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Well-Known Danish Handball Executive Per Rasmussen On The Sport & Its Business Impact

Well-Known Danish Handball Executive Per Rasmussen On The Sport & Its Business Impact

Per Rasmussen, a handball business executive, has been involved with multiple handball organizations including Bjerringbro-Silkeborg, Randers HK, and Aarhus. As the very first handball business executive we’ve had on the SPort MAnagement (SPMA) Hub, I was excited to sit down and learn what he had to say about the great sport of handball [Håndbold in Danish]. While handball is not a popular sport in Canada and the United States of America, it is very popular in Denmark and other European countries, so much so that it is shown on national television. In my interview, I was curious about what the handball audience looks like, and was excited to learn more about the business side of it. Join me as Per Rasmussen answers some questions about the sport of handball, and discusses how he thinks we can bring the sport to North America.

Per Rasmussen | Top Handball Executive | Denmark

Please note: The interview with Per Rasmussen was conducted via a typed conversation in Danish. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read in English while maintaining the voice of the interview. We’ve also given you a version of Per’s answers in Danish. As English is our native language, please be advised there may be some honest errors when/if you read it in Danish.

1 You are the first handball business executive we’ve had on the SPort MAnagement (SPMA) Hub. Tell our audience a bit about handball and the business side of it.

Handball is a very popular product in Denmark, especially on the men’s side from a business perspective. Handball is shown on national television and certain stations have paid for the rights to be able to air games.

It is only football (or soccer as North Americans call it) that is stronger as a product in Denmark.

In the clubs that I have been managing, primarily in Bjerringbro-Silkeborg, we have focused on creating a wide range of strong business partnerships.

Per Rasmussen | Top Handball Executive | Denmark

This means that even though we’ve had great support from Grundfos and Jyske Bank (two major companies in Denmark), we also open our ears to small organizations that seek to partner with us.

The premise behind having many partners is that the less sensitive you are if and when one decides to back out of a sponsorship deal at the last minute.

Handball is very privileged in Denmark. In other words, the sport of handball has led to many financial rewards in Denmark. By being shown nationwide in the country, it’s been easier to attract customers who prioritize watching handball in their leisure time.

I personally think the clubs are challenged by not getting enough money out of their television deal anymore though. And it’s a pity because handball clubs are dependent on TV revenues and sponsorship as their primary sources of revenue.

Much like it is for North American sport teams, our handball clubs have sales teams. They sell season and single games [just like they do at, say Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment in Canada]. Ticket sales are one aspect of a much larger business, but an important one too. As managers, you are required to think outside the box and think of all the other ways you can sell your product/service.

In Bjerringbro-Silkeborg, for example, we worked extensively to create experiences and products that were not handball related. One example was networking groups.

Therefore, commercial products are crucial to our handball clubs set-up and in the long run!

You can also say that it is a disaster for a handball club when they move down into the first division. It’s kind of like the promotion and relegation system in the Premier League.

Per Rasmussen | Top Handball Executive | Denmark

At the end of the day, and in the long run, clubs with a strong organization and sales efforts survive.

Per Rasmussen | Top Handball Executive | Denmark

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2 Your LinkedIn shows that you have been involved with multiple handball organizations. Tell us what your role across each is like.

a Bjerringbro-Silkeborg Elitehåndbold

In 2005, I helped get Bjerringbro-Silkeborg started [expansion franchise]. We created a strong organization, a robust brand and nearly sold out the arenas for all matches. Only a few years after we started the club, we were fighting for a top 5 position in the league annually, and revenues grew exponentially. So, I was part of the management team that set forth a strong foundation for many years of future success.

Today, Bjerringbro-Silkeborg Elite Handball Club is a title contender every year. They last won the championship in 2016 and play in the Champions League every single year. So, it’s right to say they have become one of the top professional handball clubs in the world.

b Randers HK

I think we created a positive story about the club (#randershkforfra). Many people bought in [to what we were doing] and, against all odds, generated a lot of publicity and support for the club – I definitely had the feeling that we were clear on the right path. We helped the club gain control over their expenses and revenues and acquired big sponsor deals with local companies.

On the playing surface, we put together a strong team but the team went on a long losing stretch. The result wasn’t the one we wanted. The arena had to be renovated and customers failed to follow us into the second year. We were pressed for liquidity and lacked necessary sales, which is why we, unfortunately, came close to folding.

The feeling that I couldn’t make a difference in Randers after this made me seek other avenues in my career. That is to say, we tried here with other non-handball related products, but it was not enough. Needless to say, I sincerely hope they succeed in the future!

c Aarhus Håndbold

I think in a short time I was with the club, I was able to create a foundation from my own network, which came with Aarhus. That was good for the club. There was a lot of potential in the city with growth and, frankly, I think we were on the right path together. However, my vision and the board’s vision did not align as well as I hoped. So we separated without any kind of drama.

