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Volume 6 No. 195
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HBL CEO Frank Bohmann Talks About League's TV Exposure And Its Place In German Society

Clubs from Europe’s top handball league, the DKB Handball Bundesliga (HBL), won every European Handball Federation club competition during the ’11-12 season. Unfortunately, the success of the country’s handball league does not reflect the performance of the nation’s national handball team, which has been rather disappointing since '07. HBL CEO Frank Bohmann took time to talk with SBD Global Staff Writer HJ Mai about the league’s future and the strengthening of the German national team.

Q: Football is by far the most popular sport in Germany. The Handball Bundesliga competes with the Beko Basektball Bundesliga (BBL) and the German Hockey Leauge (DEL) for second place. How do you see your chances in regards to this, and how can the HBL separate itself from the other two?
Frank Bohmann:
First of all, we do not consider it to be a competition. We work closely together with basketball and hockey. It is not our goal to separate ourselves from the other two sports. Outside people refer to it as a competition, but we do not see it as one. Nevertheless, the leagues are of course comparable, however, handball’s advantage over the other two sports is its deep roots in Germany. More than 1 million people play handball in Germany, compared to 25,000 active hockey players and about 200,000 basketball players. We believe this provides us with a closer connection to the people. In addition, our sport has a long tradition, at least in Germany. We also are very confident about our media exposure, in which we feel distinctively better positioned than basketball and hockey.  However, we wish them the same success that we try to accomplish.

Q: You just mentioned that you work closely together with the BBL and DEL. Can you give me an example of this cooperation?
Bohmann: We founded together with hockey, basketball and the German Football League (DFL) the Initiative Profisport Deutschland (Initiative Professional Sports Germany), an association that represents our common interests. In addition, together with hockey and basketball, we took care of our leagues’ post exploitation with the public broadcasters. We fought side by side and not against each other to put ourselves in the best possible negotiating position.

Q: The DEL returned to free-to-air TV this season, signing a broadcasting-rights deal with ServusTV and website  The BBL was able to acquire a second TV partner with kabel eins. Has the HBL lost track in regards to TV marketing and exposure?
I have to disagree with that statement. Our primary TV partner is Sport1, and we also receive post exposure through public broadcasters and regional TV channels, as well as on various Internet portals. In addition, the league’s marketing of foreign TV rights is way ahead of those of basketball and hockey, which are only focusing on the German TV market. The DKB Handball Bundesliga can be watched live in more than 50 countries worldwide.

Q: The HBL is one of the best handball leagues in Europe. How do you see the development of other European leagues in comparison to the HBL, and how do you want to defend your top position?
Bohmann: Currently there are only four competitive professional leagues. In addition to the German league these also include the leagues in Denmark, France and Spain. Eastern European leagues such as Poland, Russia, Slovenia and Hungary produce from time to time one very good team that dominates the league, which does not allow real competition. This is a general problem of handball. Handball is, in comparison to basketball, not a global sport. Handball is predominantly played in Europe, as well as in North Africa and the Middle East, which makes the implementation of our interests somewhat difficult. In this regard, I sometimes envy the position of basketball. However, we are the clear market leader of handball leagues and not only in regards to quality, but also when it comes to the development of business operation, economics and media exposure.

Q: You said that Eastern European leagues are mostly dominated by one team, but is this not also the case in the HBL, where THW Kiel won eight championships in the last nine years?
Bohmann: Yes, the league is more than ever before dominated by THW Kiel, but the HBL has in addition several other teams that belong to Europe’s elite. Last year, German teams have won every single European club competition. In my view, in the top 20 of European handball clubs 10 are from Germany.

Q: The German national handball team won the European championship and an Olympic Silver Medal in ’04, as well as the World Cup in ’07.  For about 10 years the German Handball Federation’s (DHB) team was one of the best in the world. Over the last couple of years, the performance of the team has drastically decreased. What are the HBL and DHB doing to make sure the national team keeps pace with current leading nations such as Olympic champion France?
I have to agree that the performance of the national team has been rather disappointing since its World Cup triumph in ’07. The performance of the national team is also an indicator for the state of handball in general. We are working very hard to lead the national team back to its former glory.  

Q: What are the league’s short- and long-term goals?
Bohmann: One of our goals is definitely the improvement of the national team and its permanent return to the world’s top. In addition, we want to advocate the economic and athletic interests of the leagues’ clubs. We want to make sure that HBL clubs are financially stable, so we do not have situations where clubs get into financial trouble. We also want to improve the league’s competitive quality. We cannot relax on the fact that our clubs are currently the best in handball. In addition, we want to grow our media exposure and gain new audience groups. In order to accomplish this, we have to defy the cultural demographic change. The number of youths that compete in competitive sports have been on the decline in Germany, which is also caused by the drop in birthrate. We would consider it a success if we were able to stabilize the number and quality in this area.

Q: In which area do you see the league’s biggest growth potential?
We want to increase the value of the handball brand, our media rights and just the total value of handball in general.