1 on 1 with ATHF's Senior Vice President of Sports Operations, Cristian Zaharia (part 2)

Bogdan: You know, most of us have become circumspect of empty promises of team handball success and grass roots development. Why, or how, will the ATHF be any different?

[color=#ff0000]Cristian: As you already know we do have a different approach and communication capacities, plus, the most important, CREDIBILITY. ATHF philosophy is to have the competent people in all the departments, not surrogate or want-to-bees, also to create a solid foundation where the competition, the innovation, the ground work will make the difference. I do know a lot of places in US schools with enthusiastic PE teachers, teaching kids this sport. Because of the traditional 'Ivory tower' mentality they do not have a coordinated effort to be together with some other schools, etc. That's what we will establish, through the communication factor, where it will be easy to find some other schools in your area which, in turn, encourage and help the establishment of regional amateur leagues, county schools competitions (not like others), etc. That will be the power of ATHF through Iamsport![/color]

Bogdan: How about I throw some tougher questions your way? No more softballs, as my colleague John Ryan likes to call some of my early querries. Are you ready for some fastballs? I think the US audience deserves some honest answers. How about it?

[color=#ff0000]Cristian: I thought we are here for Team handball not for softball (a non Olympic sport) but bring it on! [/color]

Bogdan: How exactly can a sports federation be for profit? (and for whose profit?) (John Ryan and Bogdan Pasat)


[color=#ff0000]Cristian: Tell you what! I will direct your questions to the President/CEO and Chairman of the ATHF, Mr. Nick VandenBrekel. After reading your questions I feel that he is better suited to directly and accurately answer them. Note that we do "allow" our President to answer direct questions. Wink, wink.[/color]

[color=#6600ff]Nick: The American Team Handball Federation is a for profit entity. A federation is defined as a union of organizations and that is exactly what the ATHF will be. The principal founder of the ATHF, The IAMSPORT Holdings Group, felt strongly about not hiding behind the banner of a non for profit organization. These days most references made to non-for profits are as misplaced as their agendas. Team Handball in the United States has had enough of that through almost 7 decades of its presences in America.[/color]

Bogdan: Mr. President, thank you. This next question has come up already and it seems to get a lot of mileage from the THN readers. Has there really been no coordination with the New Federation on this endeavor? Was there any consideration into putting a bid in for the Collegiate Nationals to be play ed in Miami at the same time? (John Ryan, Shkumbim M)

[color=#6600ff]Nick: There has been no further coordination with the New Federation on this endeavor because, quite simply, there was no middle ground to be found in regards to how Team Handball should grow in the future. The new NGB for Team Handball lacks funding, still has provisional USOC status and seems to display no innovation vis-a-vis its business plan. It lacks a profound understanding of the new century and its communication tools of choice. Amongst current teens and young adults it has been clearly determined that lives will be lived through the tools of networking and social community. That’s where you engage in a grass roots movement and build a sports organization. We don’t need more of the same and the ATHF will move aggressively towards an innovation that Team Handball has not seen in this country before.[/color]

Bogdan: Hosting this event at the AA Arena is just as big of a surprise as is bringing the LNH to Miami. However, the Ligue Cup has struggled to fill very modest sized venues in France. (e.g., 2006, Stade de Coubertin in Paris, perhaps 1,500 fans in 4,000 seat venue– I know, I was there) how will a 20,000 seat venue in the USA be anywhere near filled? (John Ryan)

[color=#6600ff]Nick: I appreciate your comments on the venue size. Having the 2009 Coupe de la Ligue event at the American Airlines Arena is not only ambitious but at the same time it makes a true statement for how serious the organizers and their partners are about re-introducing Team Handball in this country. We have the support of the Miami Heat organization, French Consulate, Fortune 500 retail support and a marketing machine that will promote this tournament not as just another Team Handball event but a historic sports event, the likes the USA has never witnessed before. It is a concerted effort between global marketing and the power of the Internet. Also do not forget that this is a cultural event as well. There are over 50,000 French expatriates in the Miami area alone. Like with any event, marketing is the key and we are well positioned to take advantage of the excitement that is being generated.[/color]