3 Talk a little bit more about your over 11-year experience as the Commercial Director of Bjerringbro-Silkeborg Elitehåndbold.

The club is where they are today because we spent resources on getting the right structure in place for the organization. The use of resources to create a commercial approach and strategy to generate revenue long-term was important. We created a large network of customers around the club, which has led to many years of continued success for Bjerringbro-Silkeborg Elitehåndbold. It’s important not to overlook the importance of a strong sales strategy and put together a sales team to execute it. We didn’t overlook it and that’s a big reason Bjerringbro-Silkeborg Elitehåndbold is where it is today.

It made no sense that volunteers be in charge of or responsible for selling our product. I still advise professional clubs not to employ volunteers to be involved in sales for a professional club. I know it’s not a popular statement!

Per Rasmussen | Top Handball Executive | Denmark

Bjerringbro-Silkeborg is a club that placed and still places financial responsibility at the forefront. So, it’s not like volunteers would have saved us money because we wanted to maximize our profit.

My experience was amazing, simply put!

4 What advice would you give to prospective sport management professionals looking to work in sport at a similar level to yourself but just starting off in their career?

Working In Handball Management Is Challenging & Rewarding

The fact that you always must have your game face on and constantly set the bar higher and higher for yourself and for the organization is both rewarding and challenging at the same time. It’s rewarding because it forces you to be sharper all the time, which means personal and professional growth.

What is challenging is balancing the grind of working in sports with your personal life. Work-life balance can be tough. It’s easy for your family to wonder why you must work so much. But I had my family’s support from the start and I continue to work all the time.

Not only balancing work and life is hard, but so is all the activities a handball business executive must do. It is all so rewarding though!

Being at the top of the mind with the media and maintaining good relationship between the clubs outside the field is so rewarding.

Advise To Future Sport Management Students

I’d advise prospective sport management professionals looking to work on the business side of handball to be ready to rock and roll from the start. You have to be trustworthy and bring forth a commercial and sales approach.

Everyone wants to be a sports manager. But it is very important that the finance, economics and sales are at the forefront of your professional approach.

Everyone wants to hang out with the high profile players and sit with the coach.

But forget that when you come to work every day – it totally doesn’t matter. Focus on the important thing: revenue. You will go a long way!

5 When was the point you realized that you were meant to do this career? Take us through that realization.

I never played handball. But when I was first approached to work in handball business, I thought the fit was quite natural. I said yes because I wanted to move on from the commercial world and I had experience selling sponsorships.

When I first moved into the sports industry, I was really interested to learn as much as I could about our product. For example, my sports manager Jens Steffensen and I sat several Saturdays over red wine, beers and handball VHS tapes. We sometimes rewind back on those amazing moments we had. My passion was football (again it is soccer we are talking about here), but already as a youngster, I was inspired by the way a full stadium felt. So, the transition into the sports industry was easy.

6 What would you say are the top five qualities needed to be in your position?

1 Be Passionate

It is essential to be passionate about what you do for stable success long-term. You have to love what you do and be prepared to work a lot.

2 Focus On Sales

Having a focus on sales is so important. I place importance on this so that you can build on the product all the time and develop. This is the mindset that helped me created one of the powerhouses in Danish handball.

3 Possess Financial Responsibility

Be financially responsible and build the project up from zero, so it is connected

4 Comply & Cooperate With Partners

To comply with the agreements, you make and not sponsorships but cooperation agreements.

5 Believe In Your Product And/Or Service

Business development and finding your own profile so you know how to convince everyone no matter who they are to support your set-up.

7 Handball is as you might know an almost unknown sport in North America. With your own experience, what would you recommend that should happen to make handball a bigger sport?

Together, you have to create a strategy and a great marketing plan around the products. You have to continue to resonate with your audience through story telling. In addition, you have to make them be apart of what you are doing. Invite your target audience into the project.

At the end of the day, this isn’t something that will happen overnight. Making handball more recognizable in North America will require a targeted plan and I’d say it’d require a lot of work over a 5-10 year span.

At this point, North Americans visiting Denmark or other countries where handball is highly valued, are gaining the most exposure. But that exposure is limited.

It’s really hard to give you a full answer to this question! There are a lot of layers to it that’ll require a lot of planning and research. So, I’ll reserve that for a future discussion. ?

Final Thoughts From Mads

The sport of handball may not be popular in North America overall, but it sure does make an impression in European countries like Denmark. But on the business side of things, it seems that handball is just like any sport, and you always need to “have your game face on”, working to constantly evolve and set the bar higher and higher. Will handball ever come to North America? Who knows. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rasmussen teaming up with some North American professionals to create a targeted plan that will bring handball into our future.

Per Rasmussen

Interview by Mads Schoening
Posted November 11, 2019 in Industry Profiles

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