Guest Post: The KHL and the Champions Hockey League

chernyshenko4

KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko.  (Image Source)

Editor’s note: I am very happy to turn the blog over this evening to Tomáš Vorčák (@vorkywh24 on Twitter), who has some thoughts to share on the relationship between the KHL and the Champions Hockey League.  Tomáš is an excellent source of KHL news and information, and I hope that you find his words on the current state of pan-European hockey as interesting as I did.  Read on!

There have been many attempts to create a multi-national competition for hockey clubs in Europe since 1965 (source 1). They were more or less successful , but no competition has survived till nowadays. The latest example of such a tournament was the Champions Hockey League in the 2008/2009 season; the tournament was played with 12 clubs from seven countries  including Russian clubs from the KHL, which was created before the season.

The Russians had an idea of launching a Eurasian hockey league even before the KHL was created. “The new league will include clubs from Russia, Eastern & Western Europe and Far East – China, Japan and South Korea are in our plans” said Dmitry Chernyshenko, leader of the working group for the EAHL (Eurasian Hockey League), for sovsport.ru in October 2005 (source 2).  The founding father of EAHL was Vyacheslav Fetisov. The project did not materialise at the time, but later, in 2008, the KHL was launched under the leadership of Alexander Medvedev from Gazprom. Both Fetisov and Medvedev as founders of the KHL have advocated a one-league idea, which opposes the idea of European bureaucrats from national hockey federations. The KHL has always wanted to expand to Europe.

The Nordic Trophy was created as a preseason tournament for Swedish and Finnish clubs in 2006. Later, in 2010, the tournament was renamed the European Trophy because some other European clubs joined. European clubs wanted to create alternative competition for the clubs, because they did not want the European clubs to join the KHL. Barcelona held a hockey forum in June 2012 (source 3), where the future of European hockey clubs competition was discussed . The KHL proposed the model of one closed league as mentioned earlier, but European hockey officials wanted to see a competition similar to soccer´s UEFA Champions League, so a parallel tournament to national championships. That is not a surprise because they had such a tournament at the time, the European Trophy. For a number of reasons the European Trophy was re-branded to the current Champions Hockey League (CHL), which was started in the 2014/2015 season.

The CHL has tried to acquire the KHL clubs since that time.  “If we don’t want to be farm teams for the KHL in Europe, then the CHL is a competition to be a rival to them,” said Patrik Martinec, Sparta Prague´s sport director, to aktualne.cz (source 4) in June 2014. His colleague from Sparta, GM Petr Bříza (also a CHL Board member), revealed  that the CHL´s ultimate goal is to create one pan-european league, which would replace national championships (source 5).  That contradicts ideas which were presented during the Barcelona Forum by European hockey officials. National hockey championships in Europe have a long tradition, so it is very unlikely to abandon them, especially as the Swedish SHL has a lucrative TV contract starting in 2018 (source 6). The Swedes won’t agree with Bříza´s idea and a league without them would be pointless, because Swedish clubs are the most successful in the CHL. To sum it up, a pan-european hockey league without both KHL (Russians) and SHL would be dead from day one.

Of course, the CHL is losing credibility and image because Russian/KHL clubs don’t play the tournament. The CHL needs KHL clubs on board more than the KHL needs European clubs to join the league. The KHL´s long term plan is to expand to Europe (and Asia) and the existence of the CHL wont stop them. The KHL is confident now, and does not need to accept every proposal from European clubs about joining; the KHL will select  some of European clubs which will be able to strengthen the league from an image, financial and sport point of view. And all that is long-term. When asked how negotiations with the CHL were going, Chernyshenko replied that CHL leadership is not able to explain the benefits for the KHL and their clubs if the join the CHL (source 7). The CHL wants the best KHL clubs, like SKA or CSKA, to join the tournament, but what would the KHL gain? The CHL had prize money at a level of 1,5 million euro  in 15/16 season (source 8) and plans to double that by 2023. But it is not enough to attract the KHL. To compare, the best KHL clubs spend around 950 million rubles (around 15 million euro) for players’ salaries only. It might be even more, because the KHL does not have hard salary cap; the soft cap is 950 million rubles in 16/17 (source 9), but there is a luxury tax if the club spends more for salaries.

