Feeling of hygge at Worlds
by Martin Merk|19 MAY 2018
From left to right: IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner, IIHF President René Fasel, Danish Ice Hockey Association President Henrik Bach Nielsen.
photo: Andre Ringuette / HHOF-IIHF Images
Hygge is a Danish word to describe the Danish way of cosiness that makes the Danes the or one of the happiest people in the world according to various ratings.

Happiness could also be seen in and around the arenas in Copenhagen and Herning during the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship with happy fans, happy teams (set aside lost games) and volunteers showing a smile to the world. The first-ever IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship was a success in many ways, not only with intangible feelings but also in terms of numbers.

So there was a feeling of hygge when President René Fasel and General Secretary Horst Lichtner from the IIHF side and Henrik Bach Nielsen, Chairman of the Danish organizer and the Danish Ice Hockey Association (DIU), were on the podium for the traditional press conference on the final weekend to sum up the championship.

Fasel was looking back when he started. For him like for many others in Denmark and in international ice hockey scepticism before the tournament yielded to satisfaction.

“Organizing the championship in a country with an average of 1,500 spectators in the league and with this two beautiful arenas, we had many discussions with the organizer but Henrik Bach Nielsen could even organize the good weather,” Fasel said with a smile. “People didn’t understand why we go there, they didn’t know where Herning was on the map but [the organizers] were stubborn and there were many factors to make this happening. Copenhagen is a wonderful city, people love to come here. Herning is not so far from here, we had interesting hockey stars here. It was great fans, great arenas and great games. I was very positively surprised.”

Bach Nielsen agreed and told the press what happened during the last two years to make it a success.

“This was a big job for us. For us it was the first time in history that this championship was in Denmark. We started more than two years ago. We had 25 employees who didn’t do anything else than this tournament. They’ve been doing a great job here,” he said. “We hoped to sell around 300,000 tickets considering the numbers we had in Denmark but I can see the last four games are almost sold out so that we will reach an attendance of around 525,000 tickets. Also the host in Herning as home team and Sweden as host team in Copenhagen was taken up well by the market.”

Despite being a first-time host and a country that has been emerging over the last two decades in hockey, Denmark 2018 will be among the best attendances and will leave established hockey countries like Finland, Latvia, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland behind.

Bach Nielsen thought until recently that hosting the Worlds will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Denmark. But now the Danes acquired the taste for it.

“With this success we could start to dream again but there’s a cycle with other countries. Until 2022 we have already hosts, then it may be the turn for countries the Czech Republic or Russia,” Bach Nielsen said.

IIHF General Secretary Horst Lichtner also expressed his satisfaction and gave insight from the operational part behind the scenes.

“The working relationship between the people of the organizing committee and the IIHF Office was outstanding. There were tears when people had to leave Herning and their friends there after the quarter-finals,” Lichtner said. “There are many volunteers and students who took the opportunity to work at the World Championship and they were great. The spirit and the willingness of addressing issues at a short notice couldn’t be better.”

Another area Lichtner and his staff focused on was the presentation of the game for those fans who didn’t manage to come to the arena.

“We have tested and implemented a set of new features to present the game of ice hockey in various area with our marketing partner Infront, with new cameras such as the referee cam in the pictures and slow motions that you saw, we have a new data presentation on the new website and in social media knowing that the future fan may not follow analogue television anymore. This was a huge success in the perception and we have a motivated young crew here,” Lichtner said.

Asked about player tracking where fans and media saw a taste of what will come in the future (see player tracking stats, and how it’s done) and the technology behind, Lichtner replied: “Nobody at the moment has the stone of wisdom how to do it correctly but we know that the second screen is becoming more important. It’s a combination of camera images and data here. We are also in close contact with the NHL. There is the technology with a chip in the jersey that we used at the Olympics and where the accuracy is 20 centimetres while here we use camera technology. We add in the physical view of experts. The solution may be somewhere in between. We are currently running a poll on the website for fans and are looking forward to the feedback to continue our work.”

Asked about what he thinks about Great Britain being promoted, Fasel said: “It was a big surprise for me what happened in the Division IA. On Saturday morning there were five teams left who could have been promoted. It’s not the first time that GB was close to coming to the top group. 15 seconds before the end of the game Hungary and Slovenia were promoted and then it was Great Britain and Italy. I hope they will be competitive. The numbers of the Korean team here were high but they made their experience here and at the Olympics and we will see how hockey in Korea will be sustainable.”

A journalist asked whether having the national team of the host at the secondary venue could be a solution for the future considering that the Slovaks have similar plans for next year in Kosice [with Bratislava as primary venue], Fasel said: “If the IIHF would say something, we probably wouldn’t have been Copenhagen and Herning but the organizer and national federations know their markets much better. It will be the choice of the Slovak organizer if they choose to play in Kosice. Fans like places where they can participate in the celebration of the game after their domestic hockey season. Police here was surprised how friendly the fans behave. They may drink a lot of beer but there is still the big celebration. They make a party. I think our product is a good product.”

Bach added: “The activation of the city is important to add legacy, to make it a hockey party. We had people from football who worked here and expected more security work and were surprised how peaceful it is. We are special in hockey.”

Then there was the almost traditional question of why to host the World Championship every year and why to host it in an Olympic year. But like in Latvia 2006, Germany 2010 and Belarus 2014, the question almost answered itself also for Denmark 2018 considering the great atmosphere, numbers and stories from all these events.

“The fans are here. With the NHL not at the Olympics and having them here made it even more attractive,” Fasel said. “And then we have to be honest, it’s also a question of money. We generate revenue for Danish hockey that will be reinvested and revenue for the IIHF and its members nations. If you don’t play the World Championship here you will not be able to cover costs for organizing 30 other tournaments. Finally, we do not have a request from players or federations not to play in an Olympic year. There is no need to change it, there is a need to have the World Championship.”

With a break-even point at 300,000 spectators, there will undoubtedly be a financial profit for the organizer that will go back to Danish ice hockey. That raises the question of how to use that money in the best way.

“We have to look in the short and the long term. Rinks are a long-term plan, there are many cities that don’t have a rink. We will contact all cities in Denmark with the potential of an arena,” Bach Nielsen said.

“What we can start on Monday is to capitalize on this with girls and boys coming to play. We just have 5,000 registered players. We could dream of having 10,000 players. But we also need room for them, so the arena is important. You can improve in other areas like the quality of coaches, the leadership in the clubs because it’s often on voluntary basis right now. If we could help the clubs it will raise the quality of Danish hockey.”

Asked about speculation of a KHL team or having a team in the Swedish Hockey League, Bach Nielsen wants to remain realistic: “Each club [in Denmark] pays salaries of maybe €1 million to the whole team. I cannot see a KHL team or playing in the Swedish league. I can’t see the big arena being used in the Danish league.”

Last but not least, Fasel and Bach Nielsen concluded the press conference with a big thank you to the volunteers.

“We had over 1,100 volunteers and sometimes you may underestimate this. If I just had to pay $20 each hour there would be no World Championship. They are so important for this World Championship,” Bach Nielsen said. He called two volunteers to come up to symbolically receive the volunteer appreciation certificate from the IIHF President.

The 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship concludes this weekend with the two semi-finals between Sweden and the United States and between Canada and Switzerland on Saturday. The medal games will be played on Sunday.

Click here to find the broadcaster in your country to watch the games. For countries without broadcaster a free live stream is offered on IIHF.com by clicking on the game box on the front page.