French Handball article on Professional Tournament in Miami

The French monthly Handball magazine, HandAction, had a 4 page article in it's June 2008 edition on the Ligue Nationale de Handball's plans to play the Final Four of their League Cup next April in Miami. Here's a translation of the article in English. Thanks to "Positroll", Kathy Darling and others for their help in translation.


*Note: Coup is a French word with many meanings depending on the context,
to include a "Cup" or tournament like the "Coupe de la Ligue"
This title can be therefore be translated in a number of different ways:
– Some guys and a Crazy C(o)up: Literal Translation implying this is a fool's dream
– Some guys and a strike of lightning [coup de foudre]: As in this cup is a bold unexpected strike
– Some guys and a Cup that will be love at first sight: As in the Americans will fall in love with this tournament
Bottom line: This is typical French cleverness and it propably means all of the above to some extent.
There's a reason why even the English speaking world defines the concept as double entendre.

The Coupe de la Ligue heads to the United States next spring in Miami. Here’s an in-depth look at an event that is unparalleled in the world of professional sports.

By Roldolphe Trehet

“French Handball is changing. More TV rights, more visibility, higher budgets and higher salaries. But we know that it still has a way to go in order to compete with Germany and Spain. It’s precisely at this moment in the further professionalizing of French Handball that the plan to organize the final four of the Coupe de la Ligue in the United States is being written. A professional sport can die if it doesn’t make news for itself. After Besancon, Selestat, Dunkerque, Nimes, Paris, Metz and Albertville, our Coupe de la Ligue will be played in Miami. We arre ready to transcend boundaries, and the prospect of going into exile doesn't stop us. Having the competition outside of our borders can boost the interest in our sport in France and promote it abroad."

This is how Alain Smadja started the press conference back on April 28th at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Paris. And here is how the league president realized his American Dream: He wants to see his clubs (which, while making progress, are still largely confined to competititons in their country with negligible success on the European levels) play a weekend in the country of all extremes, where everything is bigger, where everyone is a consumer, and most important of all in the land of opportunity, where anything is possible. Including, making with this unknown sport a major event, in front of 20,000 people at the American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat! No one could even imagine it before; the LNH (French National Handabll League) made it happen, without even thinking twice about it: "Handball has all the ingredients of a show to become attractive in the United States!" To have this event take place in the home of the Miami Heat, a US basketball franchise, is considered a "magic opportunity" by the president of the LNH. The idea came to him in 2004 while watching a NBA basketball game at the Madison Square Garden in New-York : "Why not us?". Behind this surprising announcement in the media, hides a huge business issue for the LNH : "We want people to know. We are coming here to make money as well as to foster public relationships between French and American companies". The LNH has a very, very ambitious goal… The experience could be renewed in 2010 and 2011 in different cities, "other mythic American arenas…"

Alain Smadja has a gleam in his eyes when he speaks of America, like a pioneer of the Wild West who moves to virgin and fertile earth. It is Cristian Zaharia who proposed to him to plant his flag there during their first meeting in September 2007. This meeting was made possible by Thierry Anti, the Romanian's friend, Zaharia was famous in the European handball world of the 90s. Married to Noemi Lung Zaharia – swimming coach at the University Florida and former Olympic silver and bronze medalist in 1988 – Zaharia is well known and had a brilliant career as a player, highlights of which included participating in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic games (8th) and a bronze medal at the World Championships in 1990. He was one of the best left backs in the world before sustaining a serious knee injury and finishing his career in France (at Pontault-Combault for three years and at ACBB for one year) as well as in Germany (D2, Dusseldorf). This is not the first challenge for Zaharia. In 1990, he was the first Romanian player to leave his country without the authorization of his federation to play in Sweden, at Drott, a club with which he won the championship. Arriving in the United States nine years ago, he rapidly threw himself into the improbable mission of spreading the gospel of handball.

He organized, among other things, the Pan-American Championships in 2002, several training camps, coached the US National Team and created the Miami Sharks club… But without any institutional support, Zaharia mostly preaches in the desert. American handball today has 5000 practitioners, zero professional clubs. The Romanian businessman, who has this year created his corporation ‘New World Sports’, specializing in organizing events, hopes to be able to use the French League Cup as an instrument for creating a professional league. Those who didn't make it into pro soccer and college basketball make for an incredible pool of human talent. The revolution could only come from the outside with an imported product sufficiently tempting to finally pique the curiosity of the "hamburger people." And this could only come from old Europe, old-fashioned in many domains, but more than ever dominant in the discipline of handball. “I’ve thought of an event of this scope for eight years. I proposed to leagues from Spain, Germany, Sweden and Norway about organizing competitions, tournaments between champions of multiple countries in the United States, but they didn’t want to leave their comfort zone and enter the New World.” Here is the relocation dreamed by all the owners of big European soccer clubs, starting with those of English Premier League, who wish more than ever to export some of their league matches to far-away regions.

