SBD Global/September 18, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
Russian NHL players "flocked home after the North American league’s season was left in jeopardy when a lockout was announced" on Sunday, according to Evgeniya Chaykovskaya of THE MOSCOW NEWS. The Kontinental Hockey League "amended its rules, allowing clubs to sign three NHL players, including one foreigner." The players will have "an opt-out clause in their contract" in case the NHL season is resumed. Pittsburgh Penguins Yevgeni Malkin "was the first to sign a contract." The forward "will now return to his native city and play for Metallurg Magnitogorsk." Malkin will be joined by Ottawa Senators defenceman Sergei Gonchar and possibly Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nikolai Kulyomin. Head of Russia’s Hockey Federation, legendary goaltender Vladislav Tretiak "thanked the lockout for a chance for Russia Coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov to get a closer look at the best Russian players" ahead of the Sochi Olympics 2014. Bilyaletdinov told Sovietsky Sport, "Now it is in a way useful for our players, who can display their skills at home, bring joy to the fans. The guys that will come back will raise the level of our championship" (THE MOSCOW NEWS, 9/17). RT.com reported that New Jersey Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk "is set to sign a lockout contract with SKA St. Petersburg," while fellow Russian Alex Ovechkin "is in contact with Dynamo Moscow," the reigning Gagarin Cup holders. Kovalchuk "is expected to make his debut for one of the KHL’s richest teams on Sunday" in SKA’s away clash with Dynamo Moscow (RT.com, 9/17). The DPA reported that Buffalo Sabres defenceman Christian Ehrhoff "is close to sign a contract with German Hockey League (DEL) club Krefeld Pinguine." The 30-year-old German native is expected to make his debut for Krefeld on Friday against the Hamburg Freezers. In addition, Florida Panthers center Marcel Goc, as well as free agents Jochen Hecht and Marco Sturm, "are considering a return to Germany" (DPA, 9/17). In Toronto, James Mirtle wrote that those departures amid an NHL lockout are "likely just the beginning." During the last lockout, more than "380 players found homes overseas for at least part of the 2004-05 season" (THEGLOBEANDMAIL.com, 9/16).
EUROPE REALITY: In Chicago, Adam Jahns noted the option players have "of playing in other leagues -- particularly in Europe -- has been the most publicized reality of the lockout." Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews confirmed at the NHLPA meetings that "he’d consider playing in Europe, and other Hawks will, as well." The longer the lockout goes, the "more likely more players will go." If players do opt to join another team, they "have to insure their contracts in case of injury." If injured, their NHL teams "can suspend them when they return without pay until they’re healthy" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 9/16). Penguins center Sidney Crosby acknowledged that playing in Europe "remains a possibility but said rumors that he already has spoken with a Swedish team are untrue" (TRIBLIVE.com, 9/15). In Philadelphia, Frank Seravalli noted thus far "just one North American-born player -- San Jose's Jason Demers -- has decided to take the plunge in Europe." Most players, even those "born and trained in Europe, have decided to take the temperature of these negotiations to gauge how long a lockout might last" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 9/17). In a separate piece, Seravalli wrote getting hurt, even "in the more docile European leagues, is a very real possibility" for players. That is why "one of the main topics" at last week's NHLPA meeting was "the importance of insuring players' current NHL contracts before heading overseas" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 9/16).
NOT EVERYONE IS WELCOMED: The CANADIAN PRESS' Chris Johnston reported that the KHL "has established guidelines for its teams to follow during the lockout." Each is permitted to sign a "maximum of three NHLers for a salary worth no more than 65% of what they were due to earn in North America" this season. For the 20 teams based in Russia, only one of three spots can be used on a foreigner, and that person "must have played at least 150 NHL games over the past three seasons, suited up recently for his national team or won the Stanley Cup or a major individual award" (CANADIAN PRESS, 9/17). In N.Y., Jeff Z. Klein wrote on the N.Y. Times blog Slap Shot that the Swedish Elitserien "has been the only top European league to say that it will not sign NHL players to short-term contracts." However, many believe the Elitserien would have to join other leagues in welcoming NHL players under contracts of any length, since "the Elitserien's contract with its players union does not include bans on short-term deals" (NYTIMES.com, 9/15).
The African Champions League was hit by controversy when Ghanaian club Berekum Chelsea "denied being offered money by four-time winners and 2010 Club World Cup finalist TP Mazembe to lose their final group game," according to the AP. Less than a month after Tunisian side E.S. Sahel was thrown out of the competition for fan unrest in its match against Esperance, Berekum called a news report in Tunisia claiming bribes were offered at a meeting by Mazembe offcials to throw Sunday's Group B game "utterly false." Mazembe has just returned to "the often troubled continental club competition" after being disqualified last season for fielding an ineligible player. The report alleged that surprise finalist at the Club World Cup two years ago Mazembe wanted Berekum to lose "so the Congolese team could finish top of their group and avoid Group A winners and defending champions Esperance of Tunisia in next month's semifinals." Berekum CEO Nana Kwame Nketiah denied any meeting with Mazembe officials took place ahead of the match and warned media "to desist from spreading such false reports, or we will be forced to take legal action to salvage our hard-earned reputation" (AP, 9/17).
