Sadness among the big clubs, title hopes among the surprise teams: While Bremerhaven, Schwenningen and Straubing are playing for the championship in the playoffs of the German Ice Hockey League, the old masters are complaining a lot. Despite generous SAP funding, the Adler Mannheim are not in the semi-finals for the first time in seven years. However, the mood is even bleaker for their Rhenish rivals Kölner Haie and Düsseldorfer EG, neither of which even made it to the playoff quarter-finals.

The DEG shareholders even felt compelled to make a worrying call for help shortly before Easter. “The fact is that there is not enough money,” said sports director Niki Mondt to the German Press Agency, even though the eight-time champions have just set an attendance record. An average of almost 9,000 spectators came to the 26 home games – but the additional income generated was all eaten up by cost increases in several areas.

DEG has to “apply the red pencil”

While at other DEL locations in the ice hockey subsidy business, generous patrons or large companies in the background – for example in Munich (Red Bull), Mannheim (SAP) or Berlin (Anschütz Group) – compensate for the deficits, the shareholders in Düsseldorf have little choice left than to put the red pencil on the player squad. Unfortunately for Mondt, whose personnel planning for the coming season is completely on hold. “I’m pissed,” said the manager.

Six months ago, DEG proudly announced the six-year extension with goalkeeper Henrik Haukeland, who is sought after throughout Europe, and praised the “strategic foresight and financial commitment of the shareholders Daniel Völkel, Stephan Hoberg and Harald Wirtz”. “It is very clear that we will be playing for the title in the coming years,” said the Norwegian DEL Goalkeeper of the Year 2023 at the time. The reality looks completely different a few months later.

The budget for the half-finished squad for the coming season has already been exhausted following the cut. In order to gain further financial leeway, the people of Düsseldorf will probably have no choice but to convince Haukeland to terminate the very lucrative contract. Because if DEG were to be relegated – and given the current financial situation, anything other than a relegation battle is unrealistic – the XXL contract would be invalid anyway.

Cost increases hit clubs hard

The question remains why the people of Düsseldorf are spending so much, because the income is probably not the problem. According to reports, a lot has come together recently. The city of Düsseldorf significantly reduced its support – second division football team Fortuna, for example, is also suffering greatly from this. It is also common in the DEL for players to be provided with an apartment. However, 26 apartments in Düsseldorf are many times more expensive to maintain than in Schwenningen or Bremerhaven.

The club was particularly hit by the exploding cost increases for service providers around the multifunctional arena in Düsseldorf. Locations with comparable arenas such as Mannheim or Berlin also have this problem, but they have powerful donors in the background.

“I can only hope that the shareholders will reconsider their decision and that there will be some positive changes to the budget,” said Mondt. Otherwise, the coming season is likely to be even more difficult than the previous one, in which the previously ambitious DEG missed the playoffs.

Cologne is also struggling with unrest in the club

At the Rhenish rival in Cologne, money is not a problem thanks to the patron Frank Gotthardt, who runs the controversial internet platform Nius. But even with the sharks, the popularity of the masses hardly matches the sporting achievements. On average, almost 17,000 spectators made the pilgrimage to Cologne’s home games – more than at any other ice hockey location in Europe.

But the majority of fans already raged against club icon and two-time Stanley Cup winner Uwe Krupp in the dugout during the season. He wanted to play for the championship with his dream squad, but failed in the playoff qualification because not all of the top performers were involved. “We imagined it completely differently,” said Haie managing director Philipp Walter and separated from Krupp prematurely. There is now a new beginning in Cologne too.