Miami, then… Sometimes referred to as “God’s Waiting Room” because of the number of retirees who move there. Today, the region of Greater Miami (around 5 million inhabitants) is a veritable melting-pot that would make the American founding fathers proud. Half the population is Hispanic, a million residents are Cuban, 400,000 Brazilians, but also many Europeans including 30,000 French. Unlike the citizens of Nebraska and Texas, Floridians will maybe have at least heard a distant cousin speak of handball in their lives… Anyway, its not the lack of handcall culture in the United States that frightens Cristian Zaharia, whose marketing slogans are ready, “It’s the most American sport that the Americans are not yet playing! Americans are going to love handball. Why isn’t soccer taking the desired momentum? Because, above all, Americans detest all those 0-0 or 1-1 matches. Handball offers plenty of goals and spectacle. It will not be a problem to fill the gym. Americans are consumers of sport. It's normal for them to be fans of something and to be fans for life. And in their eyes, thanks to this event, French handball will be the best handball in the world. And many will feel the calling, because Americans love winners.” Americans also love to think – and organize – big. New World Sports announced a budget of 2 million dollars. Welcome to the new world, in effect… AC Tellison, former football player in the NFL, but also of the NFL Europe (Frankfurt, Amsterdam) and an associate of Cristian Zaharia, sees handball as a huge untapped market and isn't holding back either: “When I discovered that one billion TV fans (editorial note: cumulative audience) had watched the Euro, I fell out of my chair! That’s the equivalent of 10 Superbowls. In arriving, as the first in the American market, my company will be in a great position as soon as France is identified as the fatherland of handball. Who remembers the second person who landed on the moon?” While the big sponsors of the event have not yet been unveiled, the contract already guarantees a million dollars to the league to handle the travel, lodging and different costs of the delegations! The American organizer is associated with the marketing department of AAA (American Airlines Arena) whose owner is Micky Arison, an Israeli billionaire ranked in the top 100 of the world's richest people, whose father, Ted, made his fortune with an ocean cruise company (Carnival Cruise) in the 1970s. Arison also inherited the NBA franchise, the Miami Heat, in 1995. Yes, French handball is now playing in the major leagues … Its “
American dream” is on the way. According to Béatrice Barbusse, president of Ivry “We will not need to motivate the players to go as far as possible in this competition…” No need to send the message to Fabrice Guilbert, “This is our main goal come next season!” And the most “exciting” for the young French Handball League.

[b]INSERT: On the “Final Four”[/b]
*The Quarter finals with the theme of “On the road to America” will likely be the 20th and 21st of December, potentially in the most American of French arenas: Bercy and its 15,000 seats.
*The semi-finals will be played April 10, 2009 starting in the afternoon. “The American organizers assured us that it is possible to get a sold-out arena on a Friday afternoon,” says Alain Smadja. The match times (in the middle of the day) coincide with prime broadcasting time in France. An NBA match of the Miam Heat might take place on Saturday, the finale and an “All-Star Game” (pitting a selection of the best players who lost in the Semi-finals against a Pan-american selection) will be played Sunday April 12, 2009.
*The games will not be played in an hour but accoriding to the big format that the Americans like. Multiple demonstrations and side shows are therefore anticipated, notably the “bands”, musical groups that are typical for a college sports atmosphere.
*Guéric Kervadec and Jackson Richardon are already expected at the event and are the invitees of honor, “The Americans are used to doing more than us in Europe. It’s a good springboard for French handball,” declared the latter.
*A special program will be put in place so that the French fans can take part “thanks to ultra-competitive package deals, potentially including an NBA game,” said the president of the LNH. Advance booking will be possible in France starting September. “We accounted for the criticisms of certain French fans. The League Cup will not be disconnected from its fans.”
*The event will be broadcast not only in France (channel yet to be chosen), but also in the US, where Fox Sports, ESPN, NBC, CBS have been contacted.
*The French Handball League and New World Sports work in collaboration with Gibson Dunn, an American office specializing in basketball, American football and tennis where Grine Lahreche, former goalie of Pontault-Combault and Tremblay notably works.

Original Text (French):