By Aris Barkas/ email@example.com
The story seems to be simple: In 2000 Euroleague was created when the clubs decided that they wanted their own league, FIBA fought the new competition for one year by organizing the rival Suproleague during the 2000-01 season and in 2015 FIBA decided that they wanted the league back.
The result of the new “war” between the two sides is a Europe with four continental competitions – Euroleague, Eurocup, Basketball Champions League and FIBA Europe Cup – and also a lot of questions. Why FIBA decided to get back the Euroleague? Why the big clubs denied the offer made to them? And what the future holds?
Eurohoops is trying to connect all the pieces of a really big puzzle in a effort to understand what really happened and how this situation may be resolved.
Back in 2010…
Euroleague was created by the big European clubs not only in order to maximize their revenues, but also because FIBA just didn’t listen to them and their proposals, having as a priority to keep the competition under the control of the international basketball federation.
When the clubs made the big step back in 2000 to create a new private league, they had two goals. A structure in which they would decide for themselves and a real push in order to increase revenues. How much outdated was FIBA in the way things were handled? The name Euroleague was unofficially used for the “European champions cup” since the mid-nineties. FIBΑ had never trademarked it and the clubs just took it… In 2004 the two sides officially came to an agreement and the first act of the “war” was over with FIBA accepting the status quo.
The Euroleague also had its share of troubles. The clubs were never – and still are not – satisfied with their revenues. During the 2002 Final Four Panathinaikos, which had just joined the league after the disbandment of Suproleague, threaten not to play in the final game due to a financial dispute.
That’s why many clubs had at least in the back of their mind any possible change that could help them financially. Around 2010 the whispers became more than evident with big clubs if not pushing, then at least talking behind the scenes for a new format and a closed league. The initial result of those talks was the 2012-13 expansion of the Top16 with the two groups of eight teams format. And around that time, FIBA knew they had an opening.
Everything started with the new four year circle of FIBA competitions, a discussion which was presented in public during the first months of 2012. At the time, FIBA Europe were at odds with FIBA, because they wanted to continue having a Eurobasket tournament every two years and not every four years. However FIBA had in mind a much bigger picture, the “One FIBA” project was already set in motion and in 2014 it was approved. FIBA Europe – the basketball equivalent of UEFA – is reduced to a regional office and all real power all over the world belongs directly to FIBA.
The master plan also included FIBA taking back control of the Euroleague, arguably the best league in the world outside the NBA which still has a lot of potential for growth. At this point, FIBA doesn’t have any major club league under its control and organizes only the national teams competitions. It seems that’s not enough. All over Europe there were rumors about FIBA making moves towards the direction of getting Euroleague back. The cat was out of the bag finally in 2015 and information about revenues over 100 million euros per season for the clubs started circulating. So what happened and Euroleague emerged arguably stronger in the new era which starts this season?
FIBA and the missing investor
FIBA approached directly all the big Euroleague clubs during 2015 and most of those meetings were made in public. Despite the rumors about unprecedented revenues or about the NBA backing the FIBA project, the clubs remained cautious to say the least. To be exact only Panathinaikos and Unicaja were regularly mentioned as strong candidates to join FIBA, mainly because of the troubled relationship of the Greeks with the Euroleague and in Unicaja‘s case, because they were expected to lose their A license in Euroleague, like they did.
What was not known at the time is that FIBA also approached directly the Euroleague in the summer of 2015 and practically offered to “buy” the league. According to sources from both sides, an offer was sent signed by FIBA secretary general Patrick Baumann in which FIBA was ready to compensate ECA (Euroleague Commercial Assets S.A.) in order to take over the Euroleague. A special advisor/ governor position was also offered for a total of five years to Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu. No numbers were mentioned in this document, but the intension was more than clear.
Meanwhile also behind closed doors, Euroleague was talking with IMG in order to formulate the agreement of their 10 year joint venture. It’s naive to think that the deal which is expected to transform the landscape of European basketball happened overnight.
Of course, all those moves were known at least to the big European clubs, which were waiting to hear the bottomline of the two offers. And here are where things are getting really tricky. On the 3rd of November 2015 FIBA made its presentation to the clubs. A 16 team format, 8 decade-long contracts for Maccabi Tel Aviv, Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, Real Madrid, Barcelona, CSKA Moscow, Anadolu Efes and Fenerbahce and 30 million euros revenues guaranteed with 5% annual raise.
In theory it was not bad at all, but for the clubs it was a letdown. Eurohoops has in possesion the full dossier of the presentation, which is missing a key detail. While there are many mentions of a “strategic founding investor”, the investor is never named. FIBA’s assets are presumed to be the guarantee of the 30 million euros revenues, while the clubs will have to “transfer in exclusivity the exploitation of all media rights and a share of their sponsoring inventory related to the Basketball Champions league” to a new managing company in which they would have the 50% of shares.
According to the presentation, the new league would be profitable by the third season, while the forecasted valuation would have been “after season 3 in the region of 300 million euros and in 1 billion euros in year 10”. Depending on their results, the revenues per club varied from 562.000 euros to 4,5 million euros for the first season. However no detailed business plan was presented. Add the missing investor, which was not named even verbally during the presentation, and you can understand why the clubs were sceptical about the FIBA project. Also the proposal made was suspiciously similar to the one IMG and Euroleague were preparing and which was also known to the clubs at the time.
One week later the joint venture of IMG and Euroleague was made public and also was approved by the clubs, which turned their back on FIBA. The only team that didn’t sign on the same day the agreement was Panathinaikos, but after some weeks, they finally did.
The next step
FIBA decided to let Euroleague alone for the moment and focus the battle on Eurocup. After all the Champions League and the Eurocup can be compared and they duel for the title of the second tier competition, even if some of the Champions League clubs can’t be considered Eurocup material.
On the other hand the situation with teams leaving the Eurocup in order to join the Champions League after being pressured by local leagues and federations is well documented and FIBA is succesful in taking away some of Eurocup’s prestige. Still the question remains if the two sides can burry the hatchet, because you can’t deny that the main casualty in this debate is the sport itself with both sides losing and the fans not really caring about about any competition, or game not directly related to their team.
The situation may be resolved by itself according to the popularity of the two competitions and the fans’ interest (or lack of). On the other hand, FIBA and Euroleague have to continue their talks for a simple reason. After the summer of 2017, the national teams qualification windows during the season will be applied all over Europe. Euroleague insists that their clubs will not accommodate FIBA, so we might get qualification games in which the national teams will miss NBA, Euroleague and Eurocup players.
So there’s still leverage on both sides and the qualification windows issue may be the key to the end of the conflict. And according to Eurohoops sources, despite the fact that a basketball “cold war” is raging all over Europe, contacts between FIBA and Euroleague never really stopped…