prokhorkinkoskinen

Russia’s Nikolai Prokhorkin and Finnish goalie Mikko Koskinen after a recent EHT game.  (Image Source)

Another argument for the KHL not to join the CHL is the KHL´s schedule. It is intense, with a lot of travelling across Eurasia. Of course there are international breaks for the Euro Hockey Tour, a national teams competition. It is exactly during these breaks that the CHL plays their tournament. The KHL will never trade participation in the CHL for national team of Russia matches in the EHT. Therefore, the KHL has proposed the model of one or two matches between the CHL champion and the KHL Gagarin Cup holder, but the CHL´s leadership is not interested in such a format; they want four KHL clubs joining the tournament in its playoffs (source 10).

Szymon Szemberg, former CHL Communications Director, tweeted that “it is a pity that KHL ignores CHL  and only competes against themselves. This hurts development in European and Russian hockey” (source 11). It is in the best interest of European hockey to keep domestic players in European championships as long as possible. Has the CHL achieved this goal? Of course not: Patrik Laine & co. signed in the NHL last summer instead of playing in Europe (CHL) until they were 20-22 years old.  On the other hand, the KHL is able to keep their players in the league for a longer time than CHL clubs.

Sources:

  1. http://www.iihf.com/iihf-home/history/all-medallists/club-events/
  2. http://www.sovsport.ru/gazeta/article-item/203192
  3. http://www.iihf.com/channels1112/hockeyforum/home/
  4. https://sport.aktualne.cz/hokej/martinec-ze-sparty-ligou-mistru-chceme-zastavit-expanzi-khl/r~006d2cd2e9b011e3944f0025900fea04/?redirected=1488462116
  5. https://twitter.com/vorkywh24/status/823226102340612096
  6. http://www.aftonbladet.se/a/8aQR2
  7. https://twitter.com/vorkywh24/status/601067724794638337
  8. https://issuu.com/championshockeyleague/docs/chl_season_review_2015_16_issu
  9. http://tass.ru/sport/3310674
  10. https://twitter.com/vorkywh24/status/836266640186695687 and https://twitter.com/vorkywh24/status/836321787210235905
  11. https://twitter.com/Sz1909_Szemberg/status/829118901564932098

 

by Tomáš Vorčák

@vorkywh24

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Posted on March 4, 2017, in International Hockey, KHL. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. European voice

    Actually, it’s very unilateral point of view by Mr. Vorčák.
    He has forgotten (or deliberately ignoring) a fact that KHL still is a NATIONAL league of Russia (updated by few foreign teams fed by Russian money) and a fact that KHL in background is a POLITICAL project. In addition KHL is a league regulated by Russian laws and supervised by Russian government.
    So, talking about any expansion abroad, we must remember that always reasons for it will be only political ambitions.
    So, KHL itself isn’t an attractive project for any financial stable European club. KHL as league isn’t profitable, in additions long flights to Siberia and Far East makes it even more unattractive for any potential newcomer.

    We CHL was created? With launching KHL (actually, no new league was created, just Russian Superleague was reformed and added some few clubs from abroad) seriously was damaged European players market, KHL clubs seriously increased salaries in spite that clubs are far not profitable, just lot of money were donated (and still is) to clubs by Russian state companies, municipalities etc.
    From opposite side rest of European hockey society is very fragmented, so, creation of CHL was kind of step of despair. Of course, it didn’t make European clubs more profitable, but at least it united them at least little bit.

