July 12 -- ZURICH, Switzerland -- The International Ice Hockey Federation held a meeting at the Zurich airport today with representatives from the European national federations and their leagues. IIHF President René Fasel and IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner announced the launch of the IIHF Champions Hockey League that will involve the national champion teams playing for European club hockey supremacy annually. The inaugural 2008-2009-campaign will coincide with the 100 Year Anniversary season of the IIHF.
On April 20, the IIHF announced the intention to launch a new European club competition after an initial meeting with the federations and leagues. On May 8, during the 2007 IIHF World Championship in Moscow, René Fasel informed that an agency was conducting a feasibility study among potential sponsors and broadcasters regarding a Champions Hockey League.
On Thursday, the agency Ovation AG and its CEO, Craig Thompson, submitted a report of the feasibility to the IIHF and the top European leagues.
"The feasibility study was completed in June and it came to a very positive conclusion that there is a substantial potential for top-class European club hockey competition and that there is interest from fans, sponsors as well from broadcasters," said René Fasel.
"The vision we presented in April is a concrete goal for the 2008-2009-season. The next major step is to sign a three-year contract with the top European national federations and their leagues, which we plan to do this November."
The 60-game and five-stage Champions Hockey League format along with competitions dates were presented to the representatives of the governing hockey bodies from the Czech Republic, Germany, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland.
++ The league will start with a first qualification round (Q1) between the European national club champions ranked 7-24 according to a European club ranking that will established by the IIHF. The 18 teams will be seeded into six groups of three teams and play and single round-robin during a weekend tournament. The six group winners will advance to the second qualification round (Q2). Competitions dates for Q1: September 5-7, 2008.
++ In the second qualification stage (Q2), the six runner-ups (the team that finishes highest in the regular season that did not become the national champion) from the Top-6 ranked European leagues will be drawn against one of the winners from Q1 and play a home & away elimination series (two games). The winners on aggregate will advance to the CHL group stage. As of the Q2 stage, all games will be on Wednesdays, which will be the designated gameday of the CHL. Competition dates for Q2: September 10 & 17, 2008.
++ The 12-team Champions Hockey League group stage will feature the national champions (playoff winners) from the Top-6 European leagues who, together with the six winners from the Q2 stage, will be seeded into four groups of three clubs. The teams will play a double round-robin (home & away) for a total of four games per team. The four group winners will advance to the semi-final. Competition dates for the CHL Group Stage: October 1, 8, 22, November 12, 19, December 3, 2008.
++ The semi-final (determined by draw) will be played home & away (two games). Competition dates for the semi-finals: December 10, 2008 & January 7, 2009.
++ The semi-final winners on aggregate will advance to the final, which also will be played in two games, home & away. Competition dates for the final: January 21 & 28, 2009.
"The competition will not only contribute to the sportive development of club hockey in Europe, but it will also be financially very rewarding for the clubs, especially the ones that reach the CHL group stage," said René Fasel who said that a guaranteed sum of 16.9 million Swiss francs (CHF) will be distributed among the clubs with one million CHF bonus going to the winner. "This is by far the largest purse ever involved in a European club competition," added Fasel.
The complete money distribution formula, as well as the competition dates, will be announced in November. Also included in the IIHF Champions Hockey League contract will be terms of participation in the Victoria Cup, an annual game or series of games played between the CHL-champion and an NHL-challenger.
The first Victoria Cup, which also will be one of the highlights of the IIHF?s 100 Year Anniversary celebrations, will be played in a yet to be determined European city in September 2008. The winner of the 2008 European Champions Cup (to be played in St. Petersburg, Russia, January 10-13) is guaranteed participation in the inaugural Victoria Cup. The date and format of the Victoria Cup will be announced later.
"The Victoria Cup will be a joined venture between the IIHF and the NHL and it will be the first annual world club competition for a trophy endorsed by both the IIHF and the NHL. This competition will also carry a substantial financial reward," said René Fasel.
The IIHF has chosen Ovation AG in Zug, Switzerland as the agency to develop the commercial aspects of the Champions Hockey League. René Fasel said of the partnership, "We are very fortunate to have an agency with the integrity and experience of Ovation to lead the marketing and commercial development. The agency is led by Craig Thompson, one of the founding fathers of the UEFA Champions League, who has all the experience necessary to deliver the Champions Hockey League."