EHF: Infront and DAZN will enhance, not change, our sport
By Euan Cunningham at SpoBis in Dusseldorf
The European Handball Federation is “not afraid” of losing control of the format and structure of its competitions, as it prepares to enter its new "unique" commercial and broadcast contract with Infront, its long-term agency partner, and DAZN, the international over-the-top platform, the sport's continental governing body has declared.
This month's EHF Euros in Sweden, Austria and Norway was the last men’s tournament under the old contract between the EHF and Infront, with the agency to share all media and sponsorship rights with DAZN between 2022 and 2030 for national team competitions and 2020 to 2030 for club competitions.
Michael Wiederer, the EHF’s president, told the SpoBis conference in Dusseldorf today: “We’re not afraid about losing control… We’re not going to sell off our own competitions to our partners, so we will retain overall control.
"This was the first tender along these lines for handball, the whole package is unique."
The deal between the three parties, signed originally in 2018, will be worth up to €600 million ($660 million), and has already resulted in the decision being taken to expand both the men’s and women’s EHF Euro tournaments to 24 teams.
The expansion proposal came from a working group, made up of representatives from the EHF, its relevant bodies, as well as from Infront and DAZN.
However, Wiederer said that the partnership, instead of causing his organisation to relinquish control of running its own products, was "a major step towards meeting our strategic objectives… Our masterplan (planning the future of European handball between 2020 and 2027) is only possible because of this deal."
Wiederer declared, in an exclusive interview with Sportcal last year, that European handball will be a €1-billion property by the time the federation comes to negotiate its next commercial rights deal in 2027, and today said jokingly: “In seven years, when we renegotiate, maybe we can look to earn more money.”
Julien Ternisien, senior vice-president of summer sports at Infront, refuted suggestions his organisation would now look to substantially alter the structure of existing EHF tournaments, and said: “Of course, we will discuss all possible decisions about the structure of the tournaments, but they are all in the hands of the EHF in the end.”
Infront, owned by China’s Wanda, has worked with the EHF since the inaugural European Championships in 1994, and Ternisien said that despite the new partnership structure, involving DAZN, “it was not difficult” to persuade the agency’s owners of the continued partnership benefits.
He said: “Wanda knows handball has been a solid partner and what the sport has brought to us… EHF is one of our key partnerships and has been for many years. We did of course have to explain how the framework of collaboration with DAZN would work to them, but we didn't have to persuade them really.
“This deal is pretty much unique in terms of its length added to the scope of services we’re offering, and that’s the main reason we are investing so much.”
For the men’s Euro 2020 (the first to contain 24 teams), Infront sold all eight official sponsorship packages for the tournament, and Ternisien said he believed the new version of the tournament had “huge potential.”
Wiederer added it had not been the EHF’s original intention to conduct a deal like this with multiple partners, but that “the combination of Infront and the digital reach of DAZN was what appealed to us.”
The digital services proposed by DAZN and Infront were also described at the time as one of the key reasons for Infront and DAZN securing the rights, and John Gleasure, chief business officer at DAZN, said today he was “delighted by the long-term nature of the deal.”
Gleasure added that it was another step towards gaining mainstream acceptance of DAZN in Europe in general, and the German-speaking DACH countries of Germany, Austria and Switzerland in particular. It also operates on the continent in Spain and Italy.
He said: “I think in Europe people definitely looked at us and questioned our business model four or five years ago… But now, the DACH countries are fantastic markets for us, we feel we can grow in them.”
Gleasure also said that as long as his organisation embraced “transparency”, the possibility of a conflict of interest - DAZN is both a potential broadcast platform for EHF competitions and also the rights-seller - would be low.
Infront and DAZN struck the first rights deal for the next period back in June 2018 with NENT Group for Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland, and have followed that up with agreements across the Balkans with pay-TV's Arena Sport for four seasons and with AMC Networks International Central and Northern Europe in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia for five years.