IIHF presidential candidate Bach Nielsen proposes fewer World Championship events

Martin Ross

14 September 2021

Denmark’s Henrik Bach Nielsen has told SportBusiness that a reduction in the number of ice hockey World Championship events from the Division I, Group B level downwards forms part of his proposals in the race to become the next International Ice Hockey Federation president.

Ahead of the elections at the IIHF Semi-Annual Congress in Saint Petersburg on September 25, Bach Nielsen said that moving the lower-level World Championships to a biennial cycle rather than an annual one would provide better financial results for the affected member associations.

The president of the Danish Ice Hockey Union (DIU) said: “We are maybe one of the only international federations that have a World Championship every year. That means that we are sending [teams from] around 60 countries around the world every year.

“I have to be loyal to my own values about how to develop hockey. My proposal is that, at a certain level in our structure and down, they should play every second year.

“But I also want to support the development in the [affected] countries with $40,000 (€33,878) per team. Instead of using the money on flights and hotels to only go and play five games, I believe that you will get more development out of playing every second year in the lower divisions.”

Bach Nielsen said that the proposal forms part of his vision to break down structural, financial and mental barriers in the sport.

He is not advocating a change to the frequency of the top-tier IIHF World Championship and Division I, Group A events, recognising that they need to be played every year to satisfy the international federation’s long-term commercial rights contract with the Infront agency.

He said that some national associations struggle to send multiple teams to the various World Championships every year and that the IIHF could provide better support if they only go every second year.

The Dane continued: “For example, if a member association has five teams, then every year they’d get $200,000 to develop hockey in their countries.

“We spend over $12m on tournaments every year. We need more ice hockey for all of this money. I want to reallocate some of the money so that the prize pool for the top division goes up. That prize pool has been the same for the last ten or 15 years and a lot of the big countries have a deficit going into a World Championship.”

Bach Nielsen is one of five candidates vying to succeed the long-serving René Fasel as the IIHF president. He is competing against fellow council members Franz Reindl (Germany), Petr Briza (Czech Republic), Sergej Gontcharov (Belarus) and Luc Tardif (France).

On the event side of his manifesto, Bach Nielsen is also targeting additional ice hockey disciplines at the winter Olympics. This comes after the inclusion of mixed 3-on-3 competitions at the 2019 Youth Winter Olympics in Lausanne.

“For many years we only had one gold medal to go after [at the winter Olympics] in our sport and [yet] we really contribute a lot to the winter Olympics,” Bach Nielsen proclaimed. “I have seen other international federations be more innovative and develop other disciplines.

“It’s very difficult for our Member National Associations to get to the Olympics. If it’s so difficult for smaller countries to get there, [then] I’m a little afraid that they lose ownership to the Olympic family and Olympic values. There should be more medals to go for in our sport.

“That’s the reason I said we need to take some inspiration from others, [be it] 3×3 basketball or beach volleyball. We have been standing a little still here.

“If you could have mixed 3-on-3 or skills disciplines then suddenly you could have other countries [at the Olympics]. I want to give a little more ownership to the Olympics and I think that ice hockey deserves this.”

As an example of new disciplines helping to widen the net and globalise the sport, he cited Turkey’s Sidre Ozer, who won a bronze medal at the mixed NOC 3-on-3 event at Lausanne’s winter YOG.

To achieve greater representation at the winter Olympics, Bach Nielsen acknowledges that the IIHF must continue to have a strong presence within the International Olympic Committee. Fasel is a long-standing IOC member but there is no guarantee that the next IIHF president will be and the Dane says that he has the time and energy to commit to an IOC role.

Rival candidate Reindl has also outlined his plans to create new and shorter competition formats that will attract a younger demographic and reflect changing media consumption patterns.

Commercial revenues, development in Asia, Balkans

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Bach Nielsen was part of the IIHF delegation that finalised the 10-year media and sponsorship rights extension with Infront in 2019.

While praising the long-term deal with the Switzerland-based behemoth, the presidential candidate said that there is scope to derive more commercial revenues from the sport.

He said: “It’s a very good contract but sometimes with a long-term [agreement] then you just put it on the table and don’t touch it. I can still see areas where it’s possible to increase [commercial revenues].

“For example, why don’t we have a main sponsor for the Women’s [World Championship]?

“Another thing is the U18s [World Championship], which is actually a great product. U20s is now really big in North America and growing in Europe. We can bring U18 to that level too.”

He also called on the IIHF to maximise the commercial opportunities from data, saying that hosting the 2018 World Championship in Denmark generated information on more than 500,000 spectators but that this data was not subsequently put to use for follow-up events.

“We should not be satisfied just with the long-term commitment with Infront” he continued. “We can add on to it. And Infront would not be against that as it’s also revenue for them.”

Regional development in Asia and the Balkan region is another of Bach Nielsen’s stated priorities.
He observed: “I see a lot of potential in Asia. If we want to globalise our sport then this is maybe the biggest potential area. This has maybe been said for some years but I want to see more development in Asia.

“That’s why my proposal is that we should be present more in Asia. My specific proposal is to have an office there so that skilled people and experts can work from out there.

“When we look at the map of [ice] hockey, it’s very much focused on Europe and North America. But you have to expand that…I have a feeling there is a big interest in the Asian countries but they also need support and help.

“In 2018 we were also in Asia with the [winter] Olympics but I didn’t see the big step from that. This is a long-term project. We cannot [just] have a seminar in Asia and then think it’s over…yes it has been a focus for the last five years but my personal opinion is that we can do better.”

On the Balkans, he said the region has a “hockey heart” but needs structural help, including the establishment of a specific Committee.

NHL solution, sustainability push to protect sponsorships

While an agreement was recently struck for National Hockey League players to take part in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, Bach Nielsen stressed that the co-operation between the relevant stakeholders needs to improve.

The agreement hammered out by the NHL, NHL Players Association, IIHF and IOC was outlined on September 3.

Bach Nielsen said: “This time it was influenced a lot by the Covid-19 situation. I don’t think these negotiations would have taken that long a time if we didn’t have this pandemic.

“There is no long-term agreement and I think this will always be an issue when you’re talking about a private league like the NHL, and there are other interests there. But I’m happy to see that most of the players want to go [to the Olympics]. I’m positive in that sense.”

In July, the NHL publicly released a schedule for the 2021-22 season that included a regular-season break between February 3-22, 2022, in anticipation of a deal for its players to compete in Beijing. But at the time, the NHL was also developing contingency plans should a deal not be struck.

New technologies to reduce ice hockey’s energy consumption also form part of the Dane’s stated presidential priorities.

He stated: “If I become president, we need to look to sustainability in our sport.
“We use electricity every second of every day to keep our arenas ice cool, [but] I’ve seen in other areas of society that if you don’t have an answer on sustainability then sponsors start to look at us as a ‘black’ sport and not a ‘green’ sport.

“We need to do something to protect our own product. I’ve seen companies losing sales if they don’t have a profile or answers to these questions.”

Media contact 

Caroline Anderson