Yesterday, USA Team Handball announced that 31 matches of the upcoming IHF Handball World Championships will be broadcast on ESPN+, ESPN’s streaming platform. Pretty big news… Right? Actually, no, it’s not just “big” news.
In fact, It it the biggest and most important development in the entire history of team handball in the United States.
Long time readers of this website shouldn’t be surprised by my hyperbolic statement as I’ve been saying this in one way or another for years. Why friends will know that I’ve been espousing the critical need for more handball on TV since the late 1980s.
Most prominently, I’ve stated the following prediction several times: If handball were to be broadcast on a regular basis on a network like ESPN, virtually every statement discussing handball’s progress in the U.S. from that point forward would start with these words:
“Well, after handball started being shown on ESPN…”
Pick how you want to finish the sentence. Here are some possibilities:
- Collegiate handball really took off with an expansion to several hundred clubs
- Youth programs expanded in several cities feeding the collegiate programs
- USA Team Handball had year on year membership growth of xx%; Along with accompanying increases in website visits and social media engagement
- Merchandise sales of professional handball clubs in Europe gradually increased as more Americans became fans of the game
- The quality of stateside play improved dramatically
- The level of stateside talent making our national teams starting improving
One Marketing Objective Above All Others
As I highlighted in this commentary from last year getting more handball on TV more trumps all other marketing objectives for the sport… because it’s a true force multiplier that greatly improves the likelihood of better results in all other areas.
While it was always seen as something important for a variety of reasons this objective wasn’t being achieved. Those reasons include a lack of European engagement, a failure to understand the importance of finding the right network and from my perspective, insufficient engagement from an overtasked USA Team Handball that failed to recognize it’s absolutely vital importance in the big scheme of things.
Finally Success: Why Now?
So after many years of frustration why are we finally celebrating such big news? As with many great successes it’s the result of a combination of things.
- Better European Engagement: For starters the Europeans and the IHF have finally recognized the need for an American market and are starting to put some resources in place to make it happen. The handball world can bemoan the granting of a wild card to a USA team, but actual USA participation in the WC made it a more attractive TV product to ESPN.
- Education on Finding the Right Network: Over time, through a variety of means, the key handball content owners now fully understand that not “just any ol’ network” will do for the U.S. market.
- Better engagement from USA Team Handball: While I would have liked to have seen action sooner, I’ll just say I’m real pleased that it’s now taken place. Hats off to new CEO, Ryan Johnson, for helping to facilitate the finalization of this deal. In his first week on the job, no less.
- The greater availability and acceptance of streaming: As I wrote about last year streaming platforms provide an opportunity for minor sports like handball that is virtually impossible on traditional linear channels.
- Luck: Behind the scenes some connections were made that facilitated making this deal happen. And, most importantly, that good fortune was capitalized upon.
The Great Experiment Begins
So, will my prediction come true? Will every statement about handball in American now begin with a qualifier about whether is was before or after ESPN started broadcasting the sport?
Time will tell, but I’ve never ever been more optimistic about the future of the sport in this country.
Previous Articles/Commentary about Getting More Handball on TV in the U.S.
- Why weren’t the U.S. National Teams at the London Olympics?:
- Sep 2012: Part 5: A lack of awareness and marketing: One in a million? The 312 real fans of Team Handball in the U.S.: Link
- Oct 2012: Part 6: A lack of awareness and marketing: The Catch 22 TV paradox: Link
- Dec 2012: Part 7: A lack of awareness and marketing: The historic lack of European support: Link
- Dec 2012: Part 8: A lack of awareness and marketing: Europe sees the light, but can’t quite figure out how to properly invade the U.S. market: Link
- Dec 2015: 20 Team Handball Matches have been Broadcast the Past 2 Weeks on a U.S. TV Network: Few Know, Fewer Watch and No One Seems to Care: Link
- Aug 2016: The Olympics are Over. Thanks for Watching. See you in 2020. How about Sooner?: Link
- Feb 2020: ESPN Missed out on the English Premier League: Will they Miss the Boat for Handball Too?: Link
- May 2020: What we Want (Part 4): Marketing: Link