BRACKNELL Bees are close to finalising their discussions with the John Nike Leisure Complex over the club’s future, writes Dave Wright.

And director Carol Miller admits: “As these discussions are still going on, we cannot say anything certain about the club’s future.”

Talks have been going on for close to two months with the English Premier Ice Hockey League club’s running costs being regularly on the agenda.

This week, John Nike Leisure revealed to the News that the costs of running the rink have increased quickly and considerably over the years.

The statement said: “Wage increases with national minimum rate and now living wage hikes, compounded with energy costs have taken its toll on John Nike Leisure’s ability to mitigate losses incurred by the Bees.

“John Nike never made a profit from running the Bees. The truth is, he personally funded these losses personally for years.

“Unfortunately John passed away in December 2016 and the Nike group of companies has to consider the future running the rink for the Bees.

“However, the Bees and JNL management have been in discussions to see how we can jointly make this work to mitigate the losses and keep Bracknell Bees on the ice.”

The club was close to going out of business last year, but were rescued through a ‘Save the Bees’ campaign which also saw the election of Matt Fettel, Carol Miller and player-coach Lukas Smital as directors.

It has been a challenging first season for them. They are keen to continue, but are aware that changes must be made if they are to secure long-term stability.

Their negotiations are with Daniel Lawrence, the new operations director of John Nike Leisure Complex.

“We have had some open and honest discussion with the owners and the rink (staff) and they have been very positive,” said Fettel.

“We have expressed our views about how we can take the club forward and what we would potentially need from the rink in return.

“I think it is fair to say, he (Lawrence) has been incredibly supportive and understanding to our ideas.”

‘John Nike personally funded these losses for years’

Miller added: “I think we all recognise that everybody needs to work slightly smarter. Introducing initiatives like online ticketing that is standard at other rinks would be of great benefit.

“That would be a massive saving in the long term as well.

“If we can all go arm in arm it can only benefit the club, rink and the local community.”

Both parties are looking at ways of cutting the costs of running the Bees and for staging matches, for as Fettel accepts: “The lower the cost of the rink, the more we can put into the playing budget and that should mean the product on the ice being that little bit higher.

“That said, we fully understand the JNL Group have a complex business to run to, and it a matter of finding the right balance.”

Bees pay a fixed sum each week to stage a weekend match and two training sessions and do not benefit from cafe and bar sales, although the price includes the provision of staff and security.

The playing squad do benefit by the generosity of sponsors and fans, and last Saturday the Bees Supporters Club handed over a cheque for £11,000 to the team, taking the total for the season to nearly £16,000.

The directors and players are very thankful for the support but are doing everything they can to attract more sponsors and fans.

Miller added: “We have built a very good relationship with the rink and the staff and they have been accommodating where they can. We like to think we can build on what we have achieved so far.”

The directors are hoping that negotiations with JNL can be finalised very soon as they are looking to choose their squad for the 2017-18 season.

They operate on one of the lowest budgets in the England Premier League and this has been reflected in their results over the season, which left them bottom of the table and the only team to miss out on the play-offs.

The aim is to strengthen the squad for next season, so finalising their budget as soon as possible is important.

Fettel added: “In a couple of weeks time the players will be free agents, so we have got to make sure Bracknell are in the best possible position to sign the players we want for the 2017-18 season.”