Earlier this week, it was revealed that European hockey clubs are creating an interest organisation called "Alliance of European Hockey Clubs." This follows the concept of football clubs (formerly G14 and now European Club Association) and handball's Forum Club Handball.
These organizations look after the interests of the individual clubs for each sport in Europe, thereby speaking for all clubs when negotiating with the parent organization, for example UEFA and EHF (handball) who handle the TV deals for different national tournaments. The project has started to take shape in the hands of Håkan Loob, formerly of the Calgary Flames, and now General Manager of Färjestads BK, and will officially open for business in July of this year.
It will strengthen the European clubs' roles in the hockey world, and there are two main areas that they are looking to shape up; International Games, and Transfer Agreements. In the meeting that was held in Dusseldorf this week, 50 clubs from Europe were present, but the absence of the KHL was noteworthy.
Håkan Loob mentioned in an interview with Värmlands Folkblad that "This is not a shift of power, this is how we can make ice hockey bigger and grow, how we can can work together in order to develop the product. This is not about confrontation and conflicts."
On the other hand, it is clear that the founding of an organization like this strengthens the voice of European hockey clubs. The agenda will have two clear points when the organization opens; The scheduling of international games and national leagues, and when it is time to negotiate with the NHL in regards to transfer agreements.
Loob continues "It is obvious that an organization with over 50 clubs' interests will have a good negotiation position if it comes to it, but we have to see how we would prioritize something like that." Football's European Club Association, with over 220 members from 53 countries, are the obvious model for this organization.
Handball's Forum Club Handball might actually be a better example for the ice hockey organization, as hockey isn't as big as football in all European countries. FCH Managing Director G. Butzeck has even been invited as guest speaker for the summer meeting. In regards to international hockey games, Loob is adamant that there should be breaks for matches, but that they need to be better managed.
For the NHL to negotiate with the whole of Europe would be great, as it streamlines the negotiation process, but they would also be dealing with a conglomerate of teams that would stick together for a better deal. This could lead to higher costs for NHL teams to bring European players over, which would be something that the NHL would likely want to avoid, but would likely benefit Europe in many ways. European clubs look at football transfers and marvel at the money that is being redistributed, and in the long run it would benefit the NHL, as most of that money would be invested in player development.
Mats Grauers, President of Frölunda HC, points to the IIHF and wants the organization to be more open with where the money goes, and to distribute more money to the clubs if a surplus exists. Here it is easy to see parallels with UEFA and FIFA, and the problems that have blossomed recently within these organizations. The World Championships generate a profit of up to 30 million Swiss francs annually, and as the players belong to clubs, it is obvious that the clubs want a piece of that in order to increase revenue and attract better players.
In the end, it seems that the main goal is to transfer a part of the power to the clubs. This is much like football's European Club Association, where UEFA can't really make a decision without having Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (president of the ECA) backing it.
The partners are adamant that this organization will not be a paper tiger, and looking at the people involved, it certainly shouldn't be. The Vice-Presidents are Färjestad's General Manager Håkan Loob, and Düsseldorf's Russian owner, Mikhail Ponomarev. It is due to be chaired by SC Bern's CEO Marc Lüthi, who has dragged the IIHF before the Court of Arbitration for Sport before.
This figures to represent a new era in how European clubs deal with worldwide player movement.
For more information on how transfer agreements between Europe and the NHL work, we covered it in this article last year: The SHL and NHL: A system in symbiosis?