Sit down for a minutes to talk about handball with me or just peruse a few articles on this website and you’ll know just how important I think getting more handball on TV is for the development of the sport in this country. How important? I would argue that it is not just 1 of many important needs, but empirically the most important need.
Why? Well, it’s quite simple: Our sport’s awareness quotient is so dramatically low in this country that it hampers everything that we want to accomplish, be it better performing national teams or expanded youth development. There’s a reason why National Team Tryouts are so sparsely attended and why clubs struggle to fill rosters. It’s not because Team Handball is a crappy sport. It’s because too few people even know the sport exists. And, nothing could change that reality as effectively as regular TV broadcasts.
We’ve all seen the effect of Olympic broadcasts and many of us have lamented how it’s just a once every four year phenomenon. If only we could get events like the World Championship and Champions League on U.S. TV airways to keep the sport constantly in the public eye, Why, that could be the game changer of all game changers.
A Dream Come True…
Well, in some respects this dream has pretty much come true as beIN Sports US has aired 20 matches Women’s World Championship matches. Along with the weekly EHF Champions League match that means that American fans have been able to watch about 35 hours of team handball the past 2 weeks. That’s unprecedented and should be cause for celebration.
Unfortunately, though it’s just one more reason to shake your head or start banging it against the wall in frustration. Why? Well, for a number of reasons to include the following:
- – beIN Sports has a small subscription base
- – beIN Sports US is not promoting the sport effectively
- – USA Team Handball is not engaging beIN Sports US for promotional coordination
Well, I’ll point some fingers at several organizations
IHF: The IHF owns the TV rights to the Men’s and Women’s World Championships and unfortunately the IHF doesn’t appear to place any emphasis on selling those rights to networks that will maximize exposure. Instead the rights are sold to the highest bidder. Obviously, price should be a consideration but for emerging markets with huge potential more consideration should be placed on maximizing the number of homes where your product will be viewed. Case in point: A few years ago beIN Sport reportedly submitted the highest bid for the US TV rights for the English Premier League (EPL). The EPL, however, went with NBC Sports to maximize exposure. How’s that working out now? The next rights buy was for a billion dollars over 6 years and NBC shows an EPL match live every Saturday. A billion! Still hard for this old timer to believe that development
EHF: The EHF owns the rights to the Champions League and the Men’s and Women’s European Championship. And, just like the IHF they aren’t putting any emphasis on finding the right network: Again beIN Sports is the buyer and beIN Sports does show the Champions League match of the week 3 or 4 days after its played, but has yet to show any European Championship matches. This is all very disappointing and surprising as the EHF has shown to be more forward thinking in terms of promoting the sport.
European Professional Club Leagues: Just like the IHF and EHF, pro leagues should be looking for the right network. They’re not, though. Most notably the German HBL sold its TV rights to, you guessed it, beIN Sports, which doesn’t even bother to air any matches!
USA Team Handball Management (Past): So, how did the U.S. get stuck with beIN Sports in the first place? Well, while the U.S. Federation doesn’t sell TV rights it doesn’t own, the organizations that do own the content (IHF, EHF and HBL) have a genuine interest in waking the sleeping handball financial bonanza the U.S. could be. To the best of my knowledge, however, the USA Team Handball has not effectively engaged those organizations on the importance of steering their content to the “right” channel.
A couple of striking examples: Back in 2010, yours truly informed both USA Team Handball and the German HBL, that HBL matches were being shown in the U.S. on Dish’s My Sports German Channel. Then in August 2012 with Olympic handball buzz reaching unprecedented levels no one seized the opportunity to engage ESPN and NBC on the possibility of acquiring rights to broadcast this great “new” sport after the Olympics. Pure speculation on my part, but I’m thinking the right facilitation by USA Team Handball might have resulted in upcoming TV rights for key properties heading to the “Worldwide Leader” or perhaps their top competitor, the NBC Sports Network. Instead no such facilitation occurred and beIN Sports scooped up the rights. Now, I’m not suggesting that ESPN would now be airing weekly handball matches on one of its networks, but could I see regular streaming on Watch ESPN?: Yes. And could I see the occasional match on TV like the gold medal WC game: Yes, most certainly.
beIN Sport US: So, beIN Sports US has the North American TV rights to pretty much all the worthwhile handball related TV content. They surely are doing everything within their power to get the word out regarding their handball products. Right? Well, in theory that should be true, but, for all intents and purposes beIN Sports US has done almost nothing to promote its Handball monopoly. In most cases they don’t even bother to show the content they’ve purchased. Then when they do show the content they own it’s almost always delayed. Their “handball” page is full of articles, but amusingly just soccer articles where a “handball” occurred. Finally, there is virtually no advertising of their handball product. Not that there’s a whole lot of places to market the sport, but there are websites and social media possibilities. And, of course a partnership/sponsorship with USA Team Handball would be a logical course of action. But, yet somehow that hasn’t happened…
U.S. Team Handball Management (Present): While USA Team Handball surely would prefer another TV network, beggars can’t be choosers- right? And, isn’t it a good thing that a network has chosen to become America’s Home for Handball on TV?
Makes a lot of sense to engage this network to discuss a number of promotional opportunities that could be a win-win for both beIN Sport and USA Team Handball. For sure, it shouldn’t take much effort to convince beIN Sport to become a USA Team Handball sponsor. A beIN Sports advertisement on the USA website is a no brainer win-win. Surely banners at National Championships make sense too. And, why not a prominent jersey sponsorship: Watch America’s team on America’s Handball channel. Maybe beIN Sport could even be convinced to cover TV production costs for some matches in the U.S. to be aired, of course, on beIN Sport.
Well, as this article title suggests if there has been any effort expended by USA Team Handball to engage beIN Sport it has been unsuccessful. I know that a few phone calls have been made but I suspect that little beyond that has been done. Heck, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if several members of the Board of Directors don’t even know that beIN Sports is broadcasting handball on a regular basis. Regardless, it’s pretty clear that while I might think that engagement with beIN Sports should be a top priority it’s clearly pretty low on USA Team Handball’s job jar list.
John Ryan: Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t point a finger back at myself. After all I am the biggest and loudest advocate for getting more Team Handball on TV the U.S. I’ve set up a Facebook page which trickles in a few more members each and every week. I’ve learned far more than I would ever have wanted too about the arcane business of TV rights distribution. I’ve contacted every single entity listed above multiple times about the need to better promote Team Handball on TV in the U.S., but I have totally failed to affect change in any shape or form.
20 World Championship matches broadcast on a U.S. TV channel in HD. Cause for celebration for the handful that know and care, but the needle for this sport’s very low awareness quotient is still suck at near zero. Honestly, I’m starting to wonder if Team Handball is just cursed and doomed to forever to be a backwater sport that no one cares about.