Germany's top-flight hockey league, the Deutsche Eishockey Liga (DEL), is coming off a very successful '11-12 season during which it set an attendance record with an average of 6,059 fans during the regular season. The league also returns to free-to-air TV after signing a new broadcasting-rights deal with Austrian TV channel ServusTV and website laola1.tv. DEL CEO Gernot Tripcke took time to talk with SBD Global Staff Writer HJ Mai about the '12-13 season and the future of the league.
Q: The German Hockey League (DEL) returned to free-to-air TV this season, signing a broadcasting-rights deal with ServusTV and website laola1.tv. What do you expect from the league’s free-TV comeback?
Gernot Tripcke: A drastic increase in attractiveness for the DEL. We hope to reach a completely new demographic, people who have not been excited about our sport. This naturally would make us more interesting for potential sponsors.
Q: The DEL set a new attendance record last season with an average of 6,059 fans in the stands during the regular season. How do you see the future development in this area, and what does the league do to draw more fans?
Tripcke: Including the playoffs, we actually had an average of 6,280 fans at our arenas. We are very proud of this number because it means we rank third in Europe behind the Swedish and Swiss league, but ahead of Russian KHL (Kontinental Hockey League). The DEL can only influence the surroundings, but attracting fans is mainly the matter of clubs. And if I see that almost all 14 DEL cites have a modern and fan-friendly arena, it means we have made a big step forward.
Q: Football is by far the most popular sport in Germany. The DEL competes with the Beko Basektball Bundesliga (BBL) and the German Handball Bundesliga for the second place. How do you see your chances in regards to this, and how can the DEL separate itself from the other two?
Tripcke: We do not compare ourselves with football or any other sport. The surroundings of the various sports are simply too different. Therefore, we are focusing on improving our own surroundings. However, we are extremely satisfied with our attendance and revenue numbers.
Q: The DEL is one of the top hockey leagues in Europe. In your personal opinion, how does the DEL fare in comparison to the Russian KHL and the Swedish Elitserien in regards to quality and economic profitability?
Tripcke: In Russia and Sweden hockey is the No.1 sport. In the case of Russia, the incredible support of politics and the economy, without taking in consideration the league’s economic viability, plays a very important role. Therefore, the club’s budgets are inevitably higher. The quality of our league can keep up with the Swedish league and also with the majority of the clubs in the KHL, which has maybe five or six top team that are superior. Those clubs are elite because they spend 10 times as much for their players than what is the norm in the DEL.
Q: What are the league’s short-term and long-term goals?
Tripcke: Our focus is to increase the league’s domestic media presence, which we hope our new media partners will provide the necessary tailwind. In addition, we are hoping for an even better arena utilization, especially in the big markets.
Q: What economic developments do you pay close attention to?
Tripcke: We are currently forced to focus on tax and social security issues. In those areas we have huge competitive disadvantages that have in part existence-threatening tendencies for professional sport in Germany. To find a solution for these issues we teamed up with handball, basketball and football and created the “Initiative Profisport Deutschand” (Initiative Professional Sport Germany).
Q: What are the three biggest developments in sports business?
Tripcke: Science largely has been able to keep up with the professionalization of sports, which definitely has not been easy considering the rapid development over the last few years. I personally think that the specialization of the study of sports business in the areas of economy, media and practical training are very useful. However, there has to be an even better founded education in this area. At the moment, I see more business majors and lawyers in leadership roles at German professional clubs. In this regard, sports business has some catching up to do.
Q: What is the biggest challenge the DEL will face?
Tripcke: To use the current boost we receive from our new media partnerships with ServusTV and laola1.tv in a sustainable way to broaden hockey’s demographic. In addition, we want to activate our cooperation with the German Hockey Federation (DEB) regarding the national team in a meaningful way for both sides .
Q: In which area do you see the league’s biggest growth potential?
Tripcke: In the midterm, the biggest potential is certainly in the area of sponsorships, and the marketing of media rights also has room for improvement.
Q: What are your favorite websites and apps?
Tripcke: Naturally, the ones of the DEL and its media partners, where you now can find images every single game. Apart from that, the leading social-media networks such as Facebook and Linkedin.
Q: The development of which company/league do you follow very closely and with great interest?
Tripcke: All leagues across Europe, which we have a friendly relationship with through Hockey Europe, and all German professional leagues that are part of the IPD.