Thursday, November 17, 2005

EHF Champion’s League Highlights Video

A decent video recapping some of the highlights from the Champion’s League Group Stage is available at this link.

I read in a newspaper article recently that thousands of people are now regularly downloading Desperate Housewives and other shows. AOL has free downloads of many vintage television shows like Maverick and Welcome Back Kotter. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to ask the question, “Gee, if they can do that for crummy reruns, why is just a Handball highlight show available, why not an entire match in HDTV format?” Believe it or not, this blog regularly gets a hit from internet searches with the terms “download” "video" and “handball” in them. Well at least now they won't be disappointed as this is the best available video that I know of.

The good news is that it is only a matter of time before even more will be available. The big question is whether the major Team Handball entities (IHF, EHF) have the marketing sense to be early adopters of this technology. If they can make good content readily available it could be a marketing bonanza. They need, however, to view downloaded content as not just another revenue stream. They need to see it instead as an opportunity to grow the sport world-wide. Charging for content now = a few dollars. Charging for content later (after more people are hooked) = big dollars.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Practice with VfL Lichtenrade

One of the “hardships” of my NATO assignment here in Paris is semi-frequent travel for meetings and conferences in Europe. Last week I travelled to Berlin and while there I took the opportunity to practice one night with Bjoern Brembs club, VfL Lichtenrade. VfL Lichenrade is a member of the German Berlin-Brandenburg Oberliga (4th Division) and is located Southwest of Berlin. Currently, they are 10th out of 13 teams and are in a battle to avoid being relegated to the 5th Division.

Now that I’m 40 years old and haven’t touched a handball since the 2004 US Championships, I knew that it might be interesting to see how well I could keep up. Fortunately, I’m in fairly decent shape due to frequent basketball play, but it was still a challenge to catch my breath at times and my throwing arm (never very strong in the first place) was definitely rusty.

Practice was very similar to National Team practices and club practices that the Condors used to have in California many years ago. The practice lasted about an hour and a half and the sequence was warm up Basketball/with a Handball, a little running, playing catch, goalie warmup, fastbreak drills, and 3 on 3 full court. As the team is nursing several injuries, a full court scrimmage was not very practical. The coach then briefed the team on their upcoming opponent and then brought out a crate of 20 half-liter bottles of beer. A very nice touch, I must say.

Riding back to Berlin, Bjoern filled me in on some more of the organization and structure of German Handball at this level. VfL Lichenrade practices 3 times a week and typically plays a match every Saturday. For their home matches they charge 5 Euros for admission and they average about 200 fans a match. The players receive only marginal compensation to include occasional beers and meals. They have 3 coaches, but only one is paid a small stipend. Some of the teams at the 4th Division level have larger budgets and do pay their players small fees and this partly shows up in the standings. Western Germany is also stronger economically than the East, so the 4th Division there is probably a little stronger.

Of course, as I practiced with the team, I performed my own internal assessment of just how this 4th Division team would match up with current and former clubs that I have played with in the US. I think it’s safe to say that they would have probably won the last US Nationals I attended in 2004. While not quite as athletically gifted as the Condors, they would have been more cohesive as a unit, due to the greater number of games and practice they have. Additionally, their roster is a lot younger and they are probably in better physical condition. The US National Team I played on back in 1993 (by no means an awesome National Team) would have had no problem beating them, but I’m not so sure how are current team would do. And I must agree with Bjoern that this comparative assessment says more about the weak state of US handball, then it does about the strength of German Handball.

Probably, the most interesting reflective point I have to make is simply the strikingly different organizational structures of US and European sports. In the US, most of are sports follow a natural progression from High School to College to Pro. This tiered structure means that the lower level sports are strongly tied to the age of the student athlete. If you are not good enough to play in College or Pro leagues you are essentially finished playing organized sports. Yes, there are city leagues and semi-professional leagues in the US, but they don’t even begin to compare to the European equivalent. In Europe there is a healthy middle ground, where the matches are more important and the players receive compensation. A 23-30 year old athlete who can’t play at the highest level still has an outlet. Whereas in the US, the difference between the NBA and the CBA or the NFL and semipro football is like jumping off a cliff. Hence the large number of middling US hoops stars continuing their career in Europe. Having observed both models, I would like to see the US further develop that middle ground. The reality, however, is that I don’t see this happening anytime soon as our current structure is too engrained in our culture.

