By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
During the decade between 1990 and 2000 Greece was a goldmine for everyone who was a basketball professional. Simply put, if you couldn’t be a part of the NBA, then the Greek league was the second best option money-wise and talent-wise.
However, 15 years later with the country living its worst financial crisis since the second World War, every professional sport and of course basketball is experiencing its own version of Grexit, which, like in the economy, has many faces and means different things for different clubs. Still in this case the “Grexit” started a long time ago, from the first signs of financial decline in 2010.
For many years it was almost futile for everyone, even for the NBA, to try to lure Greek players and coaches away from Greece. There’s an easy explanation for that. You couldn’t find a better or a much better place to work in basketball compared to Greece. When Vasilis Spanoulis back in 2007 left the Houston Rockets in order to return to Panathinaikos, he wasn’t hurt at all financialy. Even if the motive behind his decision was linked to the minutes on the court he didn’t get in the NBA, the return to Greece didn’t change anything for him salary-wise.
This is not the case any more. The top Greek players and coaches who can’t get a contract either with Olympiacos or Panathinaikos – and lately also AEK – are not excluding the possibility of signing outside the Greek borders. On the contrary, many of them are exploring every option away from Greece. This is not something new. It became a trend since 2010, when the available money in the Greek league was reduced drastically.
From one million to less than 200.000 euros
During the nineties, basketball was a hot television product. That created a record television deal for the Greek league with a private television station, which paid every team of the league one million euros. Yes, that’s right, every Greek team started the season with one million euros, even if it had a gym of 1.000 seats and couldn’t create any other kind of income. That deal proved to be both a blessing and a curse. Every one had great financial resources from day one – that’s probably the best television deal for a domestic league in the history of European basketball – and all of them learned to live from television money.
As time went by and basketball became less fashionable for television audiences, the league started to decline as the next television contracts provided less and less money for the teams. With the teams having the right to negotiate their own television rights, if they wanted to, Olympiacos and Panathinaikos got seperate deals that kept their income at a high level. The rest of the league was in trouble. The next big source of income became the state owned lottery company (OΠΑΠ). Last season for every team not named Panathinaikos, Olympiacos and AEK – which got seperate deals – the money from television and “ΟΠΑΠ” were a sum around 350.000 euros, with “OΠΑΠ” paying half of it. No one knows at this point if “ΟΠΑΠ” will be in the position to be a sponsor also for next season, so you do the math.
Very few clubs all those years have made a solid effort to get money from other sponsors and those are the teams which are already signing players with PAOK and Rethymnon being the two prime examples this summer.
Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, AEK and lately Aris are in a much better position than the rest of the league. All of them have owners who can sustain their budget by paying from their own pockets. That been said, Aris new owner, Switzerland based investor Nikos Laskaris, needs to prove that he is ready to spend, since he just recently aquired the team.
Makis Aggelopoulos of AEK, founder and owner of Neurosoft company, who also became the owner of the club this season, has already proved his intentions, signing talent of Euroleague caliber like Pops Mensah Bonsu and Malik Hairston. Those two new owners are the main reason for AEK and Aris getting Eurocup wildcards.
Aggelopoulos’ brothers of Olympiacos also don’t have to prove anything. They have put a limit to their spending after the summer of 2011, but they are keeping the team among the Euroleague elite. Aggelopoulos family is part of the financial elite of Greece, so simply put the Reds are not facing any danger of losing their financial stability.
Panathinaikos is a tricky beast. Since December, the owner and president of the team is former general manager Manos Papadopoulos. According to the latest balance sheet of the club for the fiscal year 2013, Panathinaikos had a marginal profit. However, one can assume that Panathinaikos is still getting money from the Giannakopoulos family – owners of the biggest pharmaceutical company of Greece – at least via sponsorship deals, even if former president Dimitris Giannakopoulos is at this point just a “well known fan” of the team.
Dimitris Giannakopoulos is one of the few, if not the only Greek business man who has made public statements favoring the SYRIZA party and also he openly endorshed the “no” in the recent referandum. What’s also interesting is that some leaks from the Greens are suggesting that the club is waiting for the financial situation in the country to clear out in order to decide what the budget for next season will be.
Can Panathinaikos be in danger? That’s hard to imagine. All those owners are doing business also outside the Greek borders and no matter what may happen in the Greek economy, they seem prepared for it. However that doesn’t apply to the rest of the league. Greek clubs in most cases have put by necessity their houses in order, but their income will probably be redused. As it happens in most cases, the crisis will make the rich, richer and the poor, poorer…