Following Friday's meeting in Moscow of the Board of Directors, KHL President Dmitry Chernyshenko spoke to the assembled media representatives and answered questions from journalists.
"This Friday, the 15th of September, we held the season's first gathering of the League's Board of Directors. Today is a big hockey day, with no fewer than eight games taking place, and you could say that we were involved in a ninth game at this meeting. We had three periods - in the first, the previous Board of Directors elected new members, then the new Board of Directors elected its Chairman, Gennady Timchenko, and then we discussed a range of other issues.”
“The main news story of the day is our decision to approve the profit-share payments to the clubs. The accepted sum is 352m rubles (over $6m), but the two departed clubs have outstanding debts with the League. In their case, we will be withholding payment, giving us a revised amount of 331m rubles ($5.74m). In the first season of the scheme we paid the clubs 114m ($2m), then it was 243m rubles ($4.22m), and it has now surpassed 350m. I would love us to keep this momentum. Our main source of funds is the sale of TV rights, so our main focus is on raising the quality of the League's main product. To achieve this, we need the players to perform well, we need to attract fans to the arenas, and we need the stadium lighting to meet the standards demanded by broadcasters. We are influencing these factors in various ways, not least via our income redistribution scheme. The aim of the KHL is to aid the development of hockey, not to enrich shareholders, and that is why we distribute these funds among the clubs.”
“In addition, the Board of Directors decided that out of the aforementioned 331m rubles we would distribute 100m ($1.73m) according to attendance at home matches. By doing this, we encourage our clubs to increase the capacity and the occupancy of the arenas. Speaking of attendance, the first week's figures were encouraging – nearly 260,000 for 39 games - but then there was a decline. We will not be indifferent toward clubs whose attendances are dropping, and we will work closely with them to ensure hockey remains competitive in the presence of many alternative leisure activities.”
I think this Championship is turning out to be highly interesting. Our strategy has placed the Sword of Damocles above the clubs, who know that next season will only feature 24 teams. We are witnessing many teams from lower down the rankings gaining in strength. Everyone is trying.
“Another important point: Metallurg Novokuznetsk will spend this season playing in the VHL, but as a member of the 2016-17 KHL Championship the club will also get its allocation of funds from the profit-share and TV rights. The Board of Directors has recommended that these funds be used by the club in nurturing young players. At the previous meeting of the Board it was decided that clubs which had failed to pay their debts to players and coaches by the 1st of July would be fined a sum equivalent to 20% of that outstanding debt. Previously in the League we witnessed the unacceptable phenomenon of clubs carrying over debts into a new season, and typically, a total of one-and-a-half billion rubles ($26m) of debt passed from year to year. Yet we began this Championship almost debt-free, thanks to our timely intervention. Today, the Board of Directors decided to amend the Regulations so that any club which was late by two or more months in paying wages to its players or coaches would be fined. At the moment, only Slovan is experiencing problems, owing around 30m rubles (approx. $520,000), but the club has submitted a written guarantee that it will pay its debts on or before the 30th of September.”
Our main product is the game, in the stadium and on TV, so improving the quality of match broadcasts is high on the League's list of priorities. I see that the capital of Tatarstan, Kazan, joined the list of KHL cities with HD broadcasts, and now such clubs number 23 out of 27. We welcome this news and we are very grateful to the Tatarstan Republic's leadership. Additionally, we are completing our inspection of the arenas' lighting facilities and whether the illumination levels conform to the standards set down in our Technical Regulations. The results we have seen so far have been disappointing, particularly considering that when distributing the profit-share last season we recommended that funds be spent on improving the stadium lighting. On the 21st of September, we will summarize the results of the Commission's inspection, but to date, only one club's arena has lighting facilities which meet all the international standards for intensity, quality and uniformity of illumination. We will ensure that all our clubs install lighting which complies with the standards, or we shall impose fines, probably in the region of 300,000 rubles ($5,200).
We all remember how in March we were shocked by tragic news of the passing of our great friend, talented coach, television commentator, hockey expert, and colleague Sergei Gimaev. A professional with a capital P. We promised to keep his memory alive, and so today the Board of Directors decided to introduce an award, For Loyalty to Hockey, named in honor of Sergei Gimaev. It will be awarded annually to the best veteran who is still playing the game. We also planned a similar tribute to the legendary double Olympic champion, Vladimir Petrov, but the Russian Hockey Federation decided to name the main trophy of the VHL in his honor.
