Zalgiris Kaunas: For the love of the game

2019-03-27T17:45:54+00:00 2019-03-28T12:46:34+00:00.

John Rammas

27/Mar/19 17:45

Eurohoops.net

Playing the national anthem before every home game, cheering even after a defeat, and – even after such losses – selling out again the next time. For some, basketball is an escape from everyday life. For those around Zalgiris Kaunas, it’s a way of life.

By John Rammas/ irammas@eurohoops.net

The scene at Stark Arena immediately after finishing in third place at the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in Belgrade last season with the team on the court and the fans in the stands experiencing the moment as if they had won the trophy was just a reminder for everyone who might have started to forget. Nineteen years had passed since the Lithuanian champs’ last appearance on that bright stage. And even though the outcome was not the same, the emotions were similar.

The love of those who surround Zalgiris for the sport has no limit and this has been clear this season as well, even if the results thus far have not been quite like last season’s. Results are important, but they are secondary to the relationship the supporters have with their club. One example of this was the atmosphere during last week’s sold-out game against Darussafaka Tekfen Istanbul in Round 28; there were no tickets available for purchase already a week before the tip-off!

It was the 10th sell out this season of the 15 EuroLeague home games the club has played at Zalgirio Arena and ensured that Zalgiris overtook Crvena Zvezda Telekom Belgrade for the highest average attendance ever for a EuroLeague season. Zvezda packed in 14,497 fans per game in the 2014-15 season. Zalgiris’s count this season rose to 14,737.

It’s biggest crowd this season was 15,205 fans against CSKA Moscow in Round 16 and the lowest was 13,569 against Herbalife Gran Canaria in Round 25.

Since Euroleague Basketball adopted the new 30-game format for Europe’s premier competition in which every team plays every other twice – once home and once away – prior to the 2016-17 season, Zalgiris has ranked among the top two in attendance each year. It’s tally of 13,567 attendees per game last season was most in the league and is the fourth-best in EuroLeague history.

ZALGIRIS KAUNAS @ EUROLEAGUE

SEASON

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE

RANK

2016-17

11418

2

2017-18

13567

1

2018-19

14737

1

Having 10,000-plus fans is the norm in basketball-mad Kaunas. The last time Zalgiris did not reach that number in a EuroLeague game was on January 24, 2017, against CSKA. Since then, the team’s state-of-the-art home court has hosted 38 games in a row with more than 10,000 supporters packing the arena. The games always start the same way – with the crowd bellowing out the Lithuanian national anthem before the opening jump – and finish with cheers drowning out the final buzzer as the fans thank their heroes for the effort, regardless of the result.

Zalgiris CEO Paulius Motiejunas could not have described the journey so far any better.

“Our organization has a goal – to sell not only the basketball game, but the whole Zalgiris experience. We have been working towards that for a few years now and we are really happy with the outcome. Our aim is to have a packed Zalgirio Arena, with people supporting the team without looking at the standings or the opponent’s strength. To some extent, we can see it this season. We had some tough losses at the start of the season and our recent schedule had several EuroLeague newcomers (Buducnost VOLI Podgorica, Gran Canaria, FC Bayern Munich, Darussafaka) coming to Kaunas, but the attendance didn’t drop and Zalgiris could enjoy the same atmosphere we had last season when the results were a bit better. We want to thank our amazing fans for their unbelievable support!”

“The club and its people are really working hard to make it happen… Our strategy is to exceed fans’ expectations, focus on their experience and the quality of service and create shareable moments. We realized that then our fans could become our best promoters and natural influencers. So, we invested more in innovations and game-day experience.”

“If you have a bad season, it makes it even more important to do all this extra work for the visitors’ experience. What we cannot control is the results of games, so these things ensure that, even if the game was lost, our visitors still had an evening full of excitement. Also, by doing the extra bit, you can offer an entertaining evening even to someone who is not the biggest sports fan.”

The scene Mr. Motiejunas described was on display once again for the game against Darussafaka, not because it was going to be Zalgiris’s final home game in the EuroLeague regular season, but because it’s was a Zalgiris home game.

Photo credit: zalgiris.lt

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