In the coming year as many as 7 new directors will be elected/selected to serve on the USA Team Handball Board of Directors. This series of commentaries will highlight some traits, skills and backgrounds that might be a good fit. And, what the heck, even identify a few candidates by name. This first part will focus on candidates with the ability to contribute financial support and the expertise that comes along with it.
Anybody who follows team handball in the U.S. knows that the number one challenge the sport faces in this country is a distinct lack of revenue. How big a need is it? Consider this. The most recent Form 990 tax disclosure form for USA Team Handball lists total yearly revenue as $347,825. That’s not anywhere near the revenue that’s needed to run a sports federation in the U.S. It’s a shoestring of a shoestring operation and it means that the U.S. can’t even pay to send its national teams to international competition let alone fund an austere residency program. And, you can pretty much forget about starting any significant initiatives that might expand youth and collegiate program development. Even salaries can’t be paid as the last Board Meeting Minutes highlight that the CEO forgave back pay and will likely take a salary cut.
This is why it’s often talked about finding Board Directors that can financially contribute to USA Team Handball. This includes personal contributions as well as the capacity to solicit friends and business connections. The most prominent example of this is former Board President, Dieter Esch who reportedly provided contributions in the mid 6 figures from 2008-2010. Former Board President Harvey Schiller also made significant personal contributions and reportedly worked his connections as best he could to solicit more support for the Federation. Other Board Members, including current Interim Board President, Bob Djokovich ($11,555 recently) have made contributions to help keep operations afloat.
Why Not Go Bigger?
But, maybe the need is so significant that USA Team Handball needs to think bigger. Millionaires are nice, but billionaires are where it’s at. Or, maybe perhaps 6 figure millionaires. Individuals with the wherewithal and connections to provide an injection of around $2M/year for the next several years. Maybe this is just really wishful thinking, but then again maybe not.
There’s a solid pitch that just might be bought by the right wealthy individual who likes sports and relishes a challenge. Someone perhaps who’s thinking about spending 10’s or even 100’s of millions of dollars for a professional sports franchise. That pitch goes like this:
Why not spend a smaller amount transforming a USA National team from a perennial loser into a world power? Instead of spending millions of dollars on salaries for a handful of athletes why not spend millions of dollars on youth athletes, collegiate athletes, and a few professionals that make 5 figure salaries, not 7 and 8 figure salaries? And, this is not just about you opening your wallet and writing a big check. We need your experience, knowledge and skills to help build a plan to make it happen. Can you? Will you do this for your country? Do you want to be with us 10 years from now in Los Angeles when Team USA steps on to the Olympic podium?
Well, I’m sold on that pitch. Too bad, I don’t have the resources to write the big check. But, something tells me that there is somebody out there with the resources that might be so inclined. We just need to find them, get them to listen to the pitch, and reel them in. Easier said than done, but here are a couple of by name possibilities to consider.
Bob Rich, the Retired Billionaire Team Handball Player/Coach
Every day, courtesy of Google, I get an email with news articles referencing the word, “handball.” It’s an eclectic mix of articles that really reminds me where my favorite sport fits in the big scheme of things. This is because half of the articles aren’t about the sport of handball. They are either about, “wall handball”, or more likely the latest controversial handball call in a soccer match. (Seriously, enough about Thierry Henry, Please!)
But, occasionally, I get a random article from an unusual source. One such article was this one from the Buffalo News:
The Quiet Billionaire: Bob Rich is Still Buffalo’s Ultimate Booster: Link
“Meh,” I thought to myself this guy probably plays “wall handball” on occasion at the gym. But, instead I was surprised to find out that this “quiet billionaire” actually played and coached a team handball squad at the 1978 Empire State Games. The Empire State Games is kind of an Olympics for New York State and actually introduced quite a few people to the sport of handball back in the 1970s and 80s. And, Bob Rich was one of those people. In fact, a little internet searching dug up the fact that he’s quite enamored with the sport.
So much so, that he devoted an entire chapter to team handball in his book, “The Right Angle: Tales of A Sporting life.” The chapter highlights his discovery of the sport, his efforts to put together a team from scratch in the Buffalo area, and his surprisingly good memory recalling details from matches played 30+ years ago. Even has references to USA handball legend, Laszlo Jurak, who coached the Long Island team.
Google Books: Link
Who is Bob Rich? He is the majority owner of Rich Products, a frozen foods company. According to Forbes, he is the 441st richest person in the U.S. with a net worth of $5.52 billion dollars. In addition to dabbling in handball, he owns the Buffalo Bisons AAA baseball team and two other minor league baseball teams. He’s also on the Board of Directors for the Cleveland Clinic. Might I suggest he would be a good addition to the USA Team Handball Board as well.
The Cuban-Nowitzki Combo
Further down the list of richest Americans is Dallas Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban at #564 with a net worth of $3.4B. But, Cuban is surely one of the best known billionaires initially becoming famous with his vocal antics in support of his team and now with his regular participation on the TV show, Shark Tank. He’s also shown a penchant for supporting other sports including rugby, which he played in college. He even has a principal owner’s stake with a proposed Professional Futsal League which could due to the court size/goals similarity of the two sports have a natural affinity with handball.
Cuban, however, is a very busy guy. When he’s not fully engaged with his NBA franchise he’s off doing something else. Sure, handball could be added to his large portfolio, but maybe there’s a sidekick millionaire he’s friendly with that might be a better fit. Someone who’s currently very busy, but that come May/June of this year might have a lot of spare time on his hands.
That someone, of course, is Dirk Nowitzki, one of the greatest basketball players of all time who is expected to retire at the end of the NBA season. Nowitzki, who is German, reportedly plans to split time between Germany and the U.S. and has even talked about acquiring a U.S. passport. And, Nowitzki is very familiar with team handball since his father Jorg, was a top player in his younger days. Could Nowitzki be convinced to take a bit of his time to be an ambassador to the sport? To convince his former employer to help take the sport another level in the U.S.? Why not? It’s certainly worth asking.
Bob Rich Jr., and the Cuban-Nowitzki combo are but two possibilities. Surely, there are others. The net should be cast far and wide with the key selling points that financial support and a willingness to help craft a strategy to transform the sport in this country are needed. Call me crazy, but I think such a pitch just might work.