A landmark Final Four in Kaunas proves that the event is bigger than ever

2023-05-26T13:33:07+00:00 2023-05-27T09:42:34+00:00.

Aris Barkas

26/May/23 13:33


The Final Four in Kaunas was a roaring success but made also obvious that the event needs bigger cities

By Aris Barkas/ barkas@eurohoops.net

Kaunas, a “bastion of basketball” as EuroLeague interim CEO Marshall Glickman called it, deserved and got a Final Four, which was more than successful. Meanwhile, the Final Four will be profitable not only for Kaunas but for Lithuania in general, as Zalgiris GM Paulius Motiejunas explained to Eurohoops.

Still, with Vitoria, the city of Baskonia, getting also a Final Four in the past and experiencing the same issues in logistics, it’s evident that at this point the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four is a premium event that can be hosted in a relatively small number of cities around Europe, as it happens with the football Champions League Final.

Simply put, the host city must have the facilities to accommodate not only all those working in the event but also at least 10.000 visiting fans. The number is not mentioned randomly. This was pretty much the number of visiting fans, mainly Greek, who made the difficult trip to Lithuania. And while Real Madrid and Barcelona fans were a minority, they also traveled from Spain to Lithuania facing the same issues. There were no direct flights with very few exceptions and Lithuania’s capital Vilnius was the main final destination. There were not even enough charter flights to Kaunas airport, and very few hotel beds were available in the city. A lot of fans arrived by plane either in Poland or Latvia and continued their trip by car to Lithuania.

The solution of putting the bulk of fans and even EuroLeague guests in Vilnius, 100 km away, was the only workaround for this issue – like it happened with Bilbao in Vitoria’s Final Four – and it didn’t really work. A one-hour drive turned out to be a two-and-half hours trip during gamedays, and getting a spot to eat in Kaunas’ restaurants was rare during rush hour. To be exact, in most cases, Kaunas facilities, either bars or restaurants, weren’t really prepared for this number of visitors and didn’t welcome the extra clientele, simply because they couldn’t serve it.

That’s why, the basketball party in Kaunas faded away at the end of the games. Very few people stayed in the city, the majority of the fans returned to Vilnius or nearby cities like Alytus, and the vibe was lost. With Olympiacos winning the semifinal, nobody was there to celebrate in the city either on Friday night or on Saturday, and even the EuroLeague parties were hosted in Vilnius.

The open concerts in Kaunas Fan Zone of Lithuanian pop star Beatrich and DJ Jovani were a roaring success, confined however to just 3.000 spectators, since for security reasons, there was no room for any more crowd and the doors were closed.

Yes, Kaunas lives and breaths for basketball, but the numbers are stacked against the city.

According to Eurohoops sources, Luka Doncic wasn’t able to attend the Final Game, because there was no room in the local airport for his private jet to park due to charter planes arriving from Greece. Kristaps Porzingis arrived in the city for the final, but he was in Latvia, just 300 km away, and his trip to Kaunas was doable.

That’s why it seems natural that the Final Four returns to Berlin, for the third time in 15 years, and after that, there’s a long line of cities where new arenas are being built, including Munich, Valencia, Bologna, Paris, Barcelona – if and when the new “Palau” will be ready – and Madrid with the new Bernabeu being able to host indoor events.

According to Glickman, there should be a balance between smaller cities with basketball tradition and European metropolises. However, nobody can’t deny that the Final Four belongs to the biggest European stages…