By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s the time of the year in which the domestic leagues are having their season premier, every club in Europe wants to reign in its home country, however this was indeed a very strange summer for domestic leagues, because of the “war” between Euroleague and FIBA.
In some cases the domestic leagues are the casualties of this conflict while most clubs are focused more on their continental future and less on what their domestic competitions can offer to them. A good word to describe the whole situation would be stagnation and that’s why very few things have changed since last year. At this point nobody can really hope that the evolution of European basketball will come via the domestic leagues.
Still, it’s a fact that Spain got back the top from Turkey, a ranking decision based on details, while France and Adriatic league are the main victims of the Euroleague – FIBA debate.
If you are wondering about the initial criteria of this ranking, you can see the first Eurohoops edition which is already four years old and also you can follow the evolution of the rankings during the past three seasons.
Once more a honorable mention is needed for the Polish and the Belgian league which missed the cut. To be exact since 2012 the top ten leagues, despite their ranking, remain the same and any contender will have to beat Lithuania in order to get in. Considering the popularity of basketball in Lietuva, this is not easy.
- Spain – Liga Endesa (+1)
- Turkey – BSL (-1)
- VTB League (-)
- Germany – BBL (-)
- Greece – HEBA (-)
- Italy – Legabasket (+1)
- France – ProA (-1)
- Israel – Winner’s League (+1)
- Adriatic League – ABA (-1)
- Lithuania – LKL (-)
Liga Endesa – Still thriving despite its issues
Spain was always on the top of the rankings since 2012 with only one exception which was last season. For years ACB was and still is the best domestic league in Europe in every aspect. There are two powerhouses, Real Madrid and Barcelona, a dangerous middle class and a competition level that ensures to top players that the NBA will take notice.
For sure, bad economy is an issue in Spain. The league will feature 17 teams this season, because no one wanted the 18th spot and the financial obligations of competing in the top division. There are rumors about a 16 clubs league from next season as two teams will be delegated to the second division at the summer of 2017. And also, many believe that Spanish players are not protected in the league and most of them are taking a back seat to foreigners.
Still the league is entering the second season of a three-year television deal with 46 euros total revenues – this deal was announced after the publishing of Eurohoops last season rankings and was not taken into account – and there’s a great marketing push which even included pre-season games being broadcasted live and free on the internet. You can’t get something better than this.
BSL – On the shadow of politics
Money is not an issue in most cases in Turkey, the interest about basketball is exploding and many top players and coaches are part of the league.
The rise of the BSL can’t be doubted and you can say that with additions like David Blatt and Velimir Perasovic on the benches and like James Anderson and Justin Dentmon on the court, the league is getting stronger and stronger. At least ten teams will compete for the play offs and the only issue that it may arise is that the Euroleague “fantastic four” of the league are in a visibly higher level compared to the rest of the competition.
Not everything is perfect however. Gaziantep lost its main sponsor and managed in the nick of the time to be part of the league. And above everything else, a turbulent summer in Turkey made things complicated. There were cases of players who decided to sign elsewhere, even for less money, and despite the fact that everyday life returned to normal, the shadow of all the recent events in the country is still there.
VTB League – Lucky 13
While the league has some of the top teams in Europe with Euroleague champs CSKA Moscow above every one else and tries to make forward steps like organizing its first ever All-Star Game, it still can’t compete with Spain and Turkey.
In a strange turn of events, VTB will have only 13 teams this season, after losing Volgograd aka Red October. The team was abandonded by its owner Dmitry Gerasimenko who is “in absentia arrested by the Tver district court of Moscow at the request of GSU GU Ministry of internal Affairs” as “Kommersant” newspaper reported.
Still the real issue remains a well known fact. The fan base of the VTB League clubs is limited to say the least and until this changes, it will also limit the possible evolution of the league into something bigger. In this case being number 3 despite this big disadvantage speaks volumes about the rest of the leagues.
BBL – Solid, but unspectacular
The German BBL league has stability, a business plan and high ambitions. It was also the only league during the summer which didn’t take sides on the FIBA-Euroleague conflict and ended up having teams in all four intercontinental competitions without any drama, or threats about sanctions.
