By Antonis Stroggylakis/ email@example.com
ANTWERP– The decision to organize the 2019 Basketball Champions League Final Four in a city like Antwerp, Belgium that isn’t really famous for hosting such major basketball events and is far from what you might’ve called a “baskeball metropolis” may have looked like somewhat of a risk.
Especially since the Antwerp Final Four has to succeed the raving success of the 2018 Athens tournament.
For Basketball Champions League CEO Patrick Comninos, however, embracing such challenges is just part of the process of a young competition undergoes while growing up. A natural part of its evolution.
“We are just in our third year of the Basketball Champions League, Comninos told Eurohoops. “So, yes I think we are still young. We are like a toddler who has moved from crawling to taking the first, daring steps. We grow. We are getting improved. But the toddler still has a lot to learn and much room to grow in order to reach the level he wants. Like us.”
“What’s more important for us is that with every season, we see marks of improvement on all levels. We see the competition growing. We see the fans become more and more engaged with the league, according to the data we receive on the matter. It’s still a league that is three years young,” Comninos added.
Antwerp automatically made a bid for the 2019 BCL Final Four due to the fact that the local Giants advanced to the tournament in what has been a “Cinderella Story” for the youngest team in the competition. So, first and foremost, the city rightfully earned its candidacy to play Final Four host.
According to Comninos, there was another key reason for choosing Antwerp: Expansion.
“Antwerp isn’t known yet for being a basketball city. But this could change,” Comninos said. “It’s highly important to put new countries and cities into the European basketball picture. This will attract new fans and garner extra interest. People will take notice.”
It’s a “bet”, as Comninos had commented during the BCL Final Four draw. But maybe also a necessary part of the procedure of broadening the European basketball map so that it encompasses more cities, attract new fans and make people take notice.
Bringing new opportunities towards the overall prosperity of the sport in the continent.
“For a sport to penetrate into several countries and markets, is something of vital importance and a necessary ingredient to its growth,” Comninos said. “Otherwise it will decay. What has become obvious by observing the current circumstances in European basketball, is an effort for it to be limited. Not being expanded. “
“How can we have a healthy, organic growth if we aren’t striving towards the sport being expanded?”, Comninos wondered.
“New investors aren’t getting involved with basketball. There’s no new money poured into the sport. This must definitely concern us.”
I interrupted the BCL CEO to ask him about a scenario: What if a local investor saw Antwerp’s success and potential (we’re talking after all about a squad with an age average of 23 years and a relatively young coach in 40-year-old team legend Roel Moors) and decided to put serious money in the team with the long-term goal of establishing a European powerhouse in Belgium?
“He could. And this would greatly reward Belgian basketball,” Comninos answered. “But he would never be able to compete in EuroLeague. This is a paradox. To ask for investors to put money in the sport and then tell them that they can’t ‘eat’ at the big table.”
“For the overall income of basketball to be increased, we need new interest. We need new markets. New investors and situations that will attract new sponsors,” Comninos added.
Comninos is adamant of the necessity το have more and more European countries being granted a chance to participate at the highest level.
“The issue, as far as I’m concerned, is this: Eleven teams can’t control what should be done in a sport in which hundreds of teams participate. It’s a model that doesn’t provide any prospect for other teams to get involved.
It works in the USA, but circumstances are vastly different there. We tend to make constant comparisons with the model of the NBA. But in Europe, we don’t have a Draft, a salary cap and no NCAA as a pool for players.
What we do have are domestic leagues. This is the area of improvement for young players. Because you can’t just throw a youngster into a demanding continental championship? He will develop in the domestic league his team plays in.”
Comninos, who was the head of UEFA‘s Club and National Team Operations before being appointed as BCL CEO, thinks that football can teach basketball some lessons.
“What we can learn from football is the opportunity it provides to every single team to compete at the highest level. And this is how you attract new investors.”
A year ago there were talks of possible cooperation between the EuroLeague Basketball and the FIBA organized Basketball Champions League. EuroLeague offered two reserved EuroCup spots for each season’s finalists of the BCL, but the proposal was ultimately turned down by the latter.
Does Comninos see the chance of a collaboration between the two organizations being rekindled in the near future?