COLOGNE, Germany – How attractive is the German league in the European hockey community and in comparison with other sports in the country? Recent results show that it’s better than many people think.
According to attendance figures, the DEL is the third-most attended hockey league in Europe after the Swedish Elitserien (6,208) and the Swiss NLA (6,080) with 5,787 fans per game. The margin compared to the fourth-ranked Finnish SM-liiga has even grown most notably thanks to Berlin’s new arena that has almost tripled Eisbären Berlin’s attendance figures.
Critics of the DEL say that the success is only because of this new arena. Many of those critics don’t like the structure of the league, the liberal import quota of ten per team or that the last-place team can’t be relegated. The league is currently closed after reaching the limit of 16 teams. The criticism is loudest in traditional hockey towns that lost their place in top-tier hockey due to economic reasons.
“It´s true that we have a phenomenon in Berlin with the exciting new O2 World, but people tend to forget that these numbers also include two newly promoted teams with Wolfsburg and Kassel whose fan potential is way below the DEL average,” said DEL General Manager Gernot Tripcke.
The attendance figures have grown 5.1 percent compared to the 2007-2008 season and Tripcke hopes this number will grow even more in February.
Half of DEL clubs have a higher attendance this year including the Kassel Huskies, the newly promoted team. But the decrease among the other half is alarming especially in Nuremberg, Cologne and Hamburg.
“This is not a structural, but mainly a local problem, caused by disappointing performances of the teams in, unfortunately, big markets,” Tripcke said. “However, our big strength, the large and modern arenas, also puts a burden on their teams, as it is important to conserve the atmosphere and entertainment even if the home team plays poorly.”
The attendance figures show that for the most part, the clubs that play below their expectations suffer a decrease:
<table> <tbody><tr class="even"> <td>Club
</td></tr> <tr> <td>Eisbären Berlin</td><td>13,747</td><td>4,682</td><td>193.6%</td><td>2</td></tr> <tr class="even"> <td>Adler Mannheim</td><td>11,839</td><td>11,639</td><td>1.7%</td><td>4</td></tr> <tr> <td>Kölner Haie</td><td>10,158</td><td>12,317</td><td>-17.5%</td><td>14</td></tr> <tr class="even"> <td>Hamburg Freezers</td><td>7,944</td><td>8,834</td><td>-10.1%</td><td>10</td></tr> <tr> <td>Frankfurt Lions</td><td>6,180</td><td>6,071</td><td>1.8%</td><td>6</td></tr> <tr class="even"> <td>DEG Metro Stars Düsseldorf</td><td>5,904</td><td>6,364</td><td>-7.2%</td><td>3</td></tr> <tr> <td>Hannover Scorpions</td><td>5,363</td><td>4,746</td><td>13.0%</td><td>1</td></tr> <tr class="even"> <td>Krefeld Pinguine</td><td>4,477</td><td>3,673</td><td>21.9%</td><td>5</td></tr> <tr> <td>Straubing Tigers</td><td>4,125</td><td>4,361</td><td>-5.4%</td><td>12</td></tr> <tr class="even"> <td>Sinupret Ice Tigers Nuremberg</td><td>4,094</td><td>5,032</td><td>-18.6%</td><td>8</td></tr> <tr> <td>Kassel Huskies</td><td>4,030</td><td> </td><td> </td><td>15</td></tr> <tr class="even"> <td>Iserlohn Roosters</td><td>3,827</td><td>3,931</td><td>-2.6%</td><td>11</td></tr> <tr> <td>Augsburger Panther</td><td>3,536</td><td>3,377</td><td>4.7%</td><td>9</td></tr> <tr class="even"> <td>ERC Ingolstadt</td><td>3,281</td><td>3,574</td><td>-8.2%</td><td>13</td></tr> <tr> <td>Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg</td><td>2,317</td><td>2,336</td><td>-0.8%</td><td>7</td></tr> <tr class="even"> <td>Füchse Duisburg</td><td>1,777</td><td>1,627</td><td>9.2%</td><td>16</td></tr> <tr> <td> </td><td> </td><td> </td><td> </td><td> </td></tr> <tr> <td>Average</td><td>5,787</td><td>5,504</td><td>5.1%</td><td> </td></tr> <tr> <td>Average without Eisbären</td><td>5,257</td><td>5,563</td><td>-5.5%</td><td> </td></tr> </tbody></table>
The DEL is under fire in the German press due to the lack of a relegation system. In the football-crazed country, fans see promotion and relegation as a natural part of competition and equate lack of pressure on the bottom teams as a reason why those teams have problems in attracting a crowd. In a recent poll of the weekly magazine Eishockey News, 76 percent of the German fans supported the idea of relegation.
