“The KHL was terrible. She ruined European hockey against the Champions League and didn’t let the teams play.” Former IIHF press secretary Szymon Schemberg quickly burst into the sleepy world of summer hockey, criticizing both the KHL and its former head of the international federation, Rene Fasel, in an interview with the Slovak media There are enough claims from the former IIHF official, and now the head of the Alliance of European Hockey Clubs, and we must deal with his justice.
First of all, Schemberg talks about the fate of foreign clubs in the KHL: “What happened to foreign clubs that played in the KHL? What do Medvescak, Slovan, Lev and Jokerit look like after leaving the KHL? Some teams no longer exist, others are nearly bankrupt. If Slovan were not a hockey club with tradition, it would go bankrupt. They were absolutely not interested in Slovan. They just wanted to show that Slovan is playing in their league and not in the Slovak championship.”
Schemberg: I think the Champions League has a future, but it should also include Russian clubs
And here all the accusations are mixed. Lev, for example, was initially created entirely for the KHL, and with quite large Russian investments. Then it seemed that the club was not very successful: yes, the Prague team was strong, only the attendance in the regular season fluctuated in the range of 4-5 thousand. As the years pass, you realize that in conditional Moscow, a remake club under the conditional brand “Tiger” would hardly have collected more, or even less. Yes, and the 2014 final with Magnitogorsk was a tremendous success for the KHL and almost its last achievement in plans to conquer Europe: then the Prague 17 thousand was packed, and not only by Czechs, but also by fans. Central European hockey as a whole.
O2 Arena stands at the Gagarin Cup Final – 2014
By 2013, when the club entered the KHL, Slovan was clearly bored in the Slovak league, the top scorers of which were not even considered for legionary places in our championship. The fans took the transition with great enthusiasm: only one game in the first season did not sell out, and Bratislava was one of the KHL’s attendance flagships for a long time, until the club began to degrade due to unpleasant management. As for Jokerit, right now his plans to return to the local elite were thwarted mainly by the local federation and the clubs, so the Jokers were forced to start in the second local league.
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However, whatever one may say, all foreign clubs in the KHL followed the same path: brilliant first seasons (Dinamo Riga knocked out SKA, Medvescak started their league path with 7:1 with CSKA), and then a gradual demotion. in terms of Sports. The quality of management slid along with the budget of the clubs: imperceptibly, more and more Gazprom advertisements appeared in the form of European teams, and they became more and more dependent on Russian money. Anyone can remember how every summer there was news that Slovan was about to find a major sponsor, but he never was.
The reason for this is clear – it was difficult to find money in Europe to get involved in such an expensive and not the most profitable pleasure like the KHL. In our league, before the introduction of the cap, salaries were clearly inflated (and still are), moreover, in order to participate in the KHL, completely different expenses for transportation and organization must be established. The conditional “Medvescak” during a trip to the Far East could cover more kilometers than in several months of bus trips through the Austrian league. Imagine Italian football clubs entering the Premier League with their fantastic salaries; they will not get this pleasure very quickly either.
Speaking of the Champions League, I’m sure the KHL made a huge strategic mistake at the time by refusing to participate in the revived tournament. It is clear that the KHL continued to use the ideology of expansion to Europe established in it from the beginning, but after the elimination of Medvescak, the problems of other foreign clubs and the cessation of expansion, it became clear that the old tactics had failed. The conditional Swedes in the KHL could not be dragged into any gingerbread, and those who wanted to join would hardly have had their own finances for such a thing (the key word is theirs). At this time, our hockey leaders should have thought about trying to stop the integration of Europe in themselves and think about the reverse process.
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Perhaps the participation of the KHL tops in the hockey Champions League would hit the remnants of the ambitions of our leaders, but it could well boost the popularity of hockey in the country. Considering that all our sport lives in the paradigm “our against us”, and hockey clubs are almost always supported only within the limits of the regions that represent them, the games of a conditional SKA or Ak Bars in such a Champions League could attract an audience that would not follow them in the KHL. An example of a short-lived league in 2008 showed that our audience was more interested in this tournament than in the European one.
Fans of HC “Metallurg” at the match of the Hockey Champions League
Photo: Andrei Serebryakov/Getty Images
The problem is that the Europe of hockey itself is not a monolith as Schemberg is trying to present it. You can remember how the EuroLeague of the late 1990s ended its life, giving hockey Russia unforgettable stories like Markov’s goal in the 1999 final. In 2000, Swedish teams in the local league voted against the participation of the best Eliteserien clubs in the Euroleague, after which the first attempt to create a full-fledged European tournament died.
Now the Swedes are cutting coupons from the transfer agreement with the NHL, living by the principle of “10 old women – one ruble”: $ 200-300 thousand per player is a ridiculous amount compared to football, but given the massive local character allows you to live more or less well. The only problem is that such an attitude only enslaves European hockey, which cannot build an alternative to the NHL. The Swedish league has an excellent television contract, due to the SHL, even the football championship is held according to the spring-autumn system. Scandinavians do not need a united Europe for nothing, they already live well.
Is it possible at all … well, not the European NHL, but at least a hockey analogue of the basketball Euroleague? The problem is that European continental hockey is a very small market, which is mainly represented by small countries. The total population of Sweden, Finland and the Czech Republic is less than a state of Texas, not to mention Turkey or Spain, which are the flagships of European club basketball. Hockey Germany or Great Britain have recently shown that hockey there can become mega-popular, but on a city scale, not the whole country.
“Rögle” – the winner of the hockey champions league
Photo: Martin Rose/Getty Images
But hockey Europe has a huge market, and this, of course, is Russia, and Schemberg himself admits that no project of a united hockey Europe is possible without its participation. You can verify this by looking at what the current hockey Champions League looks like. The average attendance last season was less than 3,000 people: Slovan himself gathered 11,000 spectators in three group stage matches, and five years ago, 10,000 came to a KHL game. Prize money for winning in 2020 was just €420,000, with some clubs not fielding the best lineups there. As they say in the classics, a heartbreaking sight.
The problem of a large partnership is only that all these years the participants in the Russian-European hockey dialogue spoke from their lips, not taking their partner seriously: some imagined crazy oligarchs who did not take resources into account, others saw in front of they. petty and stingy guardians of their little corner. It is clear, unfortunately, that even conversations are now impossible, let alone actions.