Wiederer: “VELUX EHF FINAL4 is unique in European sports”Article
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INTERVIEW: The unicorn, the cathedral and the master plan: EHF President Michael Wiederer speaks about 10 years of VELUX EHF FINAL4, the strategy for the future and the implementation of the new marketing agreement

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Wiederer: “VELUX EHF FINAL4 is unique in European sports”

The VELUX EHF FINAL4 2019 ended Sunday with an emotional triumph for HC Vardar, which beat Telekom Veszprém HC in the final.

For the 10th time the VELUX EHF Champions League trophy has been awarded in the LANXESS arena in Cologne, surrounded by numerous side events.

One year before the new marketing and media contract with Infront and DAZN comes into force, EHF President Michael Wiederer comments on the 10th anniversary, the challenges and the future of the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

ehfCL.com: How does it feel for you to return to Cologne again and again?

Michael Wiederer: The past 10 tournaments have definitely made Cologne the world capital of club handball, and the LANXESS arena is the cathedral of handball. When the VELUX EHF FINAL4 goes on stage, the whole world of handball meets here. All organizations, such as clubs, players or leagues, have their meetings in Cologne in the EHF FINAL4 weekend, other European associations come here - and so it is logical to use this major event for our important meetings and events.

ehfCL.com: You refer to the European Handball Talks and the Conference of Presidents with all 50 member associations. What is your assessment of these two events?

Michael Wiederer: The European Handball Talks are a business event, dedicated to a specific topic, for example, the technical development or this year just the brand core, the DNA of the handball. In two round-table discussions, we took a close look at the product of handball, with the focus on: do we even know what the DNA of the handball is? Do we want changes, what needs to be adjusted? It is generally clear that we must always work to modernise the sport - and not to say: “We have always done it this way.” But you always have to be aware whether the new product appeals to the market. We did that in the bidding process for our 10-year contract. It was a very strategic decision, and we have just been reconfirmed by experts at European Handball Talks that handball is a product that has grown organically and evolves so much better than products that are artificially hyped.

ehfCL.com: How do you pin the organic growth, only on the 10-year contract with Infront and DAZN, which has a volume of half a billion euros?

Michael Wiederer: The economic figures are one thing, but handball has much more to offer in other areas. The national federations and clubs form a stable foundation, handball lives on emotions, we have players who have something to say, we have media experts and commentators known for high quality analysis. And just when you see the tournament in Cologne, we must not shy away from a comparison with the NBA. This also applies to other arenas, as for our previous final tournaments in Budapest, Kiel and now Cologne show. Now it is up to all parties involved to continue and exploit this organic growth.

ehfCL.com: The new treaty and its importance for European handball was also a major theme at the Conference of Presidents. What did you present there?

Michael Wiederer: First of all, we mentioned the contract as such, because in fact there are two contracts, one for club competitions, another one for European Championships. But we have to keep in mind that the fan does not care about this distinction. He loves the players, during EHF EURO events in the national team jersey, in club competitions in the club jersey. In a globalised world, things have changed, including fan behaviour. Look at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne: at least 50 percent of the fans come to see quality handball, a great event and great games, regardless of who is on the court. We have to create the conditions that it will stay that way, that we offer a platform for stars and teams. Another important point in the presentation was the investment we are undertaking as part of the contract, be it in service or in staff.

ehfCL.com: One of these strategic matters for the EHF is the master plan, which is scheduled to be finalised in January 2020. What can you already say about this plan?

Michael Wiederer: It's about the period from 2020 to 2027, seven years, seven theses - it fits with seven handball players. In 2027 we will begin to negotiate the follow-up contract. And then we want to become a unicorn.

ehfCL.com: What does a unicorn have to do with handball?

Michael Wiederer: That's easy. In the business world, a start-up is called a unicorn when it acquires more than 1 billion dollars in venture capital. With the new 10-year contract from 2030 on, we want to double our revenues to one billion euros. But it’s not just about money, we can be proud of our product, and how we will present it from 2020 onwards. Therefore we are currently gathering information for this master plan. It’s not just about the big sponsorship deals, it’s about raising the middle and lower levels significantly. But the master plan also focuses on other things, such as volunteering for handball and setting the stage for a healthy handball base across Europe.

ehfCL.com: What developments are being addressed as part of the new marketing and rights agreement?

Michael Wiederer: We have already decided to extend the Women’s EHF EURO to 24 teams. There will be changes in the YAC competitions, also because the World Championship will be extended to 32 teams. In addition, the entire system for referees and delegates at European level - in terms of nominations and analysis - will be professionalised and changed.

ehfCL.com: Back to the VELUX EHF FINAL4: how have you experienced the 10th anniversary?

Michael Wiederer: I think we can all pat ourselves on the back. I still remember the beginnings when we were in Cologne. We had a contract for two years, but we had the opportunity to quit after the premiere. We knew that failure would have meant the end of all final tournaments on EHF level, so we put all our energy into selling out the hall. And it was an incredible success. The all-important point was a year later, when we had an all-Spanish final with Barça and Ciudad Real. Among the 19,600 spectators were primarily German handball fans. And although there was no German team on the court, they all stayed in the arena, caused a great atmosphere, gave standing ovations for Barcelona and remained until the end of the award ceremony. Then we knew that the format had established itself. The fact that we unveiled the Ball of Fame in front of the LANXESS arena on Friday is the visible sign of our outstanding collaboration with the city of Cologne and the LANXESS arena. That is unique in European sports.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew