By Nikos Varlas – Lefteris Moutis/ email@example.com
Jordi Bertomeu in an exclusive interview to Eurohoops answers every allegation made recently by FIBA towards the new Euroleague projects, clarifies many details and leaves an open door for any possible collaboration despite the fact that “FIBA has been acting very strangely during recent months”.
As the Euroleague CEO explains, the clubs and their league are even now open to a meeting with FIBA in order to work together for the benefit of the sport. However the top clubs of Europe already made their decision to support Euroleague and Eurocup and FIBA so far has not answered any call made by the Euroleague side.
Bertomeu also states that NBA has a neutral role in this situation, underlines that Euroleague wants to have a presence in every big European basketball market, even in the case of countries which have declared their allegiance to FIBA, and has the will to debate the case of the national team windows during the season.
– Have you tried to get in direct contact with FIBA after announcing your joint project with IMG?
Yes, several times. I am really surprised when I read that Mr. Baumann states: “We have not proposed them anything” and “We don´t have any on-going conversations.” On November 3, a delegation of our clubs attended a meeting in FIBA’s offices where they heard a proposal to co-organise the European competitions. On November 12, two days after we presented the project to the clubs and they approved it, we sent a letter to FIBA inviting them to participate in the project, because the unanimous consensus among the clubs was to decline FIBA’s offer but invite them to have a joint collaboration within the Euroleague Basketball/IMG agreement.
On November 19, FIBA replied saying that they needed some time for internal discussion before they could answer our invitation. This has never happened. In December 2015 I had a conversation with Mr. Baumann in Munich where I insisted on a meeting and he seemed quite skeptical about the convenience of holding one. We have now sent another letter inviting them to meet this month as we hope FIBA are willing to talk. Nevertheless, we cannot decide for them and a conversation can only happen if there are two parties and right now one part is missing.
– Do you think that there’s still a chance for you and FIBA to work together in some way or capacity?
Yes, I truly believe so. It is a matter of valuing each other’s duties and defining responsibilities. FIBA is the world’s governing body and their role is hugely important. On the other side, Euroleague Basketball’s duty is to manage the professional European competitions and grow them as much as possible, reaching the widest number of fans possible. If we all understand and respect each other’s duties, there is a clear room for understanding and over all I believe that there are many different areas where we can collaborate and develop projects together as we have done in the past, for example creating a joint venture for the live streaming of FIBA and Euroleague games, promoting national teams competitions such as the EuroBasket and FIBA World Championship at Euroleague and Eurocup games etc.
– There’s a wide perception that teams which do not get a spot in Euroleague will end up in FIBA Champions League and not in Eurocup. We don’t have any details on the business plan of the Eurocup. Can you explain to us what will be the motives for a team in order to play in the Eurocup?
The joint project with IMG is not a 16 club competition. Obviously, some of the media have focused on that, but we are talking about a 40-club project, continuing to have the best clubs of the continent participating in our competitions. Besides the Euroleague improvements, the Eurocup will be revamped in every aspect as well: competition format, interaction with the Euroleague, and business. We have significant improvements in all these aspects that will be implemented starting next season, that were presented to the clubs some weeks ago in Barcelona, and we expect these to provide even better results soon. All Euroleague clubs share this vision and see next season’s project as a big improvement for European basketball in general.
The Euroleague clubs have already agreed to share part of the market generated income with the Eurocup clubs. They know that working towards an improved economic development of the competition to increase the revenues generated and distributed to the participating clubs, and at the end of the day having the two most competitive competitions of the continent at their best levels, is beneficial for all the clubs. The Eurocup is a consolidated competition with 14 years of history and a growing fan base, taking advantage of improvements generated by the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, creating positive synergies between the two competitions.
The clear and natural path for its participants to have the chance to play in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague is through the Eurocup. The Eurocup Champion has always had access to the Turkish Airlines Euroleague and this access may be expanded to more clubs in the future. It is our principle to always promise what we can fulfil. We already proved that what is approved happens, because since Euroleague Basketball’s founding in 2000, coherence in every step towards the clubs’ vision has been one of our most important values to earn the confidence of our clubs.
– Do you feel that Eurocup has to compete with FIBA Champions League for the same clubs? Is there a competition going on behind the scene with clubs being the prize?
The only competition that we consider is the one we witness every week on the court. Clubs are never a prize, but rather the ones who decide. Since 2000, when Euroleague Basketball was founded, we have always stated that the clubs are our first priority, as they are the stakeholders of the company. Therefore, we don’t envision any other situation than the one where the clubs decide their future.
We feel sad to see how political pressure or even threats of sanctions are used towards clubs that decide not to participate in FIBA competitions, as we have seen in the quotes of several national federation presidents these days. Clubs deserve respect as they are ones generating over 90% of the basketball business and they have to take their decisions based on stability, the sports project and what is most beneficial for European basketball as a whole.
– Are you worried that the dispute between FIBA and Euroleague will divide the fans’ interest towards basketball and it will ultimately hurt the sport? Maybe even hurting the business part of your project?
The interference brings confusion and takes away the focus from what really matters in my opinion, the games themselves. I think it cannot be good for fans and for basketball in general. But we are not worried about the impact on our project. The project we presented last November to the clubs is a 10+10 year project that has been studied carefully and includes not only a new competition format for our two competitions, but also a commercial agreement with one of the leading companies in the world of sports and entertainment. Our goal is to continue growing professional basketball in the coming years as we have done during the last 15 years. The results are there and you can watch them on a weekly basis and it is obvious that the fans recognize the quality of the teams. In that sense, the best clubs of Europe are participating in our competitions, the Turkish Airlines Euroleague and the Eurocup and the fans know it.