Here’s the link to VfL Lichtenrade

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Constitution Crisis (Part 3)

Constitution Crisis (Part 3)

Note: For those who are unfamiliar with USA Team Handball, you might be surprised to learn that a sports loving nation with a population of nearly 300 Million has approximately 500 members in it’s National Handball federation. As might be expected from a program that has had limited success and has such a small membership base a great degree of political infighting often occurs. Last year, an independent candidate, Mike Hurdle won a close election for the Presidency of USA Team Handball. The winners of several other board positions, however, were not part of the independent slate of candidates and this has led to a very divisive governing board for USA Team Handball. This divisiveness has come to a boiling point with the process for developing a new Constitution for US Team Handball. I highlight some of those issues in earlier postings:

Here is a brief update on what has happened during the past few months and why I think US members should vote in favour of the proposed constitution:

The Process (Pretty much everybody is guilty and here’s why)

Well, I’m not going to make a lot of friends here, but those who know me, know that being liked by everyone has never been high on my list. By pointing out fault here, I’m also by no means inferring that I wouldn’t have made some of the same mistakes myself if I hadn’t been put in the same place. It’s kind of like Hurricane Katrina—There’s plenty of blame to go around.

I have to give Mike kudos for relentlessly pushing the need to get a new Constitution for USA Team Handball. If he’s learned anything from his Presidency he’s learned that the way USATH conducts business is just not working very well. Jumping on the USOC mandate that Olympic Sports inject more independence in their governance he pushed the need for the constitution directly to the membership.

Where the Hurdle faction has faltered, however, is in their near blind zeal to disregard opinions that differ from theirs. As I pointed out in my previous postings, there is a great deal of logic to letting an elected Board of Directors play a prominent role in the development of a new Constitution. Mike portrayed this desire to participate as simple attempts by other board members to stonewall and hold on to their current positions. After several months of arguing and trying to prevent a Board Review from happening Mike finally relented and a very good transparent process to review the Constitution was put in place. The Membership and the Board of Directors provided comments to the Constitution on an open forum on the Internet.

While there was by no means large scale participation there was thoughtful discussion. In particular, I would like to highlight the one significant change made to the Constitution. The new Constitution, believe it or not, had no provision for independent candidates to run for election to the Board. An alert reader to this blog highlighted that shortcoming in a comment to one of my earlier posts. I then highlighted this shortcoming on the Constitution Forum.

After some discussion the Constitution Review Committee changed the Constitution to allow additional nominations to the 5 “non-independent” canddidates. In other words, if the membership wants to thumb their nost at the Nominating Committee, they can now do that by nominating and getting alternate candidates on the ballot. For those of you ready to line up and complain that the grievance and review was a waste of time, I would say this one change alone was worth it. In particular, I highly doubt that a resolution of all those in favor of eliminating independent candidates for future elections would have passed on a 76-3 vote. Especially when you consider that Mike Hurdle could never have gotten elected under that proposed constitution.

There were several other issues of discussion and you might be pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful discussion and debate if you take the time to review both the web forum and later on by the Constitution Review Committee notes. See: (posted in the Files Section) To a certain extent this transparent review validates the Thome/O’Shea desire to have the Board actively participate in the review. I was very sceptical to the logic being applied that they were simply trying to stonewall and hold on to power. In particular, it is important to point out that their comments on the Constitution simply don’t support the notion that Thome/O’Shea and Company were simply trying to hold on to power.

There were a few points of contention, however and the Constitution Review Committee had a 3-2 vote on 2 issues. Well, you can’t always get everybody to agree on everything. Time to move on? End of Story?

