Recently Dennis Berkholtz briefed to the PATHF Executive Committee his plans for a professional handball league in the United States. As much as I might fantasize about a Professional Handball league in the United States with the Las Vegas Rattlers a charter member franchise the reality is that it simply currently is not practical for a number of reasons. Herewith are some of those reasons:
1) It is extremely difficult to start a professional league for an established sport, let alone one for a virtually unknown sport. One just has to look at the graveyard of defunct leagues to recognize this. Does anyone remember the USFL, WFL, USBL, WPSL, NASL, WABA, etc, etc. The failures dramatically outnumber the successes. And even the success stories are marginal at best. The new soccer league, the MLS, has gotten a boost from David Beckham, but has yet to turn a profit. The WNBA only survives due to its support from the NBA. Which leads to the 2nd point…
2) A professional handball league in the USA would need unprecedented and substantial financial backing. And I don’t see anyone or any organization with sufficient financial resources willing to lay out the kind of capital that would be necessary to create a legitimate professional league. Theoretically, the European leagues could support a developmental league in the U.S., akin to the NFL Europe that would mimic the NFL’s dual goals of player development and increasing the sport’s popularity. But, the European handball leagues don’t have near the resources that the NFL has and even the NFL, with its massive resources recently decided to pull the plug recently on the NFL Europe. Which leads to the third point…
3) It would take years, more likely decades for investors to see return on their investment. Why? The amount of advertisement and promotion it would take to get Americans to go pay money to see a sport most have never seen before would be substantial. My goodness, under ideal circumstances, it would be very difficult to fill an arena for even 1 game. Let’s put this in perspective. If the EHF Champions league decided to play their final championship match in any city in the USA and heavily promoted it, they would be lucky to get 2,000 fans. Perhaps, if they scheduled it the same weekend and in the same city as the USA club national championship tournament, they might bump up the attendance by an extra 500 people. And this would be the two best teams in the world playing in the penultimate event of the year.
Bottom Line: Professional leagues, with few exceptions, are by design intended to turn a profit. A U.S. League could not be realistically expected to turn a profit for several years, if ever. Maybe there are several more Dieter Esch’s (see the UTHF proposal) out there with money to invest that I don’t know about, but I doubt it.
Now all this being said, I can foresee Professional Clubs touring the US. First, however, the sport will need to get some decent television exposure in the US. Once a decent fan base is established some club teams could come to the US and play an exhibition game like the one scheduled in London between Veszprem and Viborg. Heck, with support from a US TV network and some clever promotion such a one-off event could even turn a profit. This is a realistic goal and one that should be looked into.
And finally, if I’m wrong about all this, I will gladly eat these words and purchase season tickets. Go Rattlers!