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TELEKOM VESZPRÉM Ⓒ
Handball Team
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A man with a mission
2021-10-08 08:50
Joseph Williams, the founder and president of Detroit Handball Club has paid our club a visit last week. Before the clash against Barca we spoke to him about handball in the US.

− Where does your enthusiasm for handball come from?

− Like most Americans, the sport of handball caught my attention during the summer Olympic Games, back in 2012. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but it did. The hard part came after this, when even after the Olympic Games were over, I still wanted to learn more about the world of handball.

− What was the next step?

− Even though 10 million people live in Michigan, there wasn’t a single handball association in the entire state. The nearest city with a handball team was Chicago, which is a 4-hour drive from Detroit. I commuted there for a while, then later at a try-out event – where I was the only applicant – I “fought” my way into the U21 national team.

− How did you come up with the idea of establishing your own club?

− After my years In Chicago I moved to Europe to become a professional handball player. I played half a season in Denmark, it was an incredible experience but I had to face the fact that even though I love handball, I will not become a professional player. This happened in 2019, the same year Denmark and Germany hosted the World Championship and the whole country was in handball fever. I thought to myself, if a small Danish town like Ikast can put together a handball team, then so can the City of Detroit.

− Detroit provides a home for the Detroit Lions (American football), Detroit Tigers (baseball), Detroit Pistons (basketball) and the Detroit Red Wings (ice hockey). These sporting organizations are very popular among the local youth. Considering all this, how can you recruit handball players?

− This is the biggest challenge we’re facing. Referring back to what you said, Detroit also has a soccer team and even though they play in the third division, they have a huge committed fan base which created a special local fan culture. It’s very similar to what I witnessed in Denmark. We even had a few collaborations with the soccer team. To answer your question, we are in contact with a number of youth civil organizations and local schools who help us a lot in recruitment.

− Now that you mentioned the fans; how open are they to handball?

− We still need a lot of time and effort, to show them what handball is really about. I think handball could actually be considered an “American” sport. It’s dynamic, it’s spectacular, we’re just not at a high level yet. It’s not an easy job, but I feel like the people of Detroit are open to handball.

− Is there even a National Handball Association in the USA?

− No, there isn’t. We don’t have national sports associations like in Europe. This burden falls on the Olympic Commission, to recruit enough players and put together a competitive side in as many sports as possible.

− No matter how enormous the American market is, the traditional sports leagues like NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB can cover it all, not to mention the ever so popular MLS. Is there a market niche where handball could prove to prevail?

− That’s very true. Right now, even Quidditch is ahead of us in this regard. Joking aside, the example of the UFC is something we could focus on, which was actually an illegal sport and now it’s one of the most popular sporting programs, broadcast on ESPN. Everything is possible, especially now that the popularity of the NFL and MLB are dropping heavily. The market niche that you mentioned definitely exists, the question is how big is it and how can we make the most of it? We have to evaluate who could be the potential target audience for handball, however we’re still at the stage of figuring out who our potential player base could be for recruitment.

− Could you, for example, lure over players who stopped playing other sports, for one reason or another? Could that be a viable option regarding the future of handball in the US?

− Yes, previously there have been attempts of what you’re describing, but I don’t think they were executed correctly. If a player wants to reach the level of playing in the NFL or NBA, they would have to be world class players. Furthermore, there are hundreds, if not thousands of incredible athletes who weren’t drafted and missed out on playing in the NFL or NBA, but could still play these sports anywhere else in the world. With the right strategy and funding, we could definitely lure players like these over to handball. This is another huge difference between the US and Europe; amateur sports don’t really have an established place in our country. You either reach the highest level possible or you quit playing altogether.

− Speaking of funding. How could you make handball appealing to sponsors?

− An important part of our concept here, is to represent the people and the City of Detroit. When looking for sponsors, our aim is to find local businesses to sponsor us. Many clubs do not follow this philosophy. Handball is still very hard to sell, whereas advertising and selling the city of Detroit is much easier
 
− Does an actual handball championship or league in the classical sense, exist in the US?

− Unfortunately, no. There are a number of competitions held over the weekends, varying in time and space. For example, there is one in October in Miami, then there is one in January in San Francisco, and so on. This is another problem. If two of the best handball teams were to play against each other on a Saturday morning in a high school arena, there is no way we could advertise that event, let alone sell it... even if the level of handball played would be very high and entertaining.
 
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