20.1.2016: German HANDELSBLATT article on ‘Premier Handball League’ | FORUM CLUB HANDBALL

 

Date: 2016.01.20 | Category: EHF, EU Commission, Euroleague Handball | Tags:

As reported earlier this week, the well-known German HANDELSBLATT (article by Erik Eggers) published details on the ‘Premier-Handball-League’ Project on 18.1.2016. Please find below the full version of the article, translated into English language:

18.1.2016 Handelsblatt: ‘Handball Worldleague becomes more concrete’ by Erik Eggers

The idea of a Handball Superleague, acting with European Top teams only, shall become reality in 2019. The ambitions are big, the ‘Premier Handball League’ even wants to conquer the US-Market.

T H E  B I G  S H O T

The stock-company, registered at the commercial register of Zurich under the file CH-020-3.402.676-5 on 25th November 2015, is only known by a couple of insiders up to now. The new company, called ‘Premier Handball League’ (PHL), could change the balance of power in the handball. The core of the project is the creation of an international professional league, with PHL organizing the competition and expoloiting the rights on behalf of the clubs.

President of the board is Wolfgang Gütschow. The 53-year-old is well-known in handball business for years, starting 1993 as manager of the Russian National team, later acting as players agent. Among his clients are the current National team coach Dagur Sigurdsson and goal keeper Carsten Lichtlein, both of them participating in the European Championship, currently taking place in Poland.

Almost a year Gütschow, one of the leading figures in handball, is working behind the scenes on the idea of a ‚Handball NBA‘, a league copying the North American Basketball system. As of the year 2019 the PHL shall replace the current Championsleague, organized by the European Handball Federation (EHF) since 1993. ‘Handball has no marketable premium product’, explains Gütschow. The sport needs to be modernized urgently.

How serious and how concrete the ambitions of the PHL are, is underlined by the change of personnel: Peter Vargo, 45, the long-serving EHF-Marketing boss, has cancelled his contract with EHF and will join the PHL project.

A further outstanding motivation is the perception of the initiators that in numerous matches on highest level not all things are running properly. ‘We need a complete restructuring of the refereeing system. The international federations are not able to provide neutral officiating. But especially this is the basis of every sportive competition’, says Gütschow.  

The administrative framework of the PHL has been set up already. The stock company in Zurich acts as a holding, owning the marketing rights and taking the responsibility for finances. The league shall be operated from Berlin: The PHL Licence GmbH&Co KG is in incorporation.

The protagonists plan a franchise-system with twelve licensees from 12 European metropolitan areas. This means a pure license based league, organized without promotion and relegation. ‘The participation of big cities like Berlin, Paris, Barcelona or Moscow is a precondition for our partners and investors which intend to position handball on the US-market at a later stage’ says Gütschow. ‘Why not to play some day Dubai vs Chicago, Munich vs Liverpool and Vienna vs Amsterdam? We need to learn, how to dream handball!’

Clubs from smaller cities are not excluded at all. A team like, ie Kadetten Schaffhausen, could join as Zurich based ‘Swiss Cadetts’, according to Gütschow, but also a german-danish joint-venture of Copenhagen and Flensburg is thinkable. ‘If something like this will happen, we are approaching the level of the NBA. The market leaders have to say good-bye to the provincial image. 

The playing year shall last from February to December. Two clubs shall participate. ‘This would reduce the calendar problems of the German Bundesliga. We intend to have a fair partnership with the national leagues’, underlines Gütschow.

Gütschow and Vargo are dreaming about building up the clubs as sustainable brands. Furthermore, this the PHL will work with a pool of professional referees, simplify the rules, allow video proof, establish a shot-clock to avoid passive play and make the game faster.

Financing is already settled by taking over TV- and Marketing rights, says Gütschow, but a start of the PHL is not possible before 2019: ‘Such a project needs serious preparation with experienced top officials in the management.’ And beside this, one has to expect serious resistance of International Handball Federation (IHF) and EHF.

‚Such a league is possible‘, says Frank Bohmann, the Managing Director of Handball-Bundesliga which is regarded to be the strongest national league in the world. ‘In any case this league will strengthen the competition. But the federations will oppose.’ He expects disqualification of PHL-professionals, also severe juridical conflicts. ‘It is understandable, that the federations will try to defend their monopoly on organizing Handball events by all means’, also Gütschow is expecting resistance.

Whether the world league will become reality or not, ultimately will depend on the opinion of the big clubs from Paris, Barcelona, Veszprem, Kiel, Berlin or Flensburg, clarifies Giorgio Behr, the decision taker of the Swiss Championsleague participant Schaffhausen. Germanys most successful team THW seems to be willing: ‘Like others we have been informed by the initiators about the project and see a big chance’, says THW-Managing Director Thorsten Storm to Handelsblatt. A decision hasn’t been taken yet, but the frustration is big. In the current Championsleague many things are improvable – ie the small number of marketing rights and the exaggerated workload for the players, complains Storm. The clubs want to change this: ‘We are paying the players, the players are scoring the goals, but the rules are determined by others.’

 

Founded in 2007, FORUM CLUB HANDBALL eV (FCH) acts as the European Club Association (ECA) in professional football, as an interest group of European Top clubs. FCH Managing Director Gerd Butzeck, 57, comments on the plans of the World league.

Mr. Butzeck, is the modell of a privately organised Handball league realistic?

Why not? Permanently and from different sides people are asking for a Championsleague, organized by the clubs. In Basketball, Icehockey and Rugby the Championsleague is organized by companies which mainly belong to the clubs. A few days ago ECA-boss Rummenigge announced that he can imagine to have an European Superleague consisting out of the top clubs of the five top nations, organized from UEFA or organized privately.

The top clubs in Handball are complaining about the financial result of the Championsleague.

The Championsleague in Handball became an established product. But the revenues of the clubs did not increase during the last years. Many clubs are not satisfied with the Championsleague format. Some of them complain about to many matches, some of them would like to play more matches. All of them criticize that the financial output is not sufficient.

A privately organized league will also touch the world federation IHF. Will this disturb the relation of clubs and IHF?

The clubs are complaining about the ignorance of IHF on all levels. While FIFA signed an agreement with ECA, the IHF is neglecting the existence of the clubs. No negotiations are taking place. IHF is running the handball business, without communicating with the main protagonists – the clubs. Rule changes, ie TV proof, passive play and blue card are invented and abolished without any communication. A private league could burst these structures and improve the product sustainable.

How will the clubs react on the offer of the PHL?

They will listen to the offer carefully, if the competition is attractive and the revenues are significantly higher. The European Federation will not be enthusiastic about this rival competition for sure, as the EHF-budget is covered partly out of the Championsleague revenues. The final decision has to be taken by the clubs.

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