Euroleague Basketball CEO met with many of the hundreds of media attending the 2022 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four in Belgrade on Friday to discuss the state of affairs in the company.
Good afternoon and thank you for being with us this afternoon. I know that you are busy, but we wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to have this conversation and to have the opportunity to answer questions. Let me just introduce a little bit where we are at this moment. I think we all are enjoying, once again, a great event, a great Final Four. I think that yesterday’s games confirmed once again how solid, how strong this league is. I think that yesterday once again we managed to deliver an extraordinary experience to our fans and I’m confident that tomorrow, again, we’ll have an exceptional final, and a good game for the third and fourth position. It has been a real pleasure to have the opportunity to celebrate the Final Four again with our fans. Probably, most of them yesterday were a little disappointed, but this is part of the game. I think the fact that they stayed in the second game and were cheering and were still giving energy to the teams that were on the court, even though they were not their favorite teams, I think that also speaks about the passion for basketball at this moment in the EuroLeague goes beyond the feeling of the fans, this passion for basketball.
As I said a couple of days ago, I think that despite the fact that we have been in these troubles in the last seasons, we as a property, as a league, we managed to keep growing in all the areas. So, we managed to come back to the situation where we were previous to the pandemic in terms of our business, in terms of our revenues. In fact, for this year we forecast a growth of 12% in our incomes as a league. I think that’s a good sign that shows the league is strong, right after the pandemic and the fact that even this year, we went through these difficulties with the war in Ukraine. So the property is strong, the property is solid. And also the relevant fact that, despite the last years when we had all these problems, we managed to continue growing our fan base. According to the research that has been conducted by Nielsen, the interest in EuroLeague since 2018 until today has grown by 22%. And I think, in times of the pandemic, this again shows the strength of this company.
So, I cannot ignore the fact that we are in a challenging time and still have to see how we can solve the problems that are a consequence of the war in Ukraine. We are aware that we have to take a decision regarding the participation of Russian teams in the EuroLeague and the EuroCup. Something that I hope will be solved soon. I think this is most important, the timing is important, timing is relevant because we have to prepare next season. We have to prepare the calendar. We have to be sure that we do not have problems with arena availabilities and for all these reasons, we have to solve the problem regarding the participation of the Russian teams for next season.
Probably, I can anticipate that it’s difficult to see how Russian teams will be able to participate in the competition next season. If this is the case, our intention from the league management perspective is to allocate two one-year wild cards to replace the two spots that today are allocated to Russia. As you know, one of them is our shareholder, CKSA, and the other is for the team that qualifies through the VTB League, so we have two spots empty if the Russian teams cannot participate in the EuroLeague. So, if this is the case, our intention is to propose to the clubs to give the wildcards to teams in Europe to stay with the format of 18 teams as in the last three seasons.
This is our present, which I think is not only good. I think it’s bright. But we also know how important it is to keep working for the future. And I think that has been one of the elements that has defined this league most, that we are always working for the future. We’re trying to introduce change, and we know that when we introduce change, there is always resistance, always difficulties, but it’s the only way to make progress.
And now our focus is on how we can improve this competition and how we can make our clubs more sustainable. Finally, the point is we need to grow the business for all of our clubs, and we believe that the key pillars for achieving this goal work basically in two ways. First, we need to complete the map of our team owners. You know that at moment we have 13 teams that have stable presence in the Euroleague competition. We would like to have in a reasonable period of time – I would say probably for the beginning of the 2024-25 season, so in two years’ time – to have completed the roster of the clubs owners to 18. Which means that we have to work on trying to define in which markets we want to have stable teams, in which countries we believe that we can grow the fan base of the league and basketball, how we can improve our business. And this is something that definitely has to be done, the sooner the better, because it’s going to help the other purpose, which is to grow our business.
You know that for us, markets like France, Germany — and once again, we cannot forget the UK, which is still in our plan — but also other places like Italy, I believe that we have big room to grow our business there. We have big room to grow there our fan base. And I think that we’ve got from this for sure has confirmed that the league policy regarding being more active in those markets was the right one. Because the increased interest for basketball, particularly in France and Germany, has been impressive. We believe that making the clubs sustainable means that we have to increase our efforts in both generating more revenues and trying to have more strict control of the costs. We believe, at least the league management’s position is that to increase the level of our revenues, we desperately need investments in order to improve the clubs’ economic ecosystem based in the digital area. We need to be more active in those markets that I mentioned before, so conducting special activities with special programs and special strategies and go to market with these strategies, like in France, Germany, Italy and also the UK. Having clubs there, of course, helps, but also other things can be done in order to improve the EuroLeague footprint in these markets. But definitely, an investment is needed both at the league and the club level, and this is a process that we need to start, the sooner the better.
And looking at the other side, when we talk about sustainabily, it’s of course about revenues but it’s also about improving the management of our budgets. You know that we have some concerns about the fact that some clubs have the expenses of player salaries that are not balanced with revenues that those clubs can generate. And I think that everybody at the club level and the league level, including clubs, understand that this is something that has to be addressed. So we are working on reinforcing our Financial Fair Play regulations also thinking on situations that can include salary cap regulations that we we are at this moment preparing, though there is nothing agreed, nothing approved, nothing that has been discussed with the players. But we definitely believe that this is a key element of the future if we want to achieve these goals of sustainability of the clubs. We cannot have our clubs spending more money that they can generate, and unfortunately still we have some cases. But I have to say that compared to five, six years ago, there has been significant improvement in this sense. So probably five years ago, we had more clubs in this situation, with significant structural losses. Today, I am happy to say that we have reduced the number of clubs in this situation, but still our goal should be that 100% of the clubs are sustainable. I know that you will be skeptical when I explain that to you, but definitely it should be our goal. A leage that is not sustainable will not be able to create value. And for us it’s important, no matter how difficult it will be. I just wanted to give highlights of the areas that we are focused on for the future. And that’s all, just to introduce you to where we are at this moment.
