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Home - The future of European basketball: what should we aim at?

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  The future of European basketball: what should we aim at?

By Alessandro Fiorelli

barcelona beat la lakersWhen 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.

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