Wiederer: European handball rights to be worth €1bn by next cycle
By Jonathan Rest
European handball will be a €1-billion ($1.13 billion) property by the time the European Handball Federation comes to negotiate its next commercial rights deal in 2027, EHF president Michael Wiederer has boldly declared.
The EHF is set for a windfall in the range of €600 million between 2020 and 2030 from its bumper commercial rights deal with Infront, the sports marketing agency, and DAZN, the international OTT subscription broadcaster, that was formalised a year ago, and Wiederer is confident the calendar changes being implemented over the next decade will further increase the value of its national team and club competitions.
In an exclusive interview with Sportcal, the Austrian official said: “We are on the way to developing a master plan for European handball from 2020 to 2027, that being the start of the Infront-DAZN contract to typically when we would look at our next rights cycle. I see the EHF, in the terminology of the start-up world, as a ‘unicorn’ business. European handball competitions are an attractive start-up investment.
“In 2027, negotiations and new agreements will be concluded. I see the value at €1 billion from 2030.”
Asked how the EHF can seek to achieve a two-thirds increase on the Infront-DAZN outlay, Wiederer cited the switch of men’s EHF Champions League games from the weekend to the middle of the week from 2020-21, the rebranding of the second-tier EHF Cup to the European Handball League (and expansion of the group stage of the men’s competition from 16 to 24 teams), club competition finals being moved to after the conclusion of domestic seasons and the expansion of the women’s European Championships to 24 teams from 2024.
The switch of Champions League matches to midweek was ratified in December after extensive talks with Infront, DAZN, clubs, leagues and players.
The EHF said that at the time that the change “means not only an ‘appointment to view’ each week for fans but also much better scheduling options for TV partners in the future, with no overlap of men’s and women’s top competitions in the future.”
The initiative was explained in greater detail to European handball stakeholders during the biennial EHF Conference of Presidents in Cologne last Friday, on the eve of the Velux EHF Final4, the showpiece weekend finale to the men’s Champions League.
Wiederer told Sportcal: “Some time ago people we were afraid about moving our games and going up against [Uefa] Champions League and Europa League matches. Now, we believe it is strong enough and can be placed parallel with those and give viewers the choice. Stakeholders to a large degree agreed to it.”
Other changes in the Infront-DAZN contract will involve the men’s Final4 moving to the middle of June and the women’s event being at the end of May, with national team weeks rescheduled from mid-June to late April or the beginning of May, meaning players will no longer be required to play European qualifying matches after the end of the club season.
Wiederer explained: “There’s no perfect calendar solution and this holds true to every sport. The process for defining the new calendar as of 2020 for the combination of club and national teams was started with all stakeholders involved.
“Having no national team qualifiers after the club season has finished was deemed essential. Moving the Final4 to the middle of June will give leagues a better chance to finish, give holiday breaks for players and will have an even greater impact on the value of the Final4, bringing the curtain down on the European handball season.
“Ten, 15 years ago we were not ready to go up in June against a major football tournament. Now for the first time it will come in 2024 [with the Uefa European Championships in Germany]. We believe the product is strong enough that we can stand against that competition.”
This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Final4, all of which have been played in Cologne. The German city is contracted to 2024, after which the EHF has vowed to open it up to a competitive bidding process, akin to Uefa’s top club competitions.
This year’s Final4 was won by HC Vardar of North Macedonia (pictured), which overcame Hungary's Telekom Veszprém HC in the gold medal match. Poland's PGE VIVE Kielce and Spain's Barca Lassa also competed in Cologne, and Wiederer was buoyed by the geographic make-up of the competition.
He said: “It is a positive to see not every year exactly the same combination of teams. Last year, we had three French teams in the Final4 and this year it was four different teams, and no French ones. Every sport wants to see that level of competition.”
The tournament was broadcast by 42 TV partners in a record 110 territories worldwide, with Final4-related content on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube generating 30 million impressions.
For the first time, player tracking technology was used alongside ball tracking, with the captured data delivered in real-time to in-arena spectators and TV audiences, and via the official Final4 app, which has been downloaded almost 25,000 times since its launch in late April.
Image credit: EHF/Heimken, Hocevar, Lämmerhirt, Stadler.