Saturday, July 30, 2005

Time for an Anglophone Alliance

Question: What do uncompetitive teams at the Olympics and World Championships often have in common?

Answer: In addition to the obvious traits of inexperience, lack of talent, etc., the language they are speaking is often English.

Now in a previous post I pointed out that Team Handball is not the World's second most popular sport. I'll go on record, however, to State that Team Handball is probably the World's most popular sport without any significant representation in the English speaking world. When you think about it, that's a fairly profound fact which has had a number of implications on the sport's world-wide growth.

That's not to say that English isn't spoken in Team Handball circles. I recently saw the live draw (via the web) for the Champions League. The only language spoken was English. Both the IHF and EHF websites are also principally in English as well. Now in terms of "why" the sport hasn't become more popular in the Anglophone world I think it's pretty much a result of the sport not being invented in an Anglophone country and the sports "plate" being too full for the addition of another sport. I certainly don't think there is something inherent with the Anglophone culture that inhibits the sport's growth.

The implications of this sport not having secured a foothold in theEnglish Speaking World are significant. First off, the Anglophone market is a large affluent market. Even if only a very small slice of that market could become interested in watching and playing Team Handball it would add significantly to the current market. The Outreach this market has is also much greater due to the exporting of all things English. Go into any hotel room in a major city world-wide and chances are BBC World and/or CNN are one of your options. But good luck finding a Handball highlight on either station's 30 minute daily World sports show. What the IHF and EHF should realize is that if they want to expand their sport from its core base in Europe it needs to have a greater level of awareness in the English speaking world.

In theory, the Olympics should be the jumpstart to take a program to the next level. Yet this hasn't panned out for the US or Australia. And with London being awarded the Olympics, yet another 3rd tier team (or minnow in UK English) will get to play and likely be clobbered by the World Handball Elites.

And what is the IHF doing to correct this imbalance? Practically nothing from what I can see. One telling anecdote is an exchange between a Wall Street Journal reporter and the French National Coach at the 2004 Olympics:

"At a postgame news conference the other day, to the amusement of the European reporters present, I asked why the U.S. isn't very good at handball. France's head coach, Claude Onesta, answered in perfect, dismissive French: "As far as I am concerned, there are a lot of games at which the United States does not excel.""

Now granted the French National Coach and the amused European reporters do not represent the IHF, but this parochial, mocking perspective isn't growing the sport any. It's almost as if they are happy that Handball is a niche sport in their little corner of the world. It would have been nicer to hear a response like, "It is perplexing; this sport should be a natural for the US. I know that the IHF has ambitious plans for the sports growth. They're working closely with the US and other countries to get this sport broadcast to a world-wide audience."

I've seen words to the effect that the IHF is working to grow the sport. It's time to see more than words, though. It's time for action. Don't dribble a few development dollars to Federations that may or may not spend it wisely. Instead focus your resources to expand the media exposure of this sport in the Anglophone market. Specifically, the IHF and the EHF should make it a top priority to get Team Handball matches aired on TV in the US, UK, Australia and Canada. In the past getting Team Handball on TV was too difficult. Too few stations, too little air time dedicated to sports, and probably poor marketing pitches, prevented Handball from greater exposure and coverage.

Surely, the IHF and EHF have seen the NBA invade Europe successfully. Living in France, I have a dedicated 24 hrs/day NBA channel! Yes, they have basketball in Europe, but the NBA is recognized as the best league and people follow the teams there. Especially, when a native son like Tony Parker plays. The NBA has been extremely shrewd in this development. If the EHF had half a brain they would at least attempt to do the same thing on a smaller scale.

The 2004 Olympics with the expanded coverage in the US was the first sign of what could happen. More channels and broadband makes it even more feasible today for Handball to make it on the schedule. Today, good quality TV broadcasts of Team Handball are being shown regularly throughout Europe. All that's principally needed is quality English commentary and a decent marketing pitch. And maybe Eurosport 2 is doing the English already. The marketing pitch is where the IHF and EHF come in. They should develop a slick marketing package with an EHF game of the weekand then aggressively knock on doors in the US to get it shown on TV. Heck, even pay to have it broadcast the first couple of years if you have to. The Return on investment could eventually be huge-- ask the NBA.

So where does the Anglophone Alliance come in? Instead of one nation making this case to the IHF/EHF, get together and speak as one bloc. The US, UK, Canada and Australia together are small potatoes when it comes to Handball, but in terms of national markets they are huge. Heck, I would even consider putting India into the mix as Handball is more popular in this country then you might think. What the Anglophone Alliance should do is send a joint letter signed by all of their Federation Presidents to the IHF/EHF asking for their assistance indeveloping and marketing English language broadcasts of Team Handball in their nations. The letter could highlight the 2012 award to London and the need to expand the sports awareness. Then follow it up with phone calls and office visits.

This is a no-brainer win-win situation that just needs a push and some organisations with vision.


At May 08, 2006, Anonymous Taterdog said...

The EHF's showing of the Champion's League Playoff's is a start in helping spread the game to the US. It would be interesting to know if the EHF can provide country of origin hits statistics.

However the US Handball community has to earn the help of the Euro's - how many of the US club sites or even USATH/USOC added a link that echoed your sites promotion of the Champion's League games.


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