Bonn, the 11th team of the league will compete in the FIBA Europe Cup, a result of great diplomacy. However, the Germans are saying since 2012 that they aim to emerge as the top league in Europe at the end of the decade, but they still don’t have the teams or the national media presense in order to do that. There’s Brose Baskets which got more than respect in Euroleague, there’s Bayern Munich which brings the media interest, but not real star power or adequate local talent to turn heads.
With clubs not willing to overspend and pay above value in order to lure or keep top players, the result is a solid league in which every one knows that he will get paid, a good fan base, but nothing more.
Greece – Top clubs save the rest
The HEBA league in Greece is getting back some of its past glory, not because there’s a solid united effort for that, but because since last season there are more clubs willing to spend. Olympiacos and Panathinaikos are among the Euroleague elite, AEK and Aris are trying to follow their steps and PAOK has a solid team. The last three teams, or at least AEK and Aris, are considered contenders in the FIBA Champions League.
On the other hand, there’s no other club that can compete with the top four financially and getting to the top division is not connected with any real economic boost. Still there’s big fan interest and that makes the difference, despite the fact that we have waited almost until the start of the league in order to learn that Doxa Leykadas will be the 14th team of the competition – due to the financial issues of Kifisia which left the league – and that the main league sponsor is still in negotiations for a deal. You may even argue that the quality of basketball played on the Greek courts is better than BBL.
Italy – Milan’s realm
The Italian league gained a spot in our rankings compared to last year, but this doesn’t mean that there’s a real improvement. On the court Italy remains a league in which teams are all about offense and good foreign players can make a huge difference (before emerging and signing in Euroleague clubs).
Nobody can challenge EA7 Milano on paper and the pressure of the federation towards the clubs in order to stay out of Eurocup, hurt some of them on financial level. According to some reports, the stance of the federation has already changed and teams will be free to compete in Eurocup next season, but the damage is done. The bottom line in Italy is that the basketball tradition, a powerhouse and clubs that have been around for decades, despite their shortcomings, can make an attractive total.
France – The FIBA country
In theory France could challenge Greece, Germany and Italy. There’s a basketball tradition and ambitious clubs with Monaco being the newest addition. There’s also enough local talent with great atletic abilities and a national team among the Europe’s elite.
The problem here ended up being the decision of the league to not have any team in Eurocup in combination with France losing its representation in the 16-club format of Euroleague. Many foreign players passed France and even French talent tried and in many case did sign in other leagues, mainly in Spain.
Of course it’s a plus that the league announce the bugdets of every team – only VTB does that also – but an average 1,5 m. euros payroll and clubs that have only local fan base, no matter how competitive is the league with most teams being on the same talent level, can’t help the league evolve into something bigger.
Israel – The Stoudemire factor
Israel for many years was saved by Maccabi Tel Aviv. This season can be different. Maccabi Tel Aviv after two bad seasons boosted its roster in order to be again a Euroleague force and its main rival, Hapoel Jerusalem, did the same with part owner Amare Stoudemire, joining the roster.
Stoudemire is by far the biggest name in Europe this year and that can only benefit the league, first of all in our rankings, in which they climbed one more spot. By the way, Maccabi Rishon LeZion is the defending champ, a result that has to do a lot with the final four format at the end of the playoffs.
There are obvious shortcomings, with most teams having limited fan base and local talent being poor, but Stoudemire alone is enough in order to cover that.
ABA League – The “war” victim
Unfortunately the Adriatic league has become the lab rat for FIBA. Every kind of pressure is applied first in the clubs of this league and then, after the test, it’s transferred to other parts of Europe.
That had as a result a troubled summer with teams added to the league late, FIBA saying that they might de-recognize the league and financial issues being always a concern. With Crvena Zvezda and Cedevita being the only teams that can push the rest for improvement, fans’ interest and the local talent are the main saving graces of the league.
Lithuania – Same old story
With Lietuvos Rytas not willing to spend in order to challenge Zalgiris Kaunas and with Zalgiris Kaunas being the team to beat localy but not a force in Europe, you get the whole picture in a sentence.
Basketball is a religion in Lithuania, there’s local talent – which leaves the country at an early age – and the local league is practically Zalgiris playground. With those data, the LKL can’t challenge the other top European leagues, but can’t be threatened by the rest.