London City Royals are folding mid-season, less than 18 months into their existence.

The capital outfit become the first British Basketball League side since Manchester Giants, 20 years ago, to pull out during the campaign.

It is understood that debts to former employees and contractual issues with Crystal Palace loomed large in the decision of club owner Jon Sawyer to shutter the franchise when a last-ditch attempt to sell up to a third partner proved impossible.

Sawyer, in a statement, said: “Following an EGM, it is with deep regret we announce shareholders have voted unanimously that ABC Basketball Limited T/A London City Royals should cease to operate with immediate effect, pending liquidation.

“The Royals had a very successful first year winning the BBL Trophy and playing in the BBL Play-Off finals at the O2. Prospects for the current season were also very promising. Our vision for the Royals to create a brand that was a real ‘Force for Change’ by creating a pathway for young Londoners to achieve improved life outcomes through basketball and our elite team was something that achieved great resonance in many circles. Our vision for basketball has been well documented – we all believed in the Royals being a medium for sporting and social change in London.

“However, the financial pressures of operating a London based club together with the failure to secure additional investment and sponsorship contracts has meant that the operation of an elite professional team in the BBL is no longer viable and so we must cease trading with immediate effect.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our fans, team members and playing staff for all their support during our all too short existence.”

Having been alerted to the severity of the issues last week, MVP understands players were told on Tuesday that they would be left out of a job and were urged to look elsewhere although the BBL were not officially until three days later.

“We knew all through Christmas that there was massive uncertainty,” said one Royals club source. “We felt playing again after Christmas was probably not going to happen, then it did. Jon told us he was trying to secure more funding but he wasn’t able to do it.”

It sees a star of bright ambition fizzle out.

Royals spent big in order to quickly realise their ambition of becoming ‘a Force for Change’, lifting the BBL Trophy and reaching the Playoff final in their debut season while winning praise for luring home leading British talent including Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Ashley Hamilton and Andrew Lawrence.

However the former two departed abruptly in the summer despite signing on for the long term. And they were among a group that also included former coach Jay Williams who had initiated legal action, alleging significant sums outstanding on their contracts. It is also known that the majority of the current squad has not been fully paid in two months.

Their tenancy at Crystal Palace, where poor crowds had been the norm, had also become a point of uncertainty due to issues with Royals management, BBL sources confirmed.

The first outward sign of major problems came in December when the side were handed a large fine for cancelling their opening league game with Glasgow Rocks at short notice for what can now be revealed as a financial blockage.

And then Sawyer was forced to admit he was “examining the viability of the club” when a second game, against Surrey Scorchers, was called off.

Although London City returned to play three more games, their BBL loss to Bristol Flyers last weekend turned out to be a farewell.

The Royals’ current 1-3 record in the league will be expunged. They were due to host Bristol in the quarter-finals of the Trophy but BBL officials handed Flyers a bye.

In either case, the league is to return to eleven franchises – and a lot of money burnt will have evaporated without its expected return.

A BBL spokesperson said:“We are obviously very disappointed by the Royals’ decision to withdraw from BBL, which will be felt across the basketball community.

“Our thoughts are particularly with Royals’ players, staff and supporters, for whom this will be an extremely difficult time.”

Sawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Photo: MAP

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