Conventional wisdom dictates that success can’t last forever – but Sweden’s Frolunda Gothenburg are doing their darndest to keep their Champions Hockey League Finals run going for as long as possible.
Right now, in 2020, it’s hard to find an area where they wouldn’t excel, and the case for Frolunda being the top club team in Europe is a convincing one. Yes, they’re currently fourth in the SHL standings but on the other hand, they’re very comfortably behind Lulea, a team they beat in the CHL semi-final a couple of weeks ago.
Of the five CHL finals played since 2014, only one has not featured the Gothenburg team that has won three of the four final it’s played in. Just like last season, Frolunda has the leading scorer on the team in Ryan Lasch and team captain Joe Lundqvist is tied for third in goal scoring.
Last year, Frolunda ranked sixth in European average attendance, up from eighth place in 2018, with its 10,071 spectators per game. In 2019, Frolunda even sold out their home arena Scandinavium for the CHL final, a feat that’s also easier said than done.
Everything’s going well in Gothenburg, in other words.
And yet, less than ten years ago, Frolunda’s accumulated losses totaled almost seven million euro, and the product on the ice was mediocre at best, struggling to get out of the first round of the playoffs – if they even made it. The club basically had to be rescued by the city who agreed to grant them a SEK20 million loan.
“We realized that we didn’t have a defined vision and values to support it. We didn’t know what our fundamental values were,” CEO Christian Lechtaler, a Gothenburg native and a former Frolunda player, told the audience when Frolunda hosted European club executives last year.
“It took two years for us to define the values. It takes patience, and it requires a commitment from everyone in the organization.”
After taking over the CEO position in 2013, Lechtaler was prepared to be patient with the rebuild. But he only had to wait for three years to see Frolunda win the SHL championship again and scoop up back-to-back CHL titles.
Today, Frolunda is much more than its men’s SHL team. It also has a full-fledged academy that attracts top-quality players that the club can then develop.
“We have three goals: to recruit players, keep as many as possible in the sport for as long as possible, and make hockey a life-long interest for them,” said Daniel Eriksson, Director of Youth Development Program.
And of course, teach the players to play hockey the Frolunda way, with skill, speed, and pressure.
Patience and dedication run through everything the club does. Coach Roger Rönnberg was hired in 2013 and he’s now signed through 2022.
“It’s all about development for us. If we have trouble scoring goals, the GM won’t just acquire a new player, he’ll tell me to coach the players and use the resources we have. Use a skating coach, use the sports psychologist,” he said.
Frolunda’s dedication to excellence also shows in how it approaches, for example, social media. It’s not a coincidence that the Gothenburg team has almost twice as many Instagram followers (83,000), as Stockholm’s Djurgarden (58,000), the number two Swedish team on the list.
“The reason is that we’ve made a conscious decision to become big on social media, and we have two people working with that. We took the decision about three years ago when we realized that while we had a lot of followers on Facebook, we didn’t really have the content to match it,” communications director Peter Kymmer told Swedish Expressen.
Chairman Mats Grauers, 74, is up for a re-election this spring and he’s fully aware of the difficulty of staying on top. That’s why Frolunda has a plan for leaner times. Last season, Frolunda made a profit of SEK8 million and a part of that will be put aside to guarantee financial security in the future.
“We want to increase our capital from SEK25 million to about 60 million which would give us the financial agility to get through two economic downturns,” he told Expressen.
But first, the CHL final.