    Is there any future for KHL in the rest of Europe? No. They could swallow, maybe, some few more European clubs, but generally it won’t change European hockey.
    Is there any future for CHL in Europe? Maybe. But it still need serious reorganization – it’s not a secret that there are very limited audience in Sweden and Finland, but we have seen high numbers of attendance in German rinks, real interest by Austrian fans etc., so, in my mind league should change accents and will looks at least more promising. It’s for sure that with audience growing will grow level of hockey played in CHL as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment — very interesting! Do you think, under these circumstances, that it would be a good idea, for either side, for KHL teams to play in the Champions Hockey League?

      Like

    • Here is Mr. Vorčák’s reply to the first comment:

      My goal was NOT to decide what is better for developing of euro hockey – KHL or CHL. I just wanted to point out how negotiations between both sides are going. Why they won’t make a deal soon (if nothing big happens of course).

      You wrote that KHL is not profitable, that is not true. Chernyshenko has changed the model and the league is making money now, not big money, but not in red as well. The league shared 114M rubles and 243M rubles for the previous two seasons. Here are some financial reports of the KHL and KHL marketing.

      https://pro.fira.ru/search/companies/card/index.html?code=4999429#!198

      https://pro.fira.ru/search/companies/card/index.html?code=4963938#!198

      Yes, KHL clubs are funded by municipalities and state corporations, but Putin ordered to pro sport clubs to make steps to be less dependent on state companies/municipalities. If you carefully read Chernyshenko´s speeches, he has been talking about this all the time – wants to change business model of the league and clubs. Of course, I don’t know if he succeeds or not. But it is a signal that they want to change the status quo.

      Like

      • European voice

        The question what we mean by by word ‘profitable’ – of course, we could close eyes to everything and say, league is profitable, but we can’t forget that league without its clubs would be nothing… And no one of clubs isn’t profitable – even if there is some profit on paper. All KHL clubs survive only by donations (yes, donations, not sponsorship deals) of state organisations, state companies or companies with close relations with state or state officials.
        Of course, you can mention as source Chernyshenko speeches, but there have been before so many speeches, promises, etc… Lot of KHL clubs have financial problems and will have in next season, for sure. Until league won’t make drastic decisions it will continue. So far league isn’t ready for serious reforms as main priorities remains political – expansion, high number of clubs, etc.

        Like

  2. European voice

    Answering to your question – CHL, unlike KHL, is a business project. Maybe, not very successful now, but still they have only business aims, not politics. For them KHL teams are interesting from 2 aspects, at first, it could attract more spectators and followers, making league more profitable, at second, it could be a way to attach some Russian money by some Russian sponsor. (we must remember that for European hockey the most attractive part of Russian hockey still is their money, not hockey itself). But there are doubts is it a right direction for their (CHL) development – if Russia will take a part in that project, for sure, they will ask for some reward – most likely, for some strong European club in KHL. It wouldn’t be acceptable for some (or even most of them) countries participating in CHL…

    I don’t think that that project now is really interesting for KHL. It’s would be an extra load to top teams of KHL, but, other, lower clubs, I guess, aren’t so interesting for CHL as well as their potential loss earlier stage wouldn’t be that what KHL would expect from taking part there.
    But still, if KHL will see any positive outcome for participating in CHL (most likely as new strong European club in KHL), they will change their attitude. As we see, every year now are 2-3 KHL team participating in Spengler Cup, also in season 2012-2013 Slovan participated in European Trophy tournament (predecessor of CHL) – so, KHL still don’t want to stay apart from rest of European hockey.

    Also, to join to CHL, KHL must solve some own problems – they are almost blindly copying NHL, what is wrong for Russian hockey realities. For example, calendar – why KHL needs 1st play-off round best of 7? In 90% it’s pointless. Also, those long travels – it really kills especially Far East teams. 60 games for regular season are fully enough for Russia market – as we see there are still very much empty seats during regular season in halls, so, let’s make regular season longer but with the same number of games. Maybe, there is a reason to start play-off only with 8 teams, making some short qualification tournaments after regular season where would be determined part of those 8 teams? I don’t know, just quick ideas…

    Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: Guest Post: The Future of Youth Hockey in Russia | CONWAY'S RUSSIAN HOCKEY BLOG

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