Bogdan: How about the schedule? The Friday afternoon before Easter is a less than ideal time to stage a match. Why is it scheduled for that date? (what are the times of the matches exactly?) (Jeff Smith and John Ryan)

[color=#6600ff]Nick: The scheduling before Easter is irrelevant in as much as the fact that most of the viewing will occur as a live streaming event on the Internet. The date was chosen between the availability of the Arena and the scheduling of the LNH; On Friday the matches will play at noon and 5pm. On Saturday the schedule is the same. The finals will play at noon and the All Star game will play at 5pm. Throughout the event there will be a Team Handball Championship Village outside and throughout the arena filled with cultural, retail and hospitality presence. Even the prestigious Art of the Olympians will be exhibiting a large art show during the event.[/color]

Bogdan: After checking Ticketmaster’s on line pricing for this event I have to ask: how were the ticket prices determined? Notably, it’s possible to see the French National team in Paris for 1/3 of the prices being offered. (John Ryan)

[color=#6600ff]Nick: The ticket prices were determined in conjunction with the Heat Organization, Ticket Master and local research. I understand that one may see the French National Team in Paris of 1/3 of the price but this is not Paris. This is Miami and not just any Coupe de la Ligue. We are confident that pricing will not be a deterrent for people watching the matches live in Miami. It is for that reason we have the live Coupe de la Ligue Pay-Per-View broadcast on the internet for merely $25.00. The Championship will be broadcast in Super Definition akin to High Definition.[/color]

Bogdan: Who is financially at risk for this endeavor? Is the risk mutually shared between the LNH and the New World Sports organization? (John Ryan and 4 others).

[color=#6600ff]Nick: The organizers, LNH and the main broadcast partner IAMSPORT Broadcasting Network are all at risk. Nothing worthwhile ever happens without people sticking their necks out and taking the entrepreneurial dive in the deep water. This tournament has been a long time coming and all involved believe the rewards are well worth the risks.[/color]

Bogdan: Does the LNH/ New World Sports/ATHF see this endeavor as a long term strategy? In other words, willing to lose money in the first few years, but eventually the return on investment will pay off. Note, this has been the strategy with the NBA, NHL, NFL and other American attempts (some successful) to market their sports overseas. (John Ryan, Bogdan Pasat). Sorry, to sound so negative, but we want to maintain credibility so some tough questions had to be asked.

[color=#6600ff]Nick: This endeavor is clearly part of a long term strategy. To just put on a onetime event makes for interesting promotion but does absolutely nothing for Team Handball in the United States for the long term. The ATHF will utilize the Coupe de la Ligue as its official kick off and it is more than willing to make the investments required to execute on a strategy that will accomplish a strong growth of both amateur and professional Team Handball in the United States.
I am not faulting your readers for sounding negative. I don’t see it that way. I believe you are being conservative and guarded because of what the past has shown. Credibility is what we will achieve with the ATHF and through events such as the Coupe de la Ligue. It’s long overdue that the tough questions were not only asked but also answered with fervor and optimism.
Last but not least let’s not forget which organization is truly backing the ATHF. The IAMSPORT Holdings Group is a powerful sports entity that has been involved with and responsible for the entire Olympic communication network since the mid nineties. As a principal investor in the ATHF, IAMSPORT is committing funds that are in the millions of dollars and is making available the wide breadth of its technologies to support the rapid growth of the ATHF. Currently the IAMSPORT Social Athletes Network is the fastest growing community in the world. By the end of 2009 over 50 million athletes will be part of the IAMSPORT network. It is the FaceBook/MySpace and YouTube all wrapped into one for athletes with one major twist: it is commercial and advertising free. The community is free to join, its email service is free to all users. IAMSPORT wil l create web portals for all ATHF members, including free email services. Additionally through the IAMSPORT Broadcast Network, ATHF members will have access to live streaming of games, tournaments and events. There is a lot to be excited about right now![/color]

to be continued…