News that will become subject of fierce polemics among basketball fans in Europe in the following days is coming from the Pyrenean peninsula. Basketball Euroleague was at a crossroads in the past few days, and finally, there is a solution wrapped in a proverb – if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. At a moment when it seemed that the European basketball competition of the highest quality was good on its way to go under FIBA’s wing, everything was changed on a practically all-day meeting in Barcelona, which was attended by representatives of 11 clubs with A license – Efes Istanbul, CSKA Moscow, EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, FC Barcelona Lassa, Fenerbahce Istanbul, Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz, Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, Olympiacos Piraeus, Panathinaikos Athens, Real Madrid and Zalgiris Kaunas. What is most important for this story is that the meeting was also attended by delegates from IMG company, which is a global leader in presenting sport, fashion and other events. This is the company that signed a perennial contract with the NBA League about ten days ago, and which gives them the exclusive right to broadcast matches of the most attractive basketball league during flights on more than 250 airplanes, which are owned by ten biggest global air companies. Broadcasts will be on channel Sport 24, which has been existing for only three years and already has exclusive rights to some of the biggest sports events on the planet. It is completely clear that participation of this financially powerful company in deciding on further destiny of Euroleague was crucial for the solution achieved consensually after eight hours of negotiating. Thanks to the IMG’s business plan, which guarantees participants of Euroleague many times higher profit from participating in this competition than it was until now, European basketball clubs competition of the highest quality will be the privilege of only the selected ones from season 2016/2017.
Euroleague will have 16 participants, with a two-round league system of competition, after what there will be play-offs, and the champion will be decided at the Final Four. The above mentioned clubs with the A license will be permanent participants of the league, without the possibility of being relegated to a lower rank of competition. The 12th member of Euroleague will be the winner of the Eurocup from previous season and this is where the circle of relatively known participants of this new format end. Three participants of the new format of Euroleague will be champions of leagues that will be delegated later, while the last participant will be known after qualifications that eight clubs will partake in, which is also part of the mystery that is yet to be unraveled.
The Eurocup will also get a new format, so this competition consist of 24 teams, 21 of which will get into it through their national leagues, while three teams will get the wild card. System of the competition will be similar to the one of the present Euroleague.
One should not doubt at all that there are already a lot of disappointed people now. The decision has just been made, so reactions of the public are only yet to come. There will be critique about making the system of competition modeled on the football Champions League, which is already predestined for rich clubs. What is most painful for those outside of this system is the fact that already rich clubs will only get even richer from participating in this competition. The first estimate, which could be heard from the president of CSKA, Andrej Vatutin, hints at a profit of at least 36.3 million euro. When this is compared to only half a million euro, which is how much this Russian club got last season for winning the third place, it is clear what the new format of Euroleague is bringing and why FIBA was once again dropped out of the game. Still, attendees of the meeting in Barcelona thanked FIBA for their interest and invited them to join them. It is hard to believe such a thing would happen. At the beginning FIBA will probably play the jilted bride, but we should expect a positive reaction too, which could be in form of Euroleague’s counterpart, like it was when Euroleague was only just becoming. This time, FIBA would have to find a serious sponsor, and if they manage to do that, Europe would get another strong club competition, which would be an opportunity for other clubs to get financially stronger, especially those whose annual budgets do not allow them to even dream about Euroleague. In farther future, this could lead to creating of two conferences and eventually uniting of these two into a unique European competition, which could be called EBA. Why not, because everything else would look like the American NBA League.
In the meantime, the important question is what three leagues will have direct passage to the new format of Euroleague. Rule from the beginning of this story is still on in this case too – if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. In other words, this pleasure will be given to leagues whose clubs do not have financial problems, which increases the odds for them doing business without irregularities. Bearing in mind who has the A license, the answer seems to be that one place is already smiling at the German BBL and one at the French LNB. Those who do not believe this, try counting – among 11 teams with the A license, only four teams are from Western Europe – even three from Spain and one from Italy. If you take into consideration that the winner of Eurocup could be a team from another part of Europe, as well as the winner of the still-mysterious qualifications, there is no doubt that at least two of three winners of the league would come from the richest part of Europe. Under some lucky circumstances for the Balkans, the regional competition ABA league could be among the three privileged leagues. Having in mind the results of national teams from this region, especially the reputation the former European champions Partizan and Cibona have built in the past decade, as well the attendance on the games, especially of those in Belgrade, this league deserves to have its representative in the strongest European club competition. However, Partizan and Cibona are having financial problems, and clubs who have taken over domination in the ABA league, current champion Crvena Zvezda and Cedevita, are not strong enough brand in basketball Europe. Besides this, their financial solvency is disputable, which could affect the Euroleague management’s unfavorable decision. One should also take into account that Italy will not be satisfied with only one spot, based on the fact that this country has been European champion twice and has given five club champions of Europe for a total of 13 titles.
With the new frame of competition, winning the Euroleague is definitely becoming a privilege of the rich. One cannot say that they did not have this privilege in the previous years, but with IMG stepping on the scene, the rich will get richer, and those who are far from will be left with hope that FIBA will not look indifferently at how the European club basketball is filling another till. The solution is in the model that would lead to a counterpart of the NBA. Whether FIBA sees that with the same eyes, only time will show.