About a possible salary cap
“I think that we are in a system that works under the market rules. If one club can afford to pay 12 million and another only 6, that’s the consequence of the market, there is nothing wrong with this. The problem is when someone is spending more than they are capable of generating. This is the problem. So if someone is spending 12, but the same club is only able to generate 8, this is a problem. What we are trying to solve is to balance the incomes and to match the expenses with the incomes, the incomes that are generated by the market revenues. This is the purpose. So unbalanced teams by budget exist everywhere and will always exist. But the concept is trying not to spend more than what the clubs are capable of generating. I think this is a very reasonable principle in business and we have to make an effort to apply this as well.
“We are not trying to affect the individual contracts of the clubs. The contracts are enforced, the contracts have value and the only thing we are trying to do is to connect the expenses to the revenues. There is no limit on how much a player can get. The point is if you want to pay 2 million, you have to generate 2 million. That is the point. But if you have a contract signed for 2 million, the player has a guaranteed contract, there is no point that they are not going to get 2 million. That’s for sure. On top of that, we have to take into account that these kinds of regulations cannot be implemented overnight. So you need a transition, a time where the club can accommodate their budget, there’s policies, there’s strategies to these new regulations. So what I am suggesting is that first of all, we need to work on this. Of course, we already have a proposal. We want to share this proposal with the clubs, we want to see that the clubs are ready to implement this proposal and then to have a probable three-year transition where progressively we will b adapting these rules. In fact, this is nothing new because back in 2015 when we for the first time introduced the Financial Fair Play regulations, we had more or less the same transition time, more or less. But these kinds of rules always need a transition.”
About possibility of two Serbian clubs in the EuroLeague
“Well, one easy scenario would be to have a Serbian team winning the Adriatic League and another Serbian team winning the EuroCup. This could have been the case this year, but was not. In the future, who knows? But you know that, for us, this region is very important, for obvious reasons, so I don’t need to explain this concept. Particularly, Belgrade for us is a great market. That’s the reason we are here. And I think we have here a team that has been competitive for many years, Crvena Zvezda. And we have Partizan, that was a very good team with us, and now that they are back, they are playing at a high level of competition, as well. So I think that in the future it’s possible to accommodate both teams at the Euroleague level, but it depends on how many teams we have, whether we have 18 or 20. I do not expect that we’ll have two teams in Belgrade on a stable basis, soon. But I think for the future, it’s a possibility.
“And the second question is about if I will be in charge of this. I don’t know. This is, since July 2000 until today at 6:15 p.m., the clubs are the ones who decide about me. So far, I am here, and the future, who knows? But I don’t think that is relevant. What’s relevant is that this league is strong, this league is competitive, this league has solid foundations. We are enjoying this Final Four. Whether I am here or another guy is here is – sorry for the other guy – it’s irrelevant. What the fans want to know is Micic is scoring the last shot or what we saw in second game. This is what is relevant.”
About wildcard candidates for next season
“I am saying no [to the possibility of a wildcard to an ABA team] because a wildcard by definition is about selecting a team that for the league perspective makes sense to for the future. That is not always compatible with following the rankings of one league, in this case the Adriatic League. If the question is if it’s possible to have two teams from the Adriatic League next year, or the Adriatic region or the Balkans region, it’s possible. But not necessarily respecting the rankings of the Adriatic league. Of course, the champion of the Adriatic League, as everyone knows will play in the EuroLeague next season. But there is no guarantee for the runner up or for other teams as a consequence of their rankings.”
About a multi-year contract for a Balkan team
“Once again, the Balkans, the Adriatic League, the region, for us, for basketball, is extremely important. The ability to produce and to generate talent in this region is something unique, or almost unique, in Europe. That’s why it’s important for us to keep focused on the region. The fact that we want to move in a situation where all the participating teams in EuroLeague have to have the same status, from the league management position, this should be the priority. That includes that in the next two or three years, we would like to join at least five, or seven clubs, that depends on the total number of teams, which depends on a clubs decision, to achieve same status as the current 13 shareholders of the company. This is the idea. We believe we have to start implementing this idea by trying to identify the right candidates in the markets that in our belief can help the growth of basketball and the markets that can help the growth of the league. In all this plan, Belgrade has a place. Then, when when we come to Belgrade, we know that in Belgrade we have two candidates. And I said a few minutes ago, that it’s something that is not unthinkable, that we can have two teams in Belgrade. I am not saying it’s easy, because I think only if you consider Piraeus different than Athens, we don’t have markets with two teams, but it’s something that depends on markets and every market is different. When we consider Germany, we know that there are two places to go, which are Berlin and Munich. That’s why we have a wild card and a license there. So each market depends on how much we can this market to grow basketball. And in this case, Belgrade is definitely in the focus.”
About the relationships with FIBA and NBA
“I think that, as you know, right after the Olympics we opened a conversation with FIBA to explore ways to improve things. It’s still pending what the list of things that can be improved. Probably the fact that the NBA at a certain point has been involved in this conversation is something that can help or not, but I don’t believe that Europe cannot solve by ourselves our problems. I think its our responsibility to define what we want for European basketball. We as the Euroleague have the main responsibility and of course FIBA also