Monday, 7 December 2015

Maybe Book The Arena First?

The image to the left is the sign for the Twin Rinks arena facility in Eisenhower Park on Long Island, New York. It has two NHL-sized skating rinks from which it draws its name and is currently owned by the New York Islanders. As you may be aware, it was supposed to be the home of the NWHL's New York Riveters according to numerous published reports including from the NWHL itself. Instead we find the Riveters playing games at Aviator Sports & Events Center in Brooklyn which is not Twin Rinks. So what was the impetus for the change?

The official storyline from the NWHL has been that Twin Rinks' filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy forced the Riveters to find a new home. As has often been the case with the new league, there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Let me be upfront here: I was hunting down another story when this lead popped up on my radar. It wasn't something I went searching for, but it turned into an old sweater with a loose end; the more I pulled, the more the sweater came unraveled. In the end, the New York Riveters have a home, are playing home games, and haven't had any problem playing those home games since finding their new home, but for a few months they were essentially homeless. We'll explore this homelessness in this article and how it came to be because it should be noted as a footnote in the team's and league's histories.

Ready? Here we go.

I was reading through a few articles when I happened upon a story on Stanley Cup of Chowder article about the media event held by the NWHL. In the linked article, Zoë Hayden wrote,
"The home rinks of all four teams appear in a pamphlet that was handed out at the launch. The Buffalo Beauts will play at the HarborCenter in Buffalo. The Boston Pride will play at the Allied Veterans Memorial Rink in Everett, MA. The Connecticut Whale will play at Chelsea Piers in Stamford, CT. And the New York Riveters will play at the Twin Rinks at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, NY (which is in Nassau County on Long Island, not far from the almost-former home of the New York Islanders). This information about home rinks was also made available in a prospectus that Rylan sent to prospective players, and was obtained by espnW for a story released a few days ago."
Indeed, the espnW story that profiled the NWHL also contained the same information, so the home arena of the Riveters seemed like it was written in stone. Pat Borzi wrote in the espnW story,
"The prospectus spelled out the league's four franchises and home rinks: The New York Riveters, out of Twin Rinks Ice Center in East Meadow, New York; the Boston Pride at Allied Veterans Rink in Everett, Massachusetts; the Buffalo Beauts at the HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo; and the Connecticut Whale at Chelsea Piers in Stamford, Connecticut."
As you may be aware having read to this point in the piece, the New York Riveters DO NOT play at Twin Rinks at Eisenhower Park in East Meadow, New York, but instead play their home games at Aviator Sports & Events Center in Brooklyn. Something clearly changed between March and the start of the season, so what happened to Twin Rinks and when did the change happen?

According to Kate Cimini who writes for Today's Slapshot, the move was due to Twin Rinks filing for bankruptcy in June, forcing the Riveters to look elsewhere for a home rink. Miss Cimini wrote,
"The League had previously indicated that the Riveters would practice and play at Twin Rinks, located on Long Island, and it soon became clear why they made the switch.

"Twin Rinks co-owner, Joel Friedman, filed for bankruptcy on June 8th in United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York, in Central Islip."
While I respect the work Miss Cimini has done on that site, how is it "clear why they made the switch?" Bankruptcies haven't allowed NHL teams out of their arena deals as Glendale will remind you, so exactly what became clear with respect to the New York Riveters switching rinks?

Allow me to explain. There are certain things that need to be done to secure a rink that isn't team- nor league-owned. Normally, there is a contract or contracts between the rink and a team that ensures not only that the team has a place to play, but that the rink is being paid for the services they are providing. That's how contracts between teams and/or leagues and arenas are drawn up. Legally, there would be no way that the NWHL could walk away from their agreement with Twin Rinks in June without penalty unless there was no contract.

Let those four last words sink in for a moment: there was no contract.

Despite announcing Twin Rinks as the home of the Riveters at the introductory media event and including it in the players' prospectus that the players received, at least four sources not affiliated with Twin Rinks have indicated that the NWHL had neither a contract nor any sort of agreement with Twin Rinks at any point for ice time for this 2015-16 season.

Additionally, two of these sources have informed me that the NWHL not only didn't have any sort of agreement or contract, but that there were at least "six to eight teams" who had inquired about the times that the NWHL wanted before the NWHL did, and that the NWHL had asked Twin Rinks to "terminate the contracts they had signed so the NWHL could play there."

I'm no contract lawyer, but I'm pretty sure that's illegal. Twin Rinks, from what the four sources indicated, also agreed that those actions would be illegal and entirely unethical, and informed the NWHL that they wouldn't be able to accommodate the league's request for a rink unless they planned on holding games "at 6:30am or 10:30pm" on the days for which the NWHL had asked.

Two sources indicated that in the weeks prior to the NWHL's introductory media event, Commissioner Rylan insisted that she had an agreement with former Twin Rinks owner Ron Friedman. Upon further investigation, it appears that the "agreement" she thought she has was nothing more than Friedman agreeing that the Riveters could play there if there were time slots available. There was no handshake, no contract, and no guarantee on the time slot. Friedman reportedly made it clear that Miss Rylan needed to book the time and secure the slot via a contract. That, as we now know, was never done. Rylan, in the sources' opinions, had misunderstood Friedman's comments as an agreement for the prime time slots she had requested.

Nevertheless, Twin Rinks did their diligence and listened to Miss Rylan's pitch for the time slots she wanted. According to sources, she asked for prime time slots reportedly in the 6:30pm to 9:30pm range on weekend evenings. While I've been unable to get comments from him directly, sources indicate that the acting general manager at the time informed Miss Rylan that she needed to have some way to put a deposit down for the times she requested. Rylan informed him that she did not have any way to pay for the deposit at the time. Because Rylan was unable to pay for the rink deposit upfront, she was reportedly told that there was little Twin Rinks could do to help her.

After having been informed that the time slots weren't available, contact between Twin Rinks and the NWHL fell silent. Despite stalled talks and a complete lack of agreement or contract, the NWHL went ahead with the media event and announced that the Riveters would be playing at Twin Rinks. They posted the information to their website and announced Twin Rinks as the Riveters' home ice on Facebook.

As per three of the four sources, Twin Rinks noticed the media posts indicating that they were to be the home of the Riveters. These three sources confirm that an email was sent to Miss Rylan and her executive assistant, Becky Salgado, on or around April 15, 2015 that indicated that no contract had been secured with Twin Rinks. The email requested that all media posts referencing Twin Rinks as the home of the Riveters were to be removed and that no further new media posts were to be made with this information going forward. Shortly after that, all references to Twin Rinks were removed from all NWHL-controlled websites, including Facebook.

For the next month, things were quiet between the two parties. In May, however, Miss Rylan contacted Twin Rinks about securing two dates for an NWHL tryout camp. Once again, it was asked of Miss Rylan if she had the financial backing to cover the two dates in question, and sources indicated that she would pay in cash for ice time on May 16 and 17 between 4:45 and 6:15. These same sources indicated that payment was made in full, and the two dates she had requested were granted to Miss Rylan.

It was at this same time that things weren’t looking great for Twin Rinks' owners Joel Friedman, Ron Friedman, and former professional players Chris and Peter Ferraro with regards to their financial situation. The ballooning construction costs in getting Twin Rinks off the ground and the resulting repayment of the debt began to take its toll.

According to the Long Island Herald's David Weingrad, "[t]he affidavit lists the rink's total liabilities and equity at $52.68 million. When the county broke ground on the rink in February 2013, officials said the rink would cost an estimated $15 million." It was also noted that "[p]rojections in the affidavit show that the rink will gross an estimated $160,830 in revenue over the next 30 days, but will face about $170,646 in expenses, a net operating loss of nearly $10,000." Clearly, the expenses were outpacing the income by a large margin.

June saw the four partners hit their limits with respect to losing money, so it was decided that Twin Rinks would file for Chapter 11 on June 8, 2015 to allow two reported prospective buyers enough time to secure financing for the sale by July 1.

This is where there's a small problem of consistency with the NWHL's story because a Chapter 11 filing is an effective way for the rink to "freeze the rink's existing creditors while allowing it to 'reorganize.'" It would not allow for contracts to be cancelled since the contract is actually an asset for the rink in the form of money owed to the rink. Those assets would be needed if there was a sale.

Therefore, the charade storyline of the Riveters having to look elsewhere doesn't hold any water. In fact, they never had a contract and they certainly weren't going to be playing at Twin Rinks this season. The Chapter 11 announcement was a convenient "out" for the league and team needing a PR spin after failing to secure the rink they had told the players and media at which they would be playing. As my four sources have repeatedly said, there was never a deal with Twin Rinks in the first place. Miss Rylan rolled the dice and got lucky with the bankruptcy proceedings saving her from a PR fiasco.

Or so she may have thought.

In learning all this, some serious questions need to be asked. Why would Rylan announce her team would be playing at rink for which she had no signed contract? She owns a coffee business so she obviously understands how contracts work. If she doesn't know how contracts work, should she really be a general manager of a professional hockey team let alone the commissioner of a professional hockey league? Why would she announce something as important as the home rink of one of her original four franchises without having a signature on the dotted line? She can't be that naïve, right?

It makes you wonder how some of the early business deals with the NWHL may have gone down. She reportedly tried to bully Twin Rinks into cancelling previous contracts with other clients to secure that time slot. Did she do this with other rinks? Did she do this with Aviator Sports & Events Center? How would we ever know unless someone steps forward from the other four rinks? It calls into question a lot when it comes to how business was conducted early on with Rylan being the driving force behind the NWHL.

As a conclusion to this story, Twin Rinks re-organized its financials during the Chapter 11 proceedings, but the sale period passed with no buyer meeting the sale price. Twin Rinks went to auction on August 3 where Charles Wang, owner of the New York Islanders, was the successful winner of the auction. Kevin O'Keefe of Along the Boards picks up the story.
"Wang was able to purchase Twin Rinks, which cost approximately $52 million to build according to Newsday writer Robert Brodsky, for only $8 million. The property became available after the company that owned Twin Rinks was forced to declare chapter 11 bankruptcy in June. According to the Long Island Herald, the facility was only supposed to cost $15 million to build. Construction issues caused the price to soar to $52 million, leaving the owners unable to pay their debts."
My sources wanted me to stress that at no point during the Chapter 11 filing and through the sale and auction process was any contract cancelled nor were any obligations not met with regards to ice time and events, and that "it was business as usual" as far as they could tell during the months of June, July, and August with ice times and contracts fulfilled upon the start of hockey season this fall.

As far as the story that appeared on Today's Slapshot, it would have taken Miss Cimini one phone call to Twin Rinks to find out why the Riveters moved before having played a single minute of hockey. Instead, she speculated that "(l)osing the NWHL's business will be a fiscal blow to Twin Rinks." The problem with that statement, of course, is that there was never any business to be had with the NWHL because the NWHL never secured a contract with Twin Rinks. No fiscal blow, no loss of business. One phone call would have confirmed that.

As a friendly reminder for those of you running a hockey league, it's probably a good idea to book ice time before telling everyone you have rinks lined up to host games. It seems to make life a lot less complicated that way.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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