The San Francisco Bulls owes fans thousands of dollars in unpaid ticket refunds, eight months after the minor league hockey team announced it went belly-up.
After speaking with a dedicated group of fans, seasons’ ticket holders for the most part, the Appeal has learned that the team owes at least $4,152 in ticket refunds to fans, and an unknown amount of cash to corporate sponsors. In a widely circulated email, the team promised to refund all tickets for upcoming games that would not be played because of the bankruptcy.
“The owners never really had local ties,” Bulls fan David Elrod told the Appeal in an email. “They basically sold everything they had and went back to Canada. This left 100s of people out cash. Some up to $1000s of dollars. At this point team officials are not even answering inquiries.”
Reached by telephone Friday afternoon East Coast Hockey League commissioner Brian McKenna told the Appeal that he expects the Bulls’ ownership to honor their outstanding debts.
“Once we were told the ownership could no longer fund the operation, we advised them that it was their responsibility to fans, season ticket holders and sponsors to refund the sales.”
The Bulls also had dozens of corporate sponsors, some of which included government agencies, such as BART, Recology, and several beer companies. None of the corporate sponsors returned the Appeal’s inquiries about outstanding monies owed by the team — including the Cow Palace, which hosted games and is owned by the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture.
The Appeal was also unable to reach any of the Bulls’ former executives or owners — who are rumored to have packed up and left town. “I don’t think anyone knows where they are,” Elrod said. “I would assume they went back to Ontario.”
The investor group included Americans Pat and Elouise Curcio (Pat was also the Bulls’ coach), Angela Batinovich (who resides in the Bay Area). Canadian investors Shmuel Farhi, and Peter Higley also owned undisclosed amounts of the hockey club.
The Bulls were in their second year as a minor-league affiliate of the San Jose Sharks when, on January 27 of this year, they abruptly announced that they were ceasing operations, with 32 games left un-played in the season.
“It’s highly unusual for a team to fold mid-season, and it caused other teams considerable financial hardship because of re-scheduling and travel costs,” McKenna said. “Unfortunately, we’re a non-profit organization and don’t have the ability to fund or pay the Bulls’ obligations.”
The league’s last attempts to contact the ownership were unsuccessful, McKenna said.
The Bulls are not the first minor league hockey team this city has seen. The San Francisco Spiders, a part of the International Hockey League, made a single season appearance in 1995-96, also playing at the Cow Palace.
The Spiders filed for Chapter 11 in May of 1996, with losses of $6 million for that season, according to a San Francisco Chronicle report. Poor attendance and difficulties with the arena were among the reasons the team failed, the newspaper said at the time.
Fans of this hockey club, however, were a loyal bunch. After reports surfaced of the uncertain fate of the team, Bulls fans sprang into action, creating a petition that had more than 600 signatures from people urging local politicians to get involved. Ultimately their efforts failed.
“The Bulls were like a family to me. Cow Palace became my second home,” one person wrote on the “Save the SF Bulls!” Facebook page. “I will miss seeing all of you at the games and especially seeing the boys. They were close to my heart and I wish all of them best of luck in the future.”
Elrod also thought the fan base was exceptionally devoted to the team. “These were dedicated fans who put up their own money to make players who came to SF to play more comfortable,” he wrote.
“Basically, lots of people supported this team above and beyond the call of duty.”