even if it is at arms-length for now.
“We have a model in place that would make this work; Steeldogs can be a profitable business again...but we didn’t expect this slap in the face we got (from the NIHL.”)
Smith said he spoke to a Nationa League owner a while ago: “I asked if I bought Dogs, would the League accept me? They said yes; but then a U-turn was done.”
WHY HAVE YOU BECOME AN EVANGELIST FOR YOUNG HOCKEY BRITS ALL OF A SUDDEN?
“Quite simple, as an organisation, and as a league, we need to start developing British kids.
“As a league, we moved to 15 imports because we could not find 10 more Brits (one per EIHL team) good enough to play in our league.
“But we are working on it. We want to bring back those lads who have left; maybe those who have gone abroad because there are not as many quality games here for them to develop.
“We need kids to develop to a good NIHL standard, if they are good at that level they have half a chance of going further.
“I see Guildford Flames are taking a punt on a former GB U18 player (Sam Talbot.)
“Cardiff Devils have just put (Doncaster-born goaltender) Ben Norton on a two-way with Bristol Pitbulls.
“Our way is to try and get a bit more control over our feeder farm team, Steeldogs. We want their team to be competitive but use them to help kids make the grade.”
DIDN’T YOU ONCE SAY IMPORTS ARE WHAT THE CROWDS WANT?
“Imports are still what people want to watch; imports equal bigger crowds.
“You only have to look at the National League, which started off with two imports and went to three because crowds have continued to improve.
“Nobody can tell me imports don’t make for a better quality because they do. But we also want to develop for the future.
“Wouldn’t it be a good thing to eventually fill iceSheffield with 1,500 people rather than 350?”