Unfortunately, No. The Thome/O’Shea faction, disappointed with the outcome on those two points, decided to circumvent and violate the agreed to resolution process and asked the USOC to get involved again. At some point in the process you need to recognize that the time has come to move on. Rather than recognize this, they pulled the USOC card.

The USOC then recommended that they have their legal department review the Constitution and that another Board Meeting called. Faced with this USOC involvement, Mike’s chosen course of action was to threaten legal action against the USOC. (Say what?) I understand the frustration, but sometimes you just grin and take it when you’re opposition sidesteps the proccess, especially when its your principal source of funding now doing the talking. Despite this last minute wrangling, however a Constitution has now been mailed.

Forget the Politics, The Issue is Now the Constitution Itself

The membership will now have their say, yes or no. You can despise either faction or simply despise Handball politics in general. All you might really care about is playing the game and seeing USA Team Handball grow and gain some degree of respectability.

Well, I’m happy to say, I think this Constitution can help make that happen. The new Constituion has many important aspects, but I think the key features are a more business-like Board of Directors that will be more focused on top level oversight and the addition of Independent Directors that will not be overly tied to Handball. In fact, if we can truly find some good business people that can improve our ability to raise funds and market Team Handball effectively, the new constitution will be worth it for that alone.

There are many other aspects, but I’m not going to give a full scale review of the document, principally, because I’m pleased to say that except for 2 primary points of contention, both factions support this current draft. And in, my opinion, neither of these contentious points are significant enough to vote down the Constitution

The Points of Contention

So what is all the fuss about? Here is a short summary of the 2 issues in contention (Once, again you can join the yahoo handballusa group and download the file from the files section to get the details)

1) The process for selecting the Nominating Committee (NC)

Proposed Constitution: The current President will select the first NC. The composition of this NC will then be reviewed by the USOC. Subsequent NCs will then be primarily selected by the outgoing NC
Thome/O’Shea Faction: The BoDs or an election should be used to select the NC. The rational being that one person shouldn’t have that much power and that letting NCs choose the next NCs will self-perpetuate a certain clique/coalition.

Why this is NOT worth fighting about:
- As I pointed out earlier, the membership can nominate additional candiates and if they meet the minimum criteria, those candidates will be placed on the ballot for 5 of the 9 Board of Director positions. The membership can, as it has in the past, simply thumb its nose at the NC’s picks
- For the 4 independent candidates, the membership will vote for 4 of 6 NC recommendations. No possibility of additional candidates, but since these are independent candidates, in theory, they should not have an agenda or clique that they are beholden too.
- Quite frankly, I prefer the Thome/O’Shea position. I just don’t see it as a make or break issue. Even if Mike Hurdle could orchestrate an NC that could pass USOC review and then willingly do his bidding to select an all Condor slate, a separate slate could run against it for 5 of the 9 positions and the qualifications for the 4 independent positions make it fairly tough to put forward hidden agenda candidates.

2) Governance in the transition period before the new BoDs takes charge

Proposed Constitution: The current President will be in charge, but will not make any significant decisions
Thome/O’Shea Faction: An alternative structure involving the Pres and VPs was proposed for the transition period.

Why this is NOT worth fighting about:
- I think the caveat that there be no significant decisions is enough. A number of different alternatives management structures including the Thome/O’Shea proposal would also be viable. Again it is simply not a make or break issue.

Other than these two points, there was consensus on the proposed Constitution. If you agree with me that these two points just aren’t worth arguing about, then vote yes for the Constitution. If, however, you disagree, vote no. It’s as simple as that and that’s democracy in action for you.

A Final Note

For those of you who are ready to see Mike Hurdle leave, you’ll be glad to know that you are in a no lose situation. Mike has said that if the Constituion fails to pass he is resigning. And, of course, if the Constitution passes, he would have to run again for one of the 5 Handball spots. I’m guessing he doesn’t have the energy left for that.