HC Mountfield set to leave České Budějovice in dispute over beer
Beer is taken seriously in the Czech Republic, but, until now, it’s never led to a professional ice hockey club leaving town.
That looks set to change over the summer, however, as Tipsport Extraliga team HC Mountfield České Budějovice pushes ahead with plans to relocate to Hradec Králové, following a feud that began with a dispute over which brand of beer was sold at České Budějovice’s arena.
The unlikely row has its roots in a sponsorship deal announced in November of last year, when Radegast, owned by Plzeň-based Plzeňský Prazdroj, replaced České Budějovice’s Budějovický Budvar as the Extraliga’s “official beer.” Under the terms of the deal, Radegast is to be the only beer served at Extraliga hockey games around the country.
This posed a major problem for HC Mountfield, who play in the Budvar arena, a city-owned facility that in 2002 sold its naming rights and the exclusive right to sell beer to the local brewery. Facing a fine of 1 million Kč ($52,000) for every home game at which their team’s arena didn’t serve Radegast, HC Mountfield representatives urged Budějovický Budvar to buy an exception from Extraliga’s marketing agency that would allow the arena to continue serving Budvar. Three-way talks involving the hockey club, the city government and the brewery broke down June 12, however, reportedly over the size of that payment.
By this time, HC Mountfield Chairman Miroslav Schön had announced plans to leave České Budějovice, where the club was founded in 1928, for Hradec Králové, 105 miles (169 kilometers) to the northeast.
Budějovický Budvar Director Jiří Boček suggested Schön is using the beer dispute as a diversionary tactic and that the hockey club’s debts are the real issue. “The key to resolving the situation won’t be the terms the hall is leased under, or the type of beer on draft there, or the city in which Extraliga hockey is played,” he told the Czech daily Mladá fronta Dnes the day talks broke down. “The only solution is a sizable injection of funds.”
Following protests involving hundreds of local hockey fans, České Budějovice Mayor Juraj Thoma made Mountfield a new offer June 14, promising to cancel the Budvar deal, at a cost to the city of 14 million Kč, if Mountfield could guarantee by 6 p.m., June 17, they would play Extraliga hockey in the city for at least two more years.
“The city must immediately repay Budvar 4 million Kč, and Budvar also planned to spend 10 million Kč promoting their brand in the Budvar arena,” Thoma explained in a statement on the city’s official website. The mayor also announced that the city government had agreed to defer HC Mountfield’s latest repayment on a debt to the city totaling 565,910 Kč.
Schön rejected Thoma’s offer as “totally unacceptable,” pointing out that the mayor had failed to specify the date on which the Budvar deal would end. He also argued that the Extraliga’s promotion-and-relegation system that, at the end of every season, sees the league’s bottom two clubs drop down a level, made it impossible for him to guarantee Mountfield’s Extraliga participation beyond next season.
“Our position is clear,” read the club’s official press release. “We reject this ultimatum as an extortion that contains impossible demands. This is just a desperate attempt by Mayor Thoma’s media to shift responsibility for the situation at the club.”
Hradec Králové’s Královští lvi (“Royal Lions”) team, which currently plays in Czech hockey’s second tier, is now negotiating a merger deal with HC Mountfield, backed by Hradec Králové’s city government.
If that happens, České Budějovice hockey fans could be crying into their beer when the new season begins in September.
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