Swiss hockey club and host of the Spengler Cup, HC Davos, have lost in the tournament final but won where it really counts, on the financial scorecard.
In a hard fought contest on Thursday, the home side went down 3-1 to the Belarus team, Dynamo Minsk.
It was the first time Davos had reached the final of the five-club, invitation-only tournament since 2006.
That achievement was seen as a victory in itself, especially after Davos were overwhelmed 6-2 on Monday by Team Canada – a select squad of Canadian professionals, most of whom play in the top Swiss league.
However, the Canadians went on to lose their next two games while the head-to-head against Canada would prove to be Davos’ only setback. The three wins, one loss tally secured the Swiss side’s place in the final.
The home club’s performance on the ice was only exceeded by its efforts at the box office. The tournament, one of the oldest in ice hockey having begun in 1923, nets Davos about SFr2 million ($1.94 million) a year.
The income is generated through hot ticket sales – about 80,000 spectators attend the 11 games each year – growing sponsorships, as well as Swiss and international television contracts.
The earnings from the weeklong tournament traditionally held between Christmas and New Year accounts for nearly a fifth of Davos’ annual budget.
This allows the club, representing a town with a population of only around 10,000, to compete with the bigger teams in the Swiss league, such as Zurich, Bern, Geneva and Lugano.
“Davos is not an economic centre. The club could not survive without the Spengler Cup,” Davos coach, Arno Del Curto, told swissinfo.ch.
“There aren’t many tournaments which are as important as this one. It would be stupid to move it outside Switzerland,” Del Curto said, responding to criticism from within the Swiss league.
Over the past few years, clubs such as Zurich have publicly vented their frustration over the fact that Davos receives a sizeable Christmas bonus each year, while the others Swiss teams go empty handed.
All eyes on Davos
No games are played in the Swiss league during the Spengler Cup so that all attention can be focused on the tournament, and to enable Davos to supplement their roster with top players from other Swiss teams.
Zurich would like to see the Swiss league reintroduce at least two days of games during the holiday period so they can also pad their budgets.
The 2010 tournament will offer some consolation. That is when a second Swiss squad will join Davos to compete against the five club teams invited from across Europe.
While the Spengler Cup puts Switzerland in the ice hockey spotlight, the players who shine are usually the foreign imports. In Davos’ case this year, it was Juraj Kolnik. The Slovak, who normally suits up for Geneva, was the tournament’s sixth leading scorer, behind a couple of Canadians, a Belorussian, a Czech and a Ukrainian.
According to Del Curto, Switzerland is a lot less successful promoting home-grown talent than attracting high-price players from abroad.
“We lag behind countries like Canada, Sweden and Finland when it comes to our youth development programme,” he said. “We don’t invest enough in infrastructure, coaches at the youth levels are poorly paid and schools and sport training centres do not cooperate very well.
“Sport is not a priority in Switzerland. If it was, we would have better players and better results.”
swissinfo.ch (with input from Samuel Jaberg in Davos)
The Spengler Cup, first awarded in 1923, is the oldest tournament between ice hockey clubs in Europe.
It was founded by Davos doctor Carl Spengler, who was eager to resume dialogue between nations at the end of the First World War.
The competition is held in Davos annually between December 26-31. Entry to the tournament is by invitation.
With its SFr8.2 million budget, the Spengler Cup is the second-largest sporting event in Switzerland after the Davidoff tennis tournament.
In its 83 years, more than 100 clubs from 18 countries have taken part. HC Davos have won the trophy 14 times and are the most successful club in the competition.
There were a record number of spectators in 2002, when 84,480 fans attended the 11 games.
HC Davos were joined in the 2009 tournament by Team Canada, Karlovy Vary of the Czech Republic, Adler Mannheim of Germany, and Dynamo Minsk of Belarus.