Future of handball comes under the spotlight in CologneArticle
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NEWS: The third European Handball Talks were held on Friday at Flora Cologne on the fringe of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2019, with two panel discussions featuring expert guests

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Future of handball comes under the spotlight in Cologne

The third edition of the European Handball Talks was held on Friday in Cologne, one day before the semi-finals of the VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 throw off at the LANXESS arena. The event featured two panel discussions as well as a presentation from keynote speaker Michael Rasmussen.

The sold-out audience in Flora Cologne were first treated to a reading of the special edition children’s book by Julie Larsson, “The Handball Detectives: Alarm at the arena,” published to coincide with the 10th anniversary celebration of the EHF FINAL4. Those in attendance were then welcomed by EHF President Michael Wiederer, who commented on the significance of celebrating the 10th edition of the event in Cologne. 

“I think there cannot be any better place than Cologne and the EHF FINAL4 to have such gatherings,” said Wiederer, about the European Handball Talks. “We are all not only celebrating, not only fans of our sport, of handball, but it is also a place where the people who are interested in handball and the future of our sport meet once a year.”

More mobile connections than people in Europe

Following Wiederer’s welcome, keynote speaker Rasmussen took centre stage to discuss the first topic on the programme, brand building in the digital age. Rasmussen, owner of the agency ‘purpose @ heart’, addressed different challenges sport is facing to continue developing brand presence.

Rasmussen highlighted the fact that although there are 843 million Europeans, 80 per cent of whom have internet access, there are more than 1.1 billion mobile connections on the continent. The average consumer spends 495 minutes per day on different media – half the time on the internet and half on TV. There are also 448 million active social media users.

Rasmussen encouraged the audience to consider their future audience, whose time will be divided between internet and TV on a very one-sided 9:1 ratio.

“It is our mission to pass on the sport to future generations in an even better state than we received it,” concluded Rasmussen.

Panel discussions featuring expert guests

The first panel discussion, continuing the brand-building theme, featured Managing Director and Chief Editor of SPONSORS Marco Klewenhagen, SN1 Consulting owner Sascha Kojic, FC Barcelona US Managing Director Xavier O’Callaghan, EHF Marketing Managing Director David Szlezak, as well as Rasmussen.

Each participant was asked to complete a sentence specified to coincide with their usual role. O’Callaghan’s was perhaps one of the most memorable: “A strong sports brand for me is a brand that transcends beyond the sport.”

That concept was a common theme, considering building a brand that means something to fans and the desired audience is something the panellists are expert in.

“When you realise sport is part of the entertainment industry, you have understood one of the main challenges,” said Szlezak.

The panellists highlighted possible strategies for promotion such as focusing on individual athletes, the creation of ‘super fans’, diverse and unique content.

The second panel focused on professionalisation in handball. It came about as a result of the ‘Don’t Play the Players’ campaign launched by the European Handball Players’ Union earlier this year after concerns were raised about players’ busy match schedules.

Taking part in the panel were EHPU President Michael Sahl Hansen, Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Sweden goalkeeper Mikael Appelgren, FIBA Europe Executive Director Kamil Novak, former coach of Champions League winners HSV turned TV expert Martin Schwalb, and EHF Secretary General Martin Hausleitner.

The panellists discussed the challenge of balancing the growth of the handball brand and safeguarding players’ health. Hausleitner said the EHF have already taken steps to reduce the workload on players, with a revised schedule starting from the 2020/21 season.

He said the organisers of EHF EURO tournaments from 2020 onwards will have to use chartered flights for longer distance travels from venue to venue in order to give players more rest and “to offer them an environment where they can perform”.

The panel discussion was a fruitful one where different motivations and experiences combined with a common goal, as highlighted by Appelgren.

“My motivation is also to make this fantastic sport of handball even better. And I think that’s why it’s important the players have the chance to participate in the decision-making,” said Appelgren.

TEXT: Courtney Gahan/jh