EThere have been more successful days for German ice Hockey than this week. Not just that yourself Toni Söderholm said goodbye to SC Bern on Wednesday and the national team is now without a national coach. The day before, the German representatives had made a real crash landing in the round of 16 of the Champions Hockey League (CHL). The Grizzlys Wolfsburg lost 2:3 against the Swedish championship runner-up Luleå HF, the EHC Red Bull Munich even 1:5 against the Swiss champion EV Zug.
Also the Straubing Tigers had little to smile about, with the CHL record winner Frölunda HC from Gothenburg it was 0:4. What coach Tom Pokel also attached to the referees, who would have repeatedly sent his team to the penalty box for trifles. “Absolutely embarrassing,” Pokel grumbled afterwards on the TV microphone. Which immediately earned him a penalty from the CHL: 500 euros and a game on probation. His statements were “not conducive to the CHL brand”, it was said as a reason.
One million euros in prize money
With the CHL brand, however, this is not so easy. While the Champions League is the goal of all dreams in other sports, associations, leagues, clubs and fans in ice hockey have a hard time with international club competitions. Over the decades there have always been new formats for a European Cup, hardly any of which lasted long. The current variant, the CHL, has been around since 2014.
And although the winner now receives one million euros in prize money and the duels between the top teams from Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany offer very decent ice hockey, the CHL has problems. The number of spectators is significantly lower than in the domestic leagues, currently no participant has an average of more than 5000, some games do not even reach a four-digit number.
This is also the case in Germany. The champions from Berlin didn’t even play their group games in the modern arena at Ostbahnhof, where they welcome an average of 10,521 fans to league games. For the CHL he moved to the old corrugated iron palace, just 2631 spectators wanted to see it. To the chagrin of CHL Managing Director Martin Baumann, who knows this from his Swiss homeland.
“Everyone wants to see Real Madrid, Barcelona or Chelsea in football, but in ice hockey you’d rather watch the Swiss team that you’ve seen ten times before,” says Baumann, whose league is now taking a special path: fewer teams, fewer games . From the coming season only 24 instead of 32 teams will play.
Money is made on game day
“We asked ourselves: How can the product become more exclusive? Is it worthy of the Champions League if the fifth Swiss or Swede plays?” says Baumann and immediately provides the answer: no. In the future, the six big leagues will only contribute three teams each, the five small ones like Great Britain, Denmark or Norway one each, and the defending champion will also play.
That sounds strange. For decades, the motto in sports leagues has been higher, faster, further. Especially in hockey, where most of the money is made on game day. There are so many of them. In the German league, each team has to play 56 times in the main round before the play-offs begin. It’s similar in other countries. There’s not much time left for a European Cup. “We are the last child to be born,” says Baumann. And that in a sport in which “from August to May it is so well-timed that ice hockey is played practically every day”.
He’s not a friend of this development anyway. “I don’t know how long the fan will keep going,” says Baumann, speaking of “oversaturation”. If he had his way, everyone would do less. Then the individual game would be more important. The football league NFL shows how each team only has 17 games, and yet the NFL is the most economically successful league in the world. Of course, the CHL will never be like that, but they are making small advances: There is more prize money (this season a total of 3.5 million euros), the final is now taking place at the weekend for the first time, and next season the new contract states that the national leagues will not Host parallel games when the CHL plays on Tuesdays. According to the new motto: Less is more.