“I don’t think that a mode with promotion and relegation leads to more spectators,” Alexander Morel, DEL public relations officer said. “Such a series could be interesting for the fans and media, but in Germany, this works only in football where there are plenty of candidates. A promotion and relegation often leads to financial problems and in hockey, we just have one or two more teams with the potential to join the DEL.”
The recent discussions among hockey’s leaders on this topic were fruitless because of differing opinions on formats for a relegation round. The biggest issue is the number of imports which varies greatly between the top and second-level leagues. The second-tier clubs would like their teams to sign additional players to reach the same number of imports in a series against a DEL teams, the DEL proposal didn’t foresee the possibility of such last-minute additions.
Tripcke said of the offer last year, “it was refused by the majority of teams in the second league, mainly the ones not in the position to get to the DEL. Everyone in German hockey has to look to much more important issues for the sport’s future.”
Tripcke says that this means educating and recruiting more young players, and building a better environment for players aged 18 to 23. He feels that there are too many professional or ‘pseudo-professional’ teams in Germany.
“Once we have more players and fewer teams, everything else will be easier,” Tripcke said. “The ratio of active players and professional teams is very unhealthy at this point.”
While the attendance is positive, the DEL also had great reviews in the magazine Sponsors, which recently asked sponsors in basketball, football, handball and hockey what they think about their clubs and league.
Football is the biggest team sport while the three indoor sports fight for the number-two position. And while the DEL had the worst sponsoring ratings in the magazine in October 2006, the German Hockey League overtook basketball, handball and, yes, even football.
The positives of the hockey league according to the magazine: a good impression of the clubs and league in the public, good service and a reasonable price. With the growing interest in German hockey that could even grow stronger with a record-setting 2010 World Championship, it is maybe just a matter of time until Free-TV stations will jump on board too. First steps were already done during this season as Eurosport Germany broadcast a few games.Notebook:
- Berlin’s O2 World hosted the DEL All-Star Game. Team North America defeated Team Europe, 9-8.
- Alexander Barta was elected DEL Player of the Month in January. After sitting out for nine months due to an injury, the Hamburg Freezers captain had a great comeback. In nine games, he has four goals and nine assists.
- Füchse Duisburg, last in attendance with 1,777, is rumoured by the media to be leaving the league or looking to relocate.
- International hockey was a big topic in Germany with the qualification to the 2010 Olympics and the start of ticket sales for the 2010 World Championship. Packages for the games in Cologne and Mannheim can be bought on www.iihfworlds2010.com. Tickets for the opening game in the 75,976-capacity football stadium Veltins-Arena in Gelsenkirchen are also on sale. 60,000 tickets were sold in the first ten days.
- Kölner Haie is struggling. The Cologne-based team is second from the bottom in the standings and announced a decrease in its budget. After nine years with Cologne, 41-year-old captain Dave McLlwain announced that he will retire at the end of the season. Before moving to Cologne in 2000, the Canadian played 521 NHL games.
- The German Cup Final is also a Derby of Lower Saxony. The Grizzly Adams Wolfsburg will play the Hannover Scorpions. The 4,500-capacity EisArena of Wolfsburg will be sold out for the February 24 final.
- Wolfsburg was the biggest surprise early in the season, leading the standings despite low expectations. However, things have changed and the Grizzly Adams are now in ninth place. Their regional rival from Hanover currently tops the DEL standings and is fighting to be the regular-season winner against Eisbären Berlin, which is five points behind.
- Starting from Thursday, all DEL games will be officiated with the four-man system for the remainder of the season.