EHF feasibility study helps to forestall rights-holder claims

Image credit: EHF

The European Handball Federation’s move to provide alternative dates for its competitions has not only afforded the necessary details to stakeholders for planning purposes, but also offers concrete information for rights-holders as it seeks to avoid compensation claims.

Amidst the ongoing spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, the EHF last week published details of its feasibility study for the potential re-start of European handball.

Along with alternative dates for its competitions, including new August and September slots for the EHF Final 4s and men’s EHF Cup finals, respectively, the EHF also provided stakeholders with the final dates by which events could be cancelled. The plan also incorporates procedures for further qualification based on sporting results achieved in completed rounds.

All events are, at present, postponed and not cancelled, and by providing alternative plans the EHF and EHF Marketing, its commercial arm, will be looking to placate rights-holding broadcasters by showing them that there are concrete plans in place for matches to be played.

EHF president Michael Wiederer told SportBusiness: “We are eager to play but at the same time we have to be careful because there are existing rules and regulations, [along with] existing contracts. As we understand, the current crisis has an impact on all partners.

“We have to make sure that, even in a case of force majeure, we are fulfilling our duties in the best possible way.”

Global streaming operator DAZN has been among the leading broadcasters to inform sports rights-holders that it would not be making its next rights fee payments for content that has yet to be delivered. The company, which has also begun to furlough staff, holds a joint ten-year EHF rights agreement with the Infront agency that will begin in under three months’ time.

DAZN’s relationship with the EHF is handled separately and distinctly from the company’s consumer-facing subscription streaming operation and is managed by the global rights partnerships team.

Wiederer insisted that DAZN’s predicament has not prompted a rethink on the rolling out of an agreement worth €500m ($539m) in rights fees alone (with an additional spend on production and services) and which covers club and international competitions.

He said: “As our new contract with Infront and DAZN starts from 1 July, the current situation will not change our plans, as we will deliver the various EHF competitions as per the schedule from the autumn.”

EHF and EHF Marketing officials held the latest steering board meeting on Wednesday with Infront and DAZN and, Wiederer said, it was “confirmed by the colleagues from DAZN that the work and cooperation ahead of the start of the project will continue as planned”.

Asked if the 2020-21 season feels a knock-on effect given the disruption caused to this season’s calendar, the EHF president replied: “From our point of view the next season will run according to the international calendar. We are always in talks with our stakeholders and as I understand, there is a major interest among the clubs, the players and everybody involved that we have a regular season [in 2020-21]. We will try our upmost to grant a regular season.”

On any potential impact on Infront and DAZN‘s market-by-market rights sales process, Wiederer remarked: “If there is a commercial impact you’d have to talk to the agencies directly. Right now nobody can answer that but in my opinion our strategy to provide a strong product to the market is the right thing. The weaker the product is, the more trouble there will be on the marketing [commercial] side, be it a federation, a club or a league.

“It’s obvious that we started a way of developing a strong product and that’s what helps in this situation.”

DAZN is also an existing rights-buying client of EHF Marketing as it holds EHF Cup broadcast rights in Germany and Austria from 2018-19 to 2019-20.

The men’s flagship EHF Champions League is currently at the round-of-16 stage and is now scheduled to recommence at the start of June. The women’s competition is at the quarter-final stage and is scheduled to restart in the middle of June. Should those matches be cancelled, then the best ranked teams will progress to the rescheduled Final 4s in August.

The Vienna-based body reacted early to prepare for the effect of the coronavirus spread on the European handball calendar, according to Wiederer.

He said: “Already in February – before the coronavirus question showed up prominently – we looked for an alternative for the Final4 tournaments instead of Budapest, Cologne and Berlin. We figured out dates and reserved the halls. This was almost one month prior to the final decision [taken].

“The very moment we cancelled the May events, in parallel to that we started to think about alternatives if August will not be possible.”

EHF finances, behind-closed door games, and an Olympic solution

According to Wiederer, there has been no “substantial impact” felt by the EHF financially as a direct result of the sport’s shutdown, but he noted that any fiscal effect would “very much depend on the summer activities”.

He remarked: “Overall, in terms of the co-operation with the different interest groups and with the major leagues, it is an open one and we are rather positive.

“We feel that in our sport we are still in the driving seat and all that is linked to financial means as well…

“…we also believe that our joint partner system of Infront and DAZN is working with us so we think that we are in good hands. That’s the reason why we are positive.”

Discussing the likelihood of supporters being able to attend matches when they resume, Wiederer said: “We can expect different stages so it may happen in early June there are consequences regarding the presence of fans. And it may happen that then in August the situation will be different. Logically we want to have fans but if it’s not possible then we have to adapt.”

Meanwhile, the suggestions that the Olympic Games could be re-arranged for the spring of 2021 caused “stress” at the EHF, Wiederer admits. That timeline, he said, would have “definitely harmed the national leagues and club competitions and would have destroyed the calendar”.

As a further complication, the men’s IHF World Championship is also scheduled to take place January 14-31, 2021.

In the event, the Tokyo Games have been postponed by 12 months to July and August 2021.

Wiederer remarked: “We were in touch with the International Handball Federation president [Hassan Moustafa] to define our position in that respect.

“The decision of the IOC, which was logically harmonised with the Tokyo organising committee more than with the individual interests of federations, to have the same time period next year released us from many stress factors. Now we can build up a reasonable plan by postponing things for one year.”