Firstly, on behalf of everyone at Oxford City Stars we hope everyone is safe and well during this challenging time for us all. Additionally, we are grateful to all the key workers and carers in our community who are working so hard in such difficult circumstances.
We wanted to provide a club update, as we know everyone in the Stars’ family is keen to know the latest on next season. As always, we try to keep the club’s communications open and regular via social media and the local media. But in terms of next season it has been difficult to provide clear updates, with there being so much uncertainty.
In terms of progress, Oxford City Council have formally confirmed the ice rink will re-open later this month. This is great and very welcome news! This is a crucial step forward. Many of you will have read that some rinks in the UK, including in near-by Bracknell, have closed permanently amid the pandemic. We are grateful that Oxford City Council have invested a significant sum in upgrading elements of Oxpens and are committed to its future.
In terms of returning to play, as a board we have attended multiple Zoom meetings over several months with various key stakeholders. These have included the Oxford Leisure Partnership which incorporates Oxford City Council, Fusion and various clubs that use local facilities. We have also been in regular dialogue with the EIHL and our counterparts at all the clubs in the NIHL Division One South. The regular dialogue has been important and has helped us keep up to date and connected.
It was recently agreed by all NIHL1 South clubs that ‘pencilling in’ January 2021 to commence the season was sensible at this point. If the season is to start in January, the number of games compared to a ‘normal league season’ would be halved to enable the season to end before May.
Everyone at the club is desperate to return. But we can only do so if two key points are met. Firstly, that it is safe for everyone to do so and secondly that it does not put the future of the club into serious financial jeopardy. As a board we are committed to ensuring our decision-making processes does not put the club at risk.
COVID-19 has created some major challenges not just for the Stars, but for British ice hockey overall. Youth development has been curtailed, although on that note, we look forward to the junior club returning to the ice very soon. But the bigger picture is clubs simply cannot afford to operate without crowds and many would struggle to operate even with restricted capacities.
Currently as a club we are financially stable. However, to commit to a new season requires significant up-front investment and the support of our fanbase and sponsors. The biggest challenge to sustainability would be commencing the season and fixtures then being postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak or a local shutdown. Clubs would incur significant costs and should that happen on a couple of occasions be placed into serious jeopardy.
The government and EIHA have a difficult task in trying to create a safe and robust model for the season to take place. We are confident the measures introduced at Oxpens in terms of hygiene, cleanliness and social distancing are excellent and the rink will be a safe environment for us to enjoy. But we need reassurance that we can play with crowds present and we need confidence as to fixtures being able to consistently take place.
Unlike mainstream sports, ice hockey clubs at our level do not receive TV money, or revenue from league wide sponsorship and commercial deals. We must be self-sufficient. The Stars have overcome many off-ice challenges over the years to keep going and the spirit within the Stars family remains as strong as ever. And we need it to be, as we now face our biggest challenge to date.
Dean Birrell has done a tremendous job in recruiting an exciting squad and in continuing to work hard in keeping everyone together while it has not been possible to all meet up in a group. Despite the challenges we will face them and together we will get through them. We are committed to managing the current issues alongside safeguarding the club for Oxfordshire. We feel a great sense of pride and passion to represent the Stars and we know how important the club is to so many people.
We feel for the players, coaches, backroom team, fans and sponsors. Everyone misses our great sport and the sense of belonging and wellbeing it provides. With such an unclear future facing us all please bear with us. The most important thing we can do right now is continuing to support each other.
Rest assured any final decision on the season will be taken based on government advice, full consultation between the EIHA and all member clubs and from our side on what is right for the long-term health of the club.
Thank you to everyone who has been in touch and for the patience you have all shown throughout. Everyone plays a part in this club and your support means so much.
We hope to be able to provide more clarity in the coming weeks regarding next season.
Take care and Come on you Stars.
Greig Box Turnbull and Jo Mundy
Oxford City Stars Board