PRAGUE – On the morning after the Fenix Outdoor European Hockey Awards, the 4th Annual General Meeting of the Alliance of European Hockey Clubs took place on Wednesday morning at a familiar location, the Vienna House Diplomat Hotel in Prague, with a lot of familiar faces and familiar issues up for discussion.
EHC Co-President Håkan Loob opened the meeting with the President’s Report. In it, he described the first three years of the Alliance as “a good start, but things can be better.”
At last year’s meeting, Loob shared his experiences as an ad-hoc member of the IIHF Governance Reform Working Group, which came up with several recommendations that were presented to the IIHF Congress.
“We had some excellent discussions but unfortunately, nothing of relevance for the clubs and leagues was adopted,” Loob reiterated today. He suggested the formation of a new group with specific goals ahead of the 2020 IIHF Presidential Election and the 2022 Winter Olympics.
“To form a true partnership with the IIHF, we have to be part of the decision-making process,” said Loob.
“We are a very good discussion partner, but in the future, we’d like to be a partner in the decisions,” agreed Peter Zahner, Zürich Lions CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Champions Hockey League.
Early in the meeting, the results of a recent survey of the member clubs were shown, with the top club concerns as follows:
- Insurance for the release of players to their national teams;
- compensation for players at IIHF events;
- transparency of IIHF finances;
- influence on the international calendar;
- transfer to North American leagues;
- clubs and leagues as IIHF stakeholders.
Addressing the number one concern of the clubs, former SHL CEO Jörgen Lindgren showed how in some cases where players are playing in leagues outside of their home countries, the player is not insured if he goes to play for his home national team.
“I understand this,” said Lindgren. “The players are your bread and butter. You invest a lot of resources into them and it’s a big problem if they come back to you as damaged goods.”
Lindgren’s proposal called for mandatory insurance for all players going to national teams, and without this in place, teams wouldn't be obliged to release the players.
“We don’t want this, but the point is the players have to be insured,” Lindgren insisted.
Regarding the number of issues involving the IIHF, General Secretary Horst Lichtner said: “From the IIHF’s side, I can absolutely assure you that we are here to work together.”
Lichtner went on to outline the results of the Professional European Hockey Round Table, where he quoted one of the participants by stating: “First, we have to decide where we are before we decide where we want to go.”
Among the issues that Lichtner raised were how to deal with the NHL’s growing presence in Europe, calling it “both a threat and an opportunity,” the changing of modern fans and how to market towards them, and ice size.
Addressing the need for better mutual understanding between EHC members and the IIHF General Council, Lichtner introduced former Sparta Prague CEO and new IIHF Council member Petr Bříza.
“In the hockey business, it’s great to have experience on more sides of the table,” said Bříza. “Most times, the issues are not black and white, so you have to respect the different positions of the clubs, the leagues, the federations, and the many different stakeholders. It’s good to be able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and understand them.”
And so, all sides involved will continue to move toward a system that works best for everybody.
After the AGM, the next big event on the EHC calendar is the 3rd Annual Hockey Business Forum in Berlin on 29 and 30 September. Peter Lee, CEO of Eisbären Berlin, welcomed all in attendance, saying: “We’re excited to have everybody and hopefully we can do as good a job as last year [in Gothenburg], so see you all in Berlin!”