Czechs to teach Chinese ice hockey

Hašek’s brand fails to dominate Europe

Goalie shuts down sports clothing line

On the ice, foremost hockey goalie Dominik Hašek earned the nickname “Dominator” for being virtually unbeatable. Out of the rink, the two-time Stanley Cup champion used the moniker as a brand for his sportswear line.

After retiring from professional hockey at the age of 43 this spring, Hašek had hoped to use the Dominator brand as a launch pad for his entrepreneurial career, but his ambitions did not last long. On July 21, the retired athlete announced the end of the Dominator brand in the Czech Republic due to an ongoing struggle with red numbers.

“The company was losing about 30,000 Kč [$1,955] per day, and I’ve already put in some 90 million Kč over its 10-year presence on the market,” Hašek said.

While “interrupting” Czech and European operations, Dominator will retain its distribution points in the United States, where Hašek cooperates with well-established wellness chain Life Time Fitness.

Prior to the shutdown, the Dominator sportswear line was available in more than 100 stores across the Czech Republic, according to Hašek.

Ironically, the goaltender closed his Czech business only months after relocating from the United States to the Czech Republic. He retired from professional hockey after winning his second Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in May, and planned to fully focus on his business upon his return.

“I want to put all my efforts into developing the Dominator brand,” Hašek said when announcing the end of his hockey career. Since founding Dominator in 1998, Hašek’s role in the company was limited to overseeing operations overseas.

When he returned to Prague, Hašek appeared enthusiastic about his new venture. “On the plane, when my wife was sleeping, I was taking notes on what I should do with the business,” he said.

He soon sobered up.

“When I started working in the company on a daily basis, I realized there was no way to get the company into the black within six months, so I decided to close down European operations,” Hašek explained.

He denied that an overall decline in the local clothing industry — a consequence of the strengthening crown and an influx of cheap Chinese products — was behind the shutdown. “I don’t want to look for excuses and blame competitors,” he said. “Maybe I just surrounded myself with bad business partners.”

Rushed launch

Dominator belonged to the first wave of local midsize businesses launched by high-profile international athletes. Hašek decided to make his entrepreneurial debut in 1998, soon after helping the Czech team win its first gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

Originally, Dominator was scheduled to begin operations in late 1998, but the Czech team’s triumph at the Winter Olympics sped up the launch to that summer, recalls Marek Picek, who managed the company’s operations in the beginning of this decade. “Dominik put together a business plan on the plane to Nagano, but the Olympic victory and its enormous recognition here prompted our early opening,” Picek said. “As a result, we might have started prematurely, and so Dominator’s early and current products compare like a Trabant to a Škoda Octavia.”

For Picek, it was trial by error. “Generally, business is a long-term matter that cannot be dependent on the result of one game or the outcome of one tournament,” he said. “It’s good when a business gets priceless promotion through Hašek’s sporting success, but it’s essential that our products are otherwise recognized through attractive design and guaranteed quality.”

Hašek had been actively involved in managing the Dominator company, Picek said. The company’s business managers were in daily telephone contact with Hašek, and traveled to the United States at least once a year for face-to-face consultations. The goaltender determined the size of collections, as well as particular fashion lines, said Picek.

Even now, Hašek doesn’t want to give up completely. “I’ve never been an entrepreneur, but rather an investor who lent his nickname to the brand of the company,” Hašek said. “As an investor, I might have made a mistake. As an entrepreneur who headed the company for merely two weeks, I think I made the proper decision to close down.”

He then quickly added: “Still, this doesn’t bring about the end of the Dominator brand. … I can’t say at the moment what will happen to the brand in one, two or three years, but it’s certainly not for sale.”

Local sports legends do business

Superstar goalie Dominik Hašek is not the only homegrown sports star to dabble in entrepreneurship.

Last year, Prague tourists and hockey aficionados bemoaned the closing of Jágr's Sports Bar, formerly owned by iconic hockey winger Jaromír Jágr. Located in an underground space at the top of Wenceslas Square, the tourist-frequented sports bar opened amid much fanfare in 1999, but closed last year due to unspecified financial issues.

Like Hašek, former football forward Tomáš "Bomber" Skuhravý delved into the business sphere after ending his sports career. After briefly owning the Umbro flagship store on Prague's na Příkopě street, Skuhravý opened the Bomber Inn and Italian Restaurant in his hometown of Přerov nad Labem in central Bohemia.

Another local football legend, Karel Poborský, used his nickname to found Steve Sport. The company, a reincarnation of sportswear vendor Rooster, has six flagship stores throughout the Czech Republic.

Markéta Hulpachová

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