EuroLeague to decide on April about the 2024-25 expansion

2023-03-16T16:58:37+00:00 2023-04-18T01:02:17+00:00.

Aris Barkas

16/Mar/23 16:58
ECA Shareholders Executive Board Meeting - Euroleague Basketball

The EuroLeague shareholders will meet on the 18th of April with the future expansion on the cards and a discussion that can shape the future of basketball in Europe

By Aris Barkas/

EuroLeague management and clubs-shareholders are scheduled to meet on the 18th of April. The talks between them are expected to pave the path for the league’s future and by extension to the whole European basketball ecosystem.

While there’s no time left for an expansion of the league which could have been implemented for the 2023-24 season, the time is right and the necessity was obvious from the start of this season.

Dubai and the rumors of an extra 150 million euros in revenues have taken the spotlight, but the expansion talks also include Paris and London. Their teams are having a noteworthy EuroCup season – they may even get their EuroLeague chance earlier if they win the trophy – and with EuroLeague having the best possible foothold in Germany with ALBA Berlin and Bayern Munich, Paris Basketball and the London Lions are the next big bets.

In those two cities, contrary to Dubai which puts money on the table, the case is much more marketing-driven considering the huge upside of those two markets. EuroLeague is already preparing an event in the French capital, US management and assets are involved in both clubs and the question is what they can bring directly to the table, not only as a marketing plan but as a solid contribution here and now to the league.

However, there’s more than that.

The “legacy” markets

Expansion is always good, however, EuroLeague can’t overlook the markets where basketball is already valued. In marketing terms, let’s call them “legacy” markets, since contrary to Paris, London, and Dubai where everything starts pretty much from scratch you don’t need to explain basketball to Spain, Italy, or Serbia.

With 13 teams having so far an A-license (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Baskonia, Olimpia Milan, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, Anadolu Efes, Fenerbahce, Zalgiris Kaunas, Maccabi Tel Aviv, ASVEL, ALBA Berlin, Bayern Munich) and CSKA Moscow also having one, but not being able to play due to the war in Ukraine, it’s obvious that having only four open positions to allocate is problematic.

Monaco and Virtus Bologna are considered to be the next on the line for a long-term license, so that brings the number to 16 and then expansion is a must if the EuroLeague wants to keep allocating a spot for the ABA League champion and the two EuroCup finalists.

However, if something was proved beyond any doubt this season, was the dynamic of the Crvena Zvezda – Partizan duo. Like in all good rivalries, while the clubs are “enemies”, practically they need to co-exist in order to magnify their impact on every level on and off the court.

It’s a no-brainer that EuroLeague would love to keep all those teams in its fold, plus there’s Valencia which may end up returning for one season in the EuroCup, but with a new state-of-the-art arena being prepared and the financial assets to be a real power, is also knocking the door.

So we are already at 19 teams – if you also count CSKA Moscow – which are beyond any doubt EuroLeague material. Add London, Paris, and maybe Dubay and we are at 22. And if at some point CSKA returns, then there’s also a good chance for Zenit St. Petersburg to also follow. Plus there’s the need for two EuroCup spots, something that will not change. That’s why suddenly a 24-team EuroLeague is not that far away. On the contrary, it might end up being necessary.

The talks with FIBA

Last week an extended EuroLeague management committee and clubs’ representatives met in Munich with FIBA. The talks were positive and an official statement from EuroLeague painted a similar picture.

“In the meeting, a wide range of topics were discussed with the aim of identifying aligned interests and potential room for collaboration. It is too soon to share any specifics, but the tone was constructive, and the conversation will continue.”

The good news is that with both sides having new management, the obvious elephant in the room was addressed and everyone understands that there must be some kind of collaboration. As usual, the devil is in the details. The tone was positive, but FIBA doesn’t have any intention to change its stance towards the mid-season “Windows”, or at least that remains the case at the moment.

On the other hand, the idea that the EuroLeague wants to give up EuroCup to FIBA and save the expenses which FIBA will cover after a possible merger with the BCL doesn’t really resonate with EuroLeague’s approach to the issue.

So practically there’s still a standstill. FIBA also wasn’t really happy with the idea of the Dubai expansion, since it extends outside the FIBA Europe continental zone. Of course, there’s no way for FIBA to stop the deal with Dubai if EuroLeague wants to pull the trigger, however, it’s something noteworthy.

Finally some optimism

The bottom line at this point is simple. Everyone understands the need of burying the hatchet with FIBA and finding a sustainable solution for the “Windows”. Plus, the EuroLeague at this point is more than ready and has an organic need for growth. After two years of internal turmoil, there seems to be some kind of optimism among all the shareholders and also some first signs of a solid consensus.

So some form of expansion is inevitable. And with the joint venture with IMG expiring in the summer of 2026, even if there’s an option for renewal for another decade, there might be even a blanc slate where some things can change drastically.

That’s why, even if there are ideas examined like two conferences in Europe, a change in the calendar and the format, or the presence of the EuroLeague teams in the domestic championship to be limited only to the playoffs, if that’s agreed upon by each club separately, that’s a discussion that will be examined when there’s a need for that.

At this point, the big issue is the general intent and the idea of the expansion which will come at the earliest in the summer of 2024.

So don’t expect changes in the format and the calendar for the 2023-24 season and the lineup of the teams might end up being almost identical. To be exact, with Monaco having all but secured a spot in the playoffs, thus getting the right to stay in the competition after being qualified via the EuroCup, if neither Virtus Bologna nor Valencia makes it to the playoffs, then the EuroCup winner will get a EuroLeague chance and three wildcards will be given.

Once more Virtus, Partizan, and Crvena Zvezda are the favorites – considering also the fact that one of the wildcards will go to the ABA League champion – with Valencia getting a sabbatical in the EuroCup before returning triumphantly with a new arena in 2024.