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WINGS TAKE OFF FOR RECONSTRUCTED ROLLER HOCKEY INTERNATIONAL

The Buffalo Wings will play in a revived and reconstructed Roller Hockey International, team officials announced Tuesday.

Buffalo was a member of RHI in 1997 but played in Major League Roller Hockey last summer when the RHI shut down to reorganize.

The Wings plan to return to the Buffalo State Hockey Arena as their home playing site, retain the rights to most of their 1998 players and bring Lou Franceschetti back as head coach.

RHI is returning as a single-entity league, meaning the league will own all teams and logos. Local promoters, Professional Rights Owners, will lease the rights to their local team.

The interests that owned and operated the Wings have a 3-year contract with RHI.

The league will be responsible for recruiting and hiring all players and coaches (with input from local operators) and arranging and paying all travel expenses. It is a setup similar to the Women's NBA, Major League Soccer and the old Major Indoor Lacrosse League.

Plans are for a 10-to-14 team league in 1999 with teams also in Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Miami, Minnesota, St. Louis, San Jose and either San Diego or Ontario, Calif.

Also, talks have been held with parties interested in operating teams in Los Angeles, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Sacramento, Calif.

A concern of the principal owners, Dr. Frances Ann Edmonston and Jason C. Klein, was how they would be compensated for their investment in the franchise. Those concerns have apparently been satisfied.

"We initially balked at what Roller Hockey International was offering," said Klein, the franchise's chief executive officer. "But after attending the league meetings on Oct. 2, it became clear they were willing to work with us."

One concession by RHI allows Wings ownership to retain ownership of their team logo and trademarks for local use, with the league allowed to use for its purposes. The Buffalo operators will be allowed to continue to run their youth and amateur roller hockey leagues and retain proceeds from that.

RHI, which has agreed to merge with the Beachport Entertainment Corp., will be operated as part of a publicly owned company. Beachport intends to raise capital with a public stock offering. RHI plans to cover player and travel costs with proceeds from the sale of national sponsorships and television rights.

Local operators will retain home gate receipts, proceeds from merchandising of team products, and from the sale of local broadcast rights.

Wings operators were especially concerned about RHI's ability to land a television contract to enhance the promotion and development of the sport. The league is believed close to a national TV agreement with Fox Sports Network.

RHI lost several million dollars and several franchises in five years of operation from 1993-97. The Buffalo Stampede was a member of RHI in 1994 and 1995, then folded. The city returned to RHI in 1997 under new ownership with the Wings. When RHI shut down to reorganize last year, the Wings joined MLRH.

"Our decision (to leave MLRH and return to RHI) certainly was not a simple one," said Benny M. Gulakiw, the team's vice president of operations. "We enjoyed our time with MLRH and were very pleased with the treatment we received. . . .

Eventually the Wings ownership was swayed by economics. "The cost of operating a team under the new RHI structure was significantly lower than operating a team in MLRH," Klein said.

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