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The Swiss League is fighting for its survival – traditional clubs fear

Structural problems, excessive expectations and the dispute between the National League and the association mean that the second highest professional league in Switzerland is in danger of falling apart. Traditional clubs like EHC Olten, EHC Visp or SC Langenthal fear for their future.

Way out of the lack of prospects: EHC Kloten made it into the National League in time.

Ennio Leanza / Keystone

The Swiss ice hockey championship starts in a month. Clubs across the National League are arming themselves with high-priced foreigners from Russia’s KHL, which has become a pariah in international ice hockey because of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The upcoming championship promises to be one of the most spectacular in recent years.

Among them, the majority of the ten Swiss League representatives ask themselves: “And where is our place in the pyramid of top Swiss ice hockey?” Since the National League formally separated from the Swiss Ice Hockey Federation (SIHF) and thus forced the Swiss League to become independent, this league no longer has any money, no market and no sporting prospects.

Just a few weeks before the start of the championship, the leadership of their clubs pointed out the desolate situation in a dramatic four-page letter. Even moderate protagonists describe the situation as catastrophic. Langenthal club president Gian Kämpf, one of the long-time spokesmen in the league, says: “If something doesn’t happen quickly, we won’t exist in two or three years.”

But where is the help supposed to come from? The representatives of the second-highest league were and no longer felt welcome in the bosom of the National League. They therefore founded their own corporation, entered into a cooperation with the SIHF and tried to market themselves.

But the result of these efforts is devastating. There was no help from the association, and the marketing agency mandated by Kloten President Mike Schälchli found a partner in the online insurance provider Wefox, who was responsible for an extensive advertising package, including the league naming rights and a presence in all middle circles and on the dresses of all ten clubs would have been willing to pay around half a million francs or just under 50,000 francs per club. But that was far too little, the majority found, and withdrew Schälchli’s mandate.

With Ajoie and Kloten, two major Swiss League clubs have said goodbye in the last two years

Schälchli managed to make it into the National League just in time with his EHC Kloten. But without EHC Kloten and HC Ajoie, the league not only lacks solid partners, but also crowd pullers. In the future, your games will be distributed via the Asport streaming platform. But that doesn’t bring any money, but presumably costs: Peter Zahner, who is responsible for the ZSC Lions as well as its partner team GCK Lions, expects the so-called OTT solution to cost CHF 65,000.

So far, the Swiss League clubs had received CHF 385,000 per season from central marketing. This amount is now gone without replacement. This is devastating for clubs like EHC Winterthur or the Ticino Rockets, which operate with budgets of almost 2 million francs. For them it is about existence. Winterthur, for example, has imposed a hiring freeze.

Marc Thommen, President of EHC Olten, was one of the initiators and supporters of the new path, along with Gian Kkampf. It was dreamed of building a product that competed with the National League. Those plans failed miserably. Thommen says there was no alternative. In retrospect, going it alone was a mistake. “The framework conditions have changed. At that time we assumed two divisions of 12. Since then we have lost two of our most popular clubs with Ajoie and Kloten.”

The league qualification will be played again next spring after a two-year Corona break. But de facto the National League is more or less closed after expanding from 12 to 14 teams. The bottleneck between the two leagues is getting narrower. The National League will play with six foreigners from this season, in the Swiss League there are two.

He is to prepare a legal opinion for the modalities of league qualification: the renowned lawyer and GC Vice President András Gurovits.

He is to prepare a legal opinion for the modalities of league qualification: the renowned lawyer and GC Vice President András Gurovits.

Ennio Leanza / Keystone

The two leagues are currently struggling over the modalities of league qualification. The framework conditions are to be determined at a meeting on Wednesday. If there is no consensus, then the next escalation threatens. The association’s president, Michael Rindlisbacher, has already commissioned a legal opinion from the renowned lawyer András Gurovits. If no solution can be found, certain Swiss League clubs threaten to go before the International Sports Court or the Competition Commission.

Swiss Ice Hockey, as the umbrella organization of Swiss ice hockey, makes a miserable figure in the matter. Instead of mediating, the association builds up new threatening gestures that further poison the already polluted climate between him and the league. Even in several Swiss League clubs, one would like a change at the top of the association and a new president who mediates and does not divide further.

The EHC Visp is practically the only club in the Swiss League that could exist in the National League in terms of infrastructure, but also in terms of its catchment area. But disillusionment is also spreading among its CEO Sébastien Pico. He says: “Certain club representatives no longer go to the meetings because they feel that their needs are not being taken seriously. The National League is only looking out for itself.”

The value of the Swiss League as a training league is undisputed. In principle, there is also agreement that twelve teams per league would be appropriate for the Swiss market and player potential. But a return of the National League to twelve teams is politically unthinkable. The top clubs defend their interests from a position of strength.

A task force is to secure the future of the Swiss League

Swiss ice hockey is therefore facing a crucial test next to the ice. The collapse of the Swiss League is more than a catastrophic scenario from professional doomsayers. The National League has offered the Swiss League to send each club 50,000 francs via the cooperation agreement – but only if the clubs bow to their dictates. Slightly mockingly, one speaks within the league of alms that would go to the starving stepchild.

The attempt to position the Swiss League as an independent product on the market has therefore failed. There is no market or need for a league like them outside of the regions involved. A task force consisting of association CEO Patrick Bloch, National League director Denis Vaucher and new Swiss League managing director Patrick Signer is trying to limit the financial damage and ensure that ice hockey continues not only played in the big arenas in Zug, Zurich, Bern or Ticino. The task will be anything but easy.

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