Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 31 July 2014

New knight for Belfast Giants

Jim Gillespie, seen by many as the man who saved the Giants, celebrates last season’s league triumph

A knight in shining armour has ridden into town to throw his money behind the Belfast Giants.

And he has made it his mission to make a team that is already champions of the Elite League and a club that is one of the best run in the UK even better.

There have been no ‘under new management’ banners at the Odyssey Arena, or an official announcement from the Giants that a takeover has happened, but the Belfast Telegraph can reveal that Jim Gillespie has sold his stake in the club and that it is now owned by Chris Knight.

The 34-year-old American has made his fortune in the telecommunications industry and he is pumping a large part of the money that he has earned into the Giants with the intention of making the club the envy of their rivals.

Knight’s work with the Giants has gone on under the radar, until now. A formal announcement is expected soon though and it may come before Friday night’s clash with the Dundee Stars at the Odyssey.

What will then be fully revealed is that Knight, who is chief executive of Knight Communications, now owns 70% of the Giants. John Laird, better known in Northern Ireland as Lord Laird, is also part of the new ownership structure, with a minority shareholding.

The club’s general manager and former player Todd Kelman also has a minority shareholding.

“There is an element of excitement among the staff at the Odyssey, the Giants players and the fans coming into the building, particularly the large number of young children who are coming to watch games,” Lord Laird told the Belfast Telegraph.

“Ice hockey is Christopher’s hobby, but he is a businessman too and together with the American enthusiasm that he brings, makes for a bright future for the Belfast Giants.”

Although the main part of his business is based in the United States — New York to be specific — Knight himself spends most of his time in London, although of late he has been a regular visitor to Belfast.

Those visits have seen Knight formulate plans to increase attendances at Giants matches and already he is on his way to doing that.

A crowd of 5,200 watched last Saturday’s 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Sheffield Steelers — the biggest attendance of the season — and even more are expected at the Odyssey for this weekend’s games against Dundee and Coventry Blaze, even though those games aren’t normally considered to be big sellers.

With Knight at the helm and the title reaching boiling point, expect the Giants to be the hottest ticket in town again.

It’s over a decade since the Giants were playing in front of sell-out crowds night after night.

Ten years ago they were league champions and were fighting for the title again — just as they are now — but the league was starting to fall apart and the club itself was on the brink of folding.

That was until Gillespie stepped in with a rescue package.

His money paid off creditors in a CVA, the club stabilised before growing into a successful and self-sufficient business off the ice while a trophy-winning team was built on the ice — none of which would have happened without Gillespie’s investment in the team.

Born-and-raised Ulsterman Gillespie now lives in Texas, but he also has a home just outside Bangor where he bases himself during the summer months and he was in Belfast to see the team win the Elite League title last season.

Now, however, less than a year later he has sold up, but the 76-year-old’s contribution will never be forgotten.

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