Postponements become cancellations as EHF protects new TV deal and calendar

FC Barcelona in action during VELUX EHF Champions League (Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images)

The European Handball Federation has today (Friday) cancelled various matches and events because of the ongoing Covid-19 shutdown, but has retained in the calendar the showpiece Final4 climax to the men’s and women’s Champions League seasons.

The Vienna-based body had, like many other sports rights-holders, been maintaining a policy of postponing and not cancelling events to protect itself from any compensation claims from broadcasters or sponsors.

However, the EHF has adopted various measures as it looks to alleviate pressures on the 2020-21 calendar and protect the new 10-year rights agreement with the Infront agency and global streaming operator DAZN.

It has now been concluded by the EHF that matches originally rescheduled for June will not be able to take place at that time.

Among the cancellations decided upon at today’s executive committee video conference meeting were:

  • The remaining last 16 and quarter-final matches in the men’s EHF Champions League;
  • The cancellation of the June playing dates for the EHF Women’s Champions League quarter-finals;
  • The remainder of the 2019-20 Men’s EHF Cup (remaining group-stage matches, quarter-finals and Finals in Berlin) and the remainder of the Women’s EHF Cup;
  • The remaining matches in the Men’s and Women’s Challenge Cup tournaments
    Four rounds of Women’s EHF Euro 2020 qualifiers;
  • Remaining European play-offs for the Men’s 2021 World Championship;
  • The 2020 ebt Beach Handball Finals in Larnaka, Cyprus;
  • and the qualification championships in Georgia and Greece for the Beach Handball Euro 2021 tournament.

In the case of the men’s Champions League, the EHF said: “The possibility was checked to have the remaining knock-out rounds played in autumn 2020. However, in the light of the dense calendar in men’s handball and the EHF’s new media and marketing agreement from next season onwards with potentially different media and marketing partners, this was not deemed feasible.”

The Infront-DAZN agreement is worth €500m ($540m) in rights fees alone (with an additional spend on production and services). It covers club competitions from 2020-21 onwards and the EHF Euros starting in 2022.

The EHF published details of its feasibility study at the end of Match, providing alternative dates for its competitions as it sought to afford the necessary details to stakeholders for planning purposes and also offer concrete information for rights-holders as it looked to avoid compensation claims.

EHF president Michael Wiederer told SportBusiness at the start of the month: “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.”

The men’s Final4 tournament was recently pushed back again and will be held at its now traditional home of Cologne’s Lanxess Arena from December 28-29.

The four participants will be Barcelona (Spain), Paris Saint-Germain HB (France), THW Kiel (Germany) and Telekom Veszprém (Hungary) as they were the best-placed teams in the final group-phase rankings.

There will an attempt made to play the women’s Champions League quarter-finals ahead of the Final4 tournament in Budapest.

However, the EHF warned that “should it not be possible to stage the EHF Final4 in September, an alternative date, together with the Hungarian Handball Federation as organisers, will be sought for the month of October. In this case, quarter-finals are not feasible anymore due to the already ongoing season and new media and marketing contracts”.

In the event that the quarter-finals cannot be played, then the finals tournament will comprise best-placed group-stage sides Metz Handball (France), Team Esbjerg (Denmark), Győri ETO KC (Hungary) and Brest Bretagne Handball (France).

Elsewhere, the EHF executive committee has also decided to postpone this summer’s age-grade tournaments.

Speaking at the start of April, Wiederer expressed confidence that the 2020-21 season would be carried out as normal.

He remarked: “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.”

The EHF president also said there had been no “substantial impact” felt 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”.

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.”