Christian Ciemalla from German www.handball-world.com published an interesting interview with Wolfgang Gütschow (53), CEO of the Project PREMIER HANDBALL LEAGUE AG
The orginal version you find hear:
Montag · 08.02.2016 · 17:15 Uhr · Christian Ciemalla - handball-world.com
Wolfgang Gütschow about Premier Handball League (PHL).
News about a Handball-Superleague were spread during the EURO in Poland. The ‚Premier Handball League‘ (PHL) shall replace the EHF-Championsleague as premium product of European Club Handball as of season 2018/19. The private project shall be set up similar to the North Amrican NBA and unify the best of the European teams from metropolitan areas with teams from other continents in a world league.
One of the initiatiors is the german agent and consultant Wolfgang Gütschow who acts as CEO and President of the board for PHL AG (stock company). The 53-year-old explains the background, targets and vision of the project: The PHL shall bring revolution to European Club Handball, using the sample of NBA.
Although you intend to start in 2018/19 only, the article in German ‚Handelsblatt‘ caused a lot of exitement …
The exitement was also a surprise for us. Although we did not announce a tender so far, a nervous discussion about the distribution of the places in the league started immediately. The response on the project is overwhelming. Just now the Danish entrepreneur Jesper Nielson informed me that he intends to set up a team AG Amazing Copenhagen for the PHL only. And even in Hamburg things are moving during the last days.
The plans shall be quite concrete …. a league with only 12 top teams, preferably from metropolitan areas, round-robin-system and play-offs at the end.
As we have only very few real European top clubs, 12 clubs is a realistic number. If we have more teams, fullfilling the criteria, we will not block an expansion. At first we have to set up a calendar which fits into the international calendar. ECHs, WCHs and Olympic Games shall not be damaged. The clubs shall continue to play in their national leagues.
How the PHL shall differ from the EHF Champions League?
The PHL intends to bring top handball from the villages to the big arenas in the metropolitan areas. Every match shall become an event, close to the spirit of the Final4 in Cologne. We intend to widen the calendar, the season shall last from February until December. Including a break and player transfers during the summer. From the sportive and from the marketing point of view it is not smart, to deliver all national and international titels in May.
Not many clubs will be able to host these mega-events …
With all respect: with clubs, carrying the names of small villages, you can not produce a premium product, not even thinking about marketing such a product. The Championsleague is without any doubt well organized, sympathic and with a family character, but most of the clubs have to pay for the particpation. Flensburg played in Istambul in front of 300 spectators and some clubs don’t even charge the spectators. Compared to other premium products the EHF CL is an sport economical desaster.
It is heard that the PHL shall have different rules.
We will not invent handball from scratch. As the PHL will not be member of any international federation, we have a lot of possibilities to shape the product. The current rules are overloaded, even the players and the referees don’t understand them to the end. Permanently we face protests and discussions about rules and interpretation of rules, re-play of matches and referees who allegedly manipulate international matches. This is an accumulation of worst-case-scenarios for every sport. First of all we have to safeguard that the referees have less possibilities to take influence on the match. This will make rules more transparent for the spectators and easier accessable for new customers.
How shall this look like technically?
One example might be the shot-clock. It can not be the case that referees are measuring the duration and passivity of an action by feeling the temparature in the pocket of their trousers. We have to minimize the sources for errors. The rules for suspensions should be reviewed. In any case analogue proceedings like the green card shall disappear. At the time keeper table we need two buzzers and not the whistle of an overcharged time keeper. The discussions about phantom goals, last second goals and errors during the player exchanges must be completely excluded via high tec, as it is done in other sports. And a thrilling handball match has to end with a winner. The Golden Goal will come.
As a break-away-league you will not be able to use referees from EHF and IHF.
Wait and see. The PHL will use professional referees and abstain from a senseless age-limit, which excludes best-agers from being referee. To find 40 referees will be one of the smaller tasks.
Back to Germany. How many teams from German Bundesliga shall participate?
We do not intend, to start a discussion on the number of German teams now. The PHL will be a cosmopolitan company. Whether a participant is coming from Denmark, Germany, France or from the Emirates does not play any role. Foxes, Bears, Eagles and Zebras are in the center of interest.
That means, THW Kiel and Foxes Berlin are seeded already ….
We can not call somebody seeded, as long as the findings in the respective club are not finalized yet. THW Kiel has to decide whether they want to position their valuable brand in the conservative surrounding of EHF or in the modern milieu of an NBA like Handball World league. For a traditional club like Kiel this is a decision of major importance, which needs maximum carefulness.
Things are easier for a metropolitan club like Foxes Berlin?
Basically yes, as in this case it is the essential question whether you are able to finance a team in a metropolitan area with matches against villages. The answer is ‚no‘, as proved in Hamburg. In a metropolitan area such a system opens doors to new investors, as you have only top matches against other metropols. The core of the idea is the possibility to market the matches in your own arena successfully.
By this you express that it would have been possible to rescue Hamburg, if PHL would been existing already.
Without any doubt. Imagine, the ‚Hamburg Captains‘ would have participated in a world league. The cosmopoliton metropol Hamburg, the door to the world, an open and tolerant city – is longing for an international sport project with seriousness and quality. In Hamburg there is one law: If you do not offer extra class, you will fail. With the combination of Hamburg seriousness and world appeal, handball would have functioned. Captains and business people don’t want to go in the german diaspora ‚Sauerland‘, but to Hongkong and Shanghai. I am sure, in PHL Andreas Rudolph would never have given up, as he would have had serious partners.