– FIBA management still dispute the guarantees of IMG and the amount of money that will be given to the teams. They insist that your deal with IMG has not been presented to the clubs in detail. What’s your answer on that?
Its sounds like a very weak argument to me. Euroleague Basketball and IMG have worked together on a common project, with top executives from IMG presenting it in person demonstrating their commitment towards the clubs as it is not our policy to present projects coming from an anonymous investor. The clubs approved the common project, following the same procedure since Euroleague Basketball’s creation in 2000. Once FIBA accepts our invitation to meet again, we will certainly explain the project to them in depth as we did with the clubs, as it is our intention to offer FIBA the possibility to actively participate.
– FIBA speaks about an elite group of clubs that try to create a private league or they are misguided by you. What’s your reaction to this and what will it be if they decide to renounce Euroleague like they did one year ago with the Adriatic League?
It would be fair to say that FIBA has been acting very strangely during recent months. On November 3 they presented their Basketball Champions League proposal with 16 clubs, eight of whom would have 10-year contracts during a 30 round regular season.
Three weeks later on November 26 in Rome, they presented a proposal for the same competition this time with 32 teams who would qualify based exclusively on their domestic league ranking, playing a reduced calendar arguing explicitly that giving fixed spots to selected clubs was detrimental for the development of basketball. Mr. Baumann some days ago explained in an interview the importance of being coherent, but understanding all the changes coming from FIBA is proving to be quite difficult. I believe that the credibility of institutions is a value that must be protected, and not changing these merely for tactical reasons.
The clubs do not need anyone to misguide them. This is key, because in our model the clubs guide themselves. Clubs are the ones driving the business in basketball, therefore it is very important that they manage their own destiny. No club will leave Euroleague Basketball, because they are Euroleague Basketball – this must be clear. Clubs are the owners of the company and they take all decisions together, by themselves. There is no one else taking decisions for them.
– Considering the environment and the pressure of FIBA, is it possible to have a “closed” Euroleague with every spot fixed as a reaction to the moves made by FIBA?
We have never said that. This rumor appears every now and then, but it is untrue. We never considered nor proposed creating a closed league – this is not our vision. We presented the common project to the domestic leagues and clubs, and now, based on their feedback, we will take decisions. Our vision in the long term has always been to have a true European League, with direct connection to the Eurocup, and for which sports results, together with stability, are the bases for its evolution.
– Is there a possibility of changing the format of Euroleague to 20 or 24 teams because of the demand which exists from the clubs?
We already explained to the clubs that this is not possible today. Our two competitions will evolve as planned, with a total of 40 clubs in 2016-17. In the future we will need to see how it changes. Since we announced the competition changes, we said that the Euroleague has potential for expansion that will need to come naturally, driven by business results and potential, not by political decisions.
– Can there be a middle ground on the matter of the national teams’ windows during the season? Will Euroleague find a way to accommodate the national teams’ calendar?
There can always be a middle ground on everything. But for that, the two sides need to sit down together and be willing to get an agreement, which has not been the case. We have presented two written counter-proposals since we were informed of their FIBA 2017 project some years ago, in addition to making other suggestions. If we finally have the chance to sit down again to debate, we have a new proposal in order to make the FIBA projects compatible with the interests of the domestic and European club competitions.
Until now flexibility from FIBA has been nonexistent, but I believe that we must keep on trying to find a solution and that both parties should commit to that and make that effort. The clubs recognize the tremendous importance of the national teams for the development of basketball. We truly want to get to a compromise that leads basketball to a stable situation on an institutional level. We hope to find someone who wants the same at the other side of the table, a stance that 27 European clubs reaffirmed in Barcelona several days ago.
– A lot has been said about the relationship of FIBA’s remodelling with the NBA. You have met with Adam Silver in London in January. Does the NBA have a role to play in the dispute or in your project?
A lot has been said, but nothing concrete by the NBA. We have had a very fruitful relationship with the NBA, co-organising pre-season games in Europe and North America since 2006, we share several marketing partners, we have licensing agreements in place and different collaborations in other aspects. The NBA evidently has global importance, but they totally respect the decisions taken by the institutions in European basketball. They remain neutral looking forward to a compromise being reached, which we are completely open to.
– What is Euroleague Basketball planning to do with territories such as France, Germany, or ex-Yugoslavia, which have a basketball culture and solid domestic leagues but no guaranteed representation in the Euroleague?
The territories you mention have always been important for Euroleague Basketball, and will continue being so. The French Federation for example already made some statements declaring that their clubs will not participate in any competition organized by Euroleague Basketball, but in FIBA competitions. They are free to make this statement, although professional French clubs and the Domestic League have not stated their position.
The French clubs have told us that they want to play against the best teams of the continent and have shared with us that, if they are not able to do it, this would be a tremendous setback for the progress of French Basketball. If clubs from these territories wish to participate, they will always be included in our competitions.
– Does this whole situation bring back memories to you of 2000-01? And if so, you expect that the final outcome will be the same?
We already have experience in having several European club competitions. Not only in 2000-01, but also with the EuroChallenge, or this season with the FIBA Europe Cup. We are happy for there to be European competitions organised by FIBA or other third parties as long as these contribute to the growth of European basketball.