The new Board of Directors line-up had to consider several other issues, including the continued program of monthly support to veterans, of whom there are now more than 60. One of the League's target programs is the granting of funds to support to children's hockey, and to run this program the Russian Hockey Federation now receives annual funding from the KHL stability fund, which this year exceeded half-a-billion rubles ($8.67m). We will continue to participate in the funding of many children's hockey activities, and to this aim we shall allocate around 60m rubles ($1.05m) this season.
A few words on the start of the tenth season. I think this Championship is turning out to be highly interesting. Our strategy has placed the Sword of Damocles above the clubs, who know that next season will only feature 24 teams. We are witnessing many teams from lower down the rankings gaining in strength. Everyone is trying. Let me remind everyone that at the end of the regular season we will produce our rankings, based on eight criteria, and the three teams with the lowest rating will drop out of the League. And now we are witnessing a fascinating battle developing. We are still not even a month into the new season, and we have already had a lot of matches with unexpected outcomes. I'm still impressed by the game in Ufa between Salavat Yulaev and Barys, in which the Kazakhstan guys scored three goals in the last minute. Nigel Dawes dazzled everyone with his scoring exploits. And it's great to see the progress made by the young players, particularly Kirill Kaprizov, plus the players who have returned from the NHL - Tryamkin, Nesterov and others.
Our main source of funds is the sale of TV rights, so our main focus is on raising the quality of the League's main product. To achieve this, we need the players to perform well, we need to attract fans to the arenas, and we need the stadium lighting to meet the standards demanded by broadcasters.
- Regarding the planned further reduction in the size of the League to just 24 clubs: there has been a lot of discussion in the press about teams which might be forced out. What is your assessment of these teams?
Dmitry Chernyshenko: "I would suggest resisting the temptation to speculate on this topic. We have a long season, the playoffs will not begin until after the Olympics, and the intrigue and excitement will be intense until the very last moment. I would not dabble in predictions at this stage. The first ratings are calculated according to the results of the regular season, and the second ratings are worked out at the end of the season. Then the Board of Directors will make its decisions on removing clubs, but it is unlikely that any club which qualifies for the playoffs will receive a rating which places it in the bottom three of the League.”
- There is also the matter of Damir Ryspayev. Barys Astana President Askar Sobolev said he made a personal appeal to you, requesting that you lift the lifetime ban imposed on the player. Has there been any movement on this question?
Dmitry Chernyshenko: "Let me just remind you that he was disqualified in August of 2016 after yet another bout of violent behavior during a match. The League imposed an indefinite disqualification, and there is little one can add. But there have been overtures from the Federation, from the Barys President, and from the player himself, who has promised never to do such a thing again. The position of the League has not changed, as we will continue to tackle dirty play and unsportsmanlike behavior on the ice, but at the same time, given that the player has repented and changed his attitude toward his own behavior, we propose the following formula. We permit Ryspayev to play for one month in the VHL championship, and if during this time there is no recurrence of the kind of behavior has has exhibited in the past – the kind which does no credit to our beloved game - then we will consider granting him the chance to play again in the KHL. We will pass on this recommendation to the Sporting and Disciplinary Committee. If he is sincerely full of remorse, then maybe the SDC will make an exception for him.”
- What do you think of the news that there will be no NHL players in next year's Olympics?
Dmitry Chernyshenko: "If you remember, it was a similar situation back in 2014. The organizers of the Games and the IIHF held a number of meetings with the representatives of the NHL and strived to meet their demands – financial and logistic. It was important for us that the biggest event in the Olympic games, the one that really captures the imagination of all the fans, would feature the participation of players from the strongest teams in the world. We succeeded in making this happen, and I'm only sorry that the Russian team did not perform better. In this Olympic cycle, however, the NHL only considered the financial implications, and in spite of the many negotiations, they decided to stage the NHL season with no break for the Olympics. This has created many problems for the national teams' players, who regard the Games as the high point of their career. So the players and the fans have lost out because of this. Nonetheless, the Olympics does not cease to be the Olympics. The value of the gold medal stays the same, and the level of the competition will not be severely diminished. It is a shame that our guys who are playing for the American and Canadian clubs will not be able to play for us in the Games. Those who could return have done so, and the League even made a provision by which any club that could attract players with current or expiring NHL contracts would not be bound by the salary cap for this Olympic season.”
- 17 anti-doping agencies of different countries voted against Russia participating at all in the Olympics.
Dmitry Chernyshenko: "I do not want to pass judgment on all this. I can only say that the League's attitude to doping remains the same. We have zero tolerance. And we are the only League that continues to have our players tested in WADA's independent laboratories. The samples are taken by international specialists from various countries.”