As the LiquiMoly Starligue season begins this evening, with a meeting between defending champion Paris and Istres, handball is at a crossroads, a few weeks after a new Olympic title. Can the Liqui Moly Starligue play a leading role in the evolution of handball in the near future when some of its French gondola heads go abroad?
The train is passing, and you must not miss it. The two French teams won the gold medal at the Tokyo Games a few weeks ago, and in the two elite handball championships, the question is the same: how to ride this wave to continue to grow a sport that remains relatively confidential, compared to football, rugby, and even basketball. “It’s true that with the prospect of Paris 2024 and the medals of last summer, there is a real alignment of the planets. Medals are not enough to advance our sport, but they are a real support for ‘exposure. highlighted Patrice Canayer, the manager of Montpellier Handball. But to make a sport climb in the hearts of the French, it takes time, and time, there is little. So it’s a question of going into overdrive, so as not to see the other Olympic sports being the only ones to benefit from the Olympic Games effect.
A new name for the championship
Some signals are, at the moment, positive. The National Handball League, whose naming contract with Lidl was coming to an end, quickly rebounded by finding itself in Liqui Moly, the manufacturer of additives and oils for German, its namer for the next five seasons. “We can only congratulate ourselves on this, it is a great brand, known throughout Europe, and which collaborates with major sports such as Formula 1” continue Canayer. But a sponsor does not make spring, and it takes more than that to put handball on the front page of national newspapers. It’s a whole marketing strategy that needs to be put in place, and urgently, according to the players.
And in this frantic search for media coverage, and therefore for the expansion of French handball, we still have the impression that there is a long way to go. And it is not the departure of French internationals for abroad, whether it is Nicolas Tournat in 2020, Melvyn Richardson this summer, or Nédim Rémili next summer, which is going easily. The average fan, defined by handball during the Olympic fortnight, may have a little trouble finding his champions in theaters in the coming years. “It’s always annoying that a club like Paris loses its best French players. But we cannot deny that if the French championship is, sportingly, one of the most attractive, the best players can go and win more elsewhere, while playing the Champions League every year. If you have a better contract in Poland, with the certainty of being exposed every week, it’s complicated to convince the players to stay” regrets for his part Thierry Anti, the coach of the Pays d’Aix and president of 7Master, the coaches’ union. His Istrean colleague Gilles Derot is worried about the consequences of this wave of departure: “In terms of images, it’s a bad sign. We are losing young players, who are and will be the symbol of our national team in the years to come. I am a bit worried.
A 360° strategy to retain French internationals
One of the reasons that could motivate these French stars is to further develop their brand image with the French public. More complicated to attract advertisers when you play in Barcelona or Kielce, easier if you are in contact with your fans while playing in your national championship. But still it is necessary to find its account there, in a career which does not exceed fifteen years. “Handball is a sport where we have to help raise awareness. When we keep Valentin Porte, when we extend players like Yanis Lenne, we are in this perspective of supporting them to grow, both on a sporting level and on a marketing level” underlines Patrice Canayer, whose club has chosen to invest in new internationals Karl Konan and Rémi Desbonnet (photo) by 2022.
The MHB manager pleads for a three-year strategy, enhanced collaboration between professional clubs, the league and the federation, to promote handball as much as possible before the next Olympics. Calendar selection arrangements are planned for the boys, while the desire of the FFHB to play the games on national soil more than usual has been mentioned. “I think there are many areas for improvement. And it is not only on the financial side that the reflection must be focused. The clubs must continue to work with young French people, without them turning abroad, for example. ends Thierry Anti. His club, PAUC, managed to bring back Romain Lagarde this summer, the only Olympic champion to have returned to France this summer. But the conditions were met. “He made great efforts to come back, because he wanted to return to France for personal reasons. But otherwise, a club like Aix could never bring a player like Romain back. further notes Anti. As we suspected, the season will be busy on the pitch, but also outside. Because time is running out, and the Paris 2024 train will not wait.