BARCELONA – The Hockey Forum wrapped up its morning session with a round-table panel discussion that addressed a broad range of issues following the various presentations earlier in the morning.
Panellists included Ueli Schwarz of the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation and League, Peter Angell of the agency IEC in Sports, Timo Everi of HIFK Helsinki, Bruno Marty from Infront Sports & Media, former NHL executive Ken Yaffe, Tatu Lehmuskallio of Finnish TV station MTV3, and KHL President Alexander Medvedev.
Angell noted that the greatest obstacle to overcome for European club competition is to keep the league rivalries intact. “There is a massive tradition in ice hockey within the leagues,” he explained. “Most hockey teams have been around 50 or 100 years and there is great fan interest in league competition.”
Lehmuskallio made a point and offered a caveat to the people at the Forum. “Finland is the only country, with Canada, where hockey is number one, but we have 11,000 hours of broadcasting a year and hockey must move quickly if it will compete for fans’ interest. The other sports won’t wait, and funds are diminishing for events outside what are established like Wimbledon, Formula 1 and football.”
“You have such a fragile ecosystem in European hockey as I’ve studied for many years,” Yaffe summarized. “But the roots of that ecosystem are the clubs. It’s so vital to preserve the club system.”
“We have no interest in a parallel system,” said Medvedev, who earlier presented his vision of a permanent European league. He was alluding to the difference between a massive club league in Europe like the NHL model in North America versus the European football tradition of having the best teams year by year qualify for another tournament based on the Champions League model.
Marty noted that he could accept either kind of structure, but growing a champions league slowly is financially wiser than Medvedev’s grandiose ambitions which would require “finding investors to support the teams with hundreds of millions of Euros. Not tens of millions – hundreds. And I don’t know who those people are.”
Sitting in the audience among the more than 150 participants, Rolf Bachmann, COO from SC Bern, was asked to share the opinion of his club, the most-attended European ice hockey club in each of the past ten years.
“What we need is a parallel system according to the example of the Champions League in football,” Bachmann noted. What clubs need are the local rivalries against smaller clubs in the national league that are crucial for the fan base, and European competition as the icing on the cake.
Yaffe made clear that whatever European teams do, they shouldn’t plan as their pinnacle a game between the European champion and the Stanley Cup champion. The scheduling and logistics just don’t allow it. “I think the focus should be on finding a European champion,” he said.
Schwarz offered an element of common sense. “There are 242 days between September and May, and if a player plays on a league team and his national team and champions league team, he’ll be playing more than 100 games. It’s overkill. You can’t ask the players to do that.”
The session ended with the moderator informally asking the attendance whether they prefer a parallel European club competition or a permanent pan-European league. The vast majority of those who raised their hands opted for the parallel way.
The results were shared by fans in a Facebook poll with 250 participants that started after the publishing of the presentations on this website. 73 per cent of the fans prefer a Champions League type of European club competition run parallel to national leagues. 26 per cent prefer a permanent pan-European league like Medvedev’s suggestion to extend the KHL to Western Europe with totally 64 teams. One per cent of the voters don’t see a need for a European club competition.