What do you do, if Bayern München sends in an application?
We would be happy! The sportive, logistical and economical conditions are decisive. Our target are 24 teams. A city like Vienna is designed to host such a team, as of the times when Dagur Sigurdsson woke up Austrian handball. The Netherlands are Vice-World Champions with their women team. Why not to set up a men’s team in Amsterdam? Or in Prague, St. Petersburg or Reykjavik? The Schaffhausen cadets could loose their proviciality and participate as Swiss cadets in the PHL. Our slogan: Everything is possible, nothing is mandatory.
How the expansion would look like outside of Europe?
We have requests from the near east, not only from Qatar. Firstly we have to do our European homework. But it is possible that an arabian team is part of the start-up.
The PHL shall replace the not beloved EHF-Championsleague as Premium product. In Vienna one will not be amused for sure …
Hard to say. I informed EHF Secretary General M. Wiederer in writing and very open about the project. I think this to be a matter of fairness, if you know each other for almost 25 years. Different opinions not necessarily need to lead to enmity. Admittedly he refused to meet for an informative meeting which I regret, but I of course understand him due to his sport political ambitions.
You are supposed to have hired Peter Vargo, the most important employee in EHF …
Peter Vargo has been the brain and the heart of the Cologne Final4. A project like the PHL you can develop only with top managers. Our structure forsees the unification of the most capable personalities in handball.
Maybe be in the end you will come to an agreement with EHF? Bob Hanning proposed to negotiate.
This is hardly possible, as the EHF is not responsible for us. The PHL is designed as a world league and the part of the IHF zone of influence.
That means talks with IHF?
Well, maybe. As the IHF does not operate any serious international club competition, the PHL might fill this vacuum. Politically this is a thrilling situation, as a world league, tolerated by IHF, would weaken the monopoly of EHF to organize handball matches in Europe. But this is not our issue. We are indepent and not political.
Are you afraid of a conflict with the IHF?
We will act honestly and without any conspiracy. Our philosophy is peaceful co-existance. At the end we are all aiming at the same target – to make handball a big sport. Dr. Hassan Moustafa intends to achieve this politically, we economically. If you have the same targets, you should not exclude cooperation from the very beginning.
Sanctions might threaten the project, like disqualification of players for a WCH, ECH, Olympic Games, if they participate in the PHL.
If the federations will try to defend their old-fashioned monopoly, we will try to handle this with a nonchalant passivity. Disqualification of players would be next trap to make handball disappear in the meaninglessness. A sport which excludes its best athlets from the top events, will no longer be an olympic sport soon. Already today handball is one of the endangered sports. To remain an olympic sport, we need to develop handball on all continents. Especially this is the target of the PHL.
By the way – who are the investors of the PHL?
There are too much speculations around this point. The exploitation of TV- and Marketing rights is save, guaranteed and there is even the possibility of a buy-out. Finances are not the problem. But to make the project become reality, you need visions, know-how and you need to be brave!
Are the clubs involved in the plannings?
Of course. The project Premier Handball League (PHL) without partnership with the clubs just an empty shell. We lead numerous negotiations with club representatives and already received confirmations. Now we implement the needs of clubs into the business model. We will not make the mistake to take decisions without consulting the clubs. At the end the clubs are the core of the game.
Concerning the core of the game. Does not an American franchise model harm the grassroots of the sport? The EU-commission and EU competition law might be big obstacles, as structures, similar to the NBA, are not unconditioned applicable.
One can make American ideas become European, without loosing the American spirit. PHL will not only be about money, but also about international youth projects and primarily about global promotion of a traditionally European sport.
When speaking about PHL, people are speaking about the NBA of Handball. Isn’t that a bit exaggerated?
No. NBA stands for something very simple. Game, fun and show. Matches of a Superleague have to be events. With all respect to the small clubs, but how do you want to become a match in Hamburg against Eisenach or Baia Mare an event? Handball is popular almost everywhere all over Europe, but in many countries with a very small number of top clubs. The Moscow Bears have no serious opponents in the national league, Barcelona and Paris are without competitors as well. Veszprem and Kielce are dominating Hugary and Poland. We have to bring these teams together with the German top teams, include Scandinavia and the Balcanic region. We combine this with big arenas, art and culture, local specifities, ambience on high level, food and beverage. Then we will have a multicultural Handball NBA made in Europe, and the whole world will pay attention.
What about the smaller clubs which are not able to become part of the show?
They will not loose anything. There will be always an Euro-League, a National league and the local derby. The teams, competing in the PHL, will continue to play in their National league. The football Bundesliga has no decrease nowhere, although the UEFA Championsleague is improving in a brilliant way. The National leagues will benefit from PHL. And therefore also the grassroots sports.
In which way the clubs will have a say?
We plan to set up a GmbH&Co KG, where the clubs will act as shareholders and decide, for example, about the marketing of the valuable licenses. The franchise system will give a lot space for creativity to the clubs. A modern league and responsible athletes can not be handled like a laird is governing his farm, the current approach of the federations.
Critics say that the PHL will destroy Handball.
Today in many places Handball is played as during the times of Vlado Stenzel. 1978 dart was played in pubs only and nobody knew, how to write the word Biathlon. Today these sports have huge audiences on TV. Handball has become, due to his rules, as difficult as an opera of Richard Wagner. What we need for a handball sunrise is a light mix of Rolling Stones, Mozart and Techno. If we succeed to make a facelifting of handball, we will be to position the sport in the US in a few years.