By Aris Barkas/ email@example.com
The signs were there since 2014 and for the first time in recent years Spain does not have the best championship in Europe. Within three years Turkey managed to make the big leap, taking advantage of the facts of the financial crisis, to have the best championship on the Old Continent.
So, in Eurohoops’ fourth year of ranking the European leagues, the ACB is not first but second. Greece’s rise is impressive as well, as for the first time after a long time, the league has some additional points of reference aside from Olympiacos and Panathinaikos, while, once more, there is no new entry in the top ten with Belgium being considered the “eleventh” league. A reminder that our criteria are not only competitive, but also include competitiveness, the margin for surprises, the budgets, the quality of the roster, the marketing, the promotion of the product, the growth potential and the facilities.
1. Turkey – Super Ligi (+1)
2. Spain – Liga Endesa (-1)
3. VTB League (-)
4. Germany – BBL (-)
5. Greece – HEBA (+3)
6. France – ProA (-1)
7. Italy – Legabasket (-1)
8. Adriatic League – ABA (-1)
9. Israel – Winner’s League (+1)
10. Lithuania – LKL (-1)
Turkey now has everything: Players, coaches, teams, stadiums, fans, marketing, interest from the media and, mostly, money. Last year’s season and the fact that Karsiyaka won the title in the end, proves how competitive the league is, getting into the playoffs is no walk in the park for almost everybody, the top is not occupied by just one or two teams. Basketball is exploding, some of the most important transfer moves on the Old Continent were centered in Istanbul and the Turkish league has a dominant role in Europe, paying attention to the details too, like renaming the championship “Super Ligi,” a rather fitting name.
Spain doesn’t have many changes compared to last season, but this means that there is no improvement that could be compared with the Turkish explosion. Furthermore, despite the fact that teams like Malaga, Valencia, Gran Canaria and Bilbao manage to be competitive, in recent years the pair Real Madrid – Barcelona dominates the finals. There are some promising signs, like Murcia’s effort, but the financial problems are a reality for several teams and the financial guarantees that are required for a team to play in the ACB render the relegation and the promotion from the second category impossible, as has been seen in the past few years.
On the court, the VTB league can be easily compared in prestige and talent with the Turkish and the Spanish ones. The same goes for the money that is spent, which in the past few years has actually been officially publicized, something that only happens in the VTB and in France. The big issue for this particular championship is that, especially from the moment it lost the teams of Lithuania and Ukraine, the fans’ interest is extremely limited, just as the people that actually show up for the games are. This is a great product but one that still hasn’t found its audience.
In the past few years, Germany has been steadily establishing itself as one of the best and most consistent championships in Europe. It’s a fact that the teams are consistent, there is financial consistency and the trio of Bamberg, Bayern and Alba Berlin has earned respect in Europe. The people fill up the stadiums and the marketing is going well with the new president of the league Stefan Holz still saying that his goal is for Germany to have the best championship in Europe by 2020. But things are not that simple. The quality of basketball, as seen by the level of the players who play in Germany, the native players, and the results of the rest of the teams in Europe are not comparable with everything that takes place off the court.
Within one summer and despite the years of the financial crisis the Greek championship improved impressively. Greece always had a decent infrastructure at the level of stadiums, always had the tradition and the talent on court, and this talent, after a long time, found a financial support outside of the pair Olympiacos – Panathinaikos. AEK and Aris’s new owners have the money to support their teams, PAOK is consistently on a good track in the last few years and the teams outside of Athens and Thessaloniki have found their role and their place in local communities. Despite the fact that the Greek league is still a long way away from being able to compare to its glory days, it is not an exaggeration to suggest that it is perhaps in the best condition it ever was in the last ten years with two TV channels covering the league and the public’s interest ever growing.
In the past few years the French league has been more than steady and has a significant advantage: Financial consistency, competitiveness, a fanatic local audience. What doesn’t it have? Interest at a nationwide level, since it doesn’t have a team that can compete in popularity with the national team of France – or even the San Antonio Spurs – and, despite the constant leaps of the sport, that can make the championship the number one basketball topic. It’s positive that the French got an extensive TV deal that is going to support their league, making a “bundle” package with their national team, which remains the main reason the sport has exploded in the country.
The Italian league is trying to find its identity and its old allure. The Siena scandal deprived the league of one of its pillars, Milano is by far the most commercial team, but this has not has been translated into success on the court. There is competition, as champs Sassari amply demonstrated, but there are no clubs that will help the league attract interest beyond the confines of a city, or that will bring some substantial results outside the country’s borders. The financial crisis that is still going and reducing the teams’ budgets is not helpful either, while the big score lines have more to do with the league’s style of play – which isn’t based on defense, to put it politely – than with the players’ talent.
With the Crvena Zvezda – Cedevita duo having the dominant role, the Adriatic league continues to be a championship of many levels in which it is hard to imagine a final four without these two in it. There is talent, even if is some cases it is still undeveloped, in former Yugoslavia, but the money and the infrastructure are a huge problem with few exceptions and Partizan is the most recent bad example for that. The good players in the Adriatic quickly move on to other states and despite the interesting basketball on the court, off the court there are numerous unresolved issues, the latest being the one that was ultimately settled with the league harmonizing its statutes with the requirements of FIBA.
The fact that Maccabi Tel Aviv did not win the championship last year was a boost for the league and made it climb a place in our ranking. Truth be told, Israel remains Maccabi’s championship until proven otherwise, and the entirety of the news that are of any interest outside of the country’s borders come from the “people’s team.” So well done to Hapoel Eilat for managing to knock out Maccabi in the semifinals last year, well done to Hapoel Jerusalem for slowly proving to be the opposing force. Nonetheless, when a team dominates to the extent that Maccabi does, it is difficult to develop a whole league.
Enduring value, fanatical audience and a rather interesting championship with some healthy competition. Despite this, with Lietuvos Rytas having lost their footing in recent years and Zalgiris Kaunas dominating once again, interest is slowly waning. This particular pair will be tough to break this year once again, despite Neptunas’ impressive presence in the Euroleague. Zalgiris, despite their debts, are probably even stronger with the return of players such as Kalnietis and only if Lietuvos surpass themselves will they be able to turn the tables. The constants of the league are the talent, the fans and Zalgiris, and as a result, the fact that the second pole of the league, Lietuvos, is not as strong as Hapoel Jerusalem in Israel, leaves the Lithuanians half a step behind.