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The future of European basketball: what should we aim at?
By Alessandro Fiorelli
Barcelona defeated Los Angeles Lakers in a friendly match at Palau Sant
Jordi in October 2010, questions about the actual gap between NBA and
European basket became a leitmotiv.
Besides this fascinating comparison which however
leads nowhere (differences between the two formats are still huge), it
is interesting to analyse the present trend of the old continent
basketball and to understand the possible future developments and
improvements of European competitions and domestic leagues.
First of all, from a geographical point of view the
top level teams in Europe are mainly located in south and East Europe
by tradition, and this trend has little changed over the years. By
natural consequence, the double objective of the Uleb is to maintain
the investments and interest in south-east Europe and at the same time
to stimulate the areas where basket is still undersized. The real
geographical weakness lays in the lack of strong interest of part of
the biggest and richest West European countries despite the efforts
made by the Uleb to take those countries on board. One of the declared
objectives of the Euroleague commissioner Jordi Bertomeu over the years
was to focus on the biggest cities which are not part of the European
basket circus yet and did not show any sign of improvements so far.
Paris, London and Amsterdam are the clear examples of this failure and
even some of the big cities which were supposed to be definitely
included in the project are struggling (Rome and Berlin). This
catchment area could potentially attract huge investments and
consequently millions of fans (who are also consumers).
However, despite the good intentions showed by the
Euroleague CEO, the actions taken so far have been insufficient. It is
nowadays necessary to redesign the format of the European competitions
and to move towards a real integration of the domestic leagues. The new
proposal for modifying the 2012-2013 Euroleague presented in November,
is without doubt a step forward but it has to be ratified by the
Euroleague board. The objective of playing 8 more matches in the top 16
would make the Euroleague the longest European competition and it would
inevitably slim down the domestic leagues. The impact on the national
leagues would be huge and some kind of patriotic resistance will be
inevitable. However, it is necessary to take into account that big
investors are not willing to put a lot money in basket teams located in
small towns. Big showdowns involving the biggest European cities would
attract interest, people and revenues which is the top priority for the
movement. As a consequence, the recent decisions of the Euroleague
commissioner go in the right direction and need to be followed by
actions to stimulate investors to consider projects and investments in
basket. After all, the words of Giorgio Armani who clearly stated that
he will refrain from investing any further in Olimpia Milano if his
team does not play in Madrid, Athens, Berlin and other big cities,
highlights the path for the future of basket.
The current analyses of the Euroleague seem to be
accurate and the consequent objectives on the right way, but it is
still half way. It is now essential to come up with practical
strategies to attract investments in under-developed basket areas which
could dramatically enhance the movement. This requires different
approaches according to the situations of the specific place. In other
words, the strategy for stimulating projects and investments in U.K.
for instance (where it is necessary to start from scratch) have to be
different from the ones targeting cities such as Paris or Amsterdam
(where there are competitive national leagues but their teams do not
attract attention or do not exist at all), which have to be different
too from projects aiming at refreshing the interest of old successful
clubs that now are dramatically declining (such as Rome).
These plans entail strong engagement by the Uleb
management and the exploitation of all the opportunities and it is also
essential to exploit the channels which proves to be successful in
other sports or events. There will be a huge work ahead for the
European basket to become more and more popular and economically
competitive, but the identified strategies go in the right direction
and the path seem to be clear for the following years. It is now the
time to act even though some decisions could create some criticism at
first. In the future the match between the Euroleague champions and the
NBA winners could become an yearly event with no astonishment if the
Palau Saint Jordi 7th October 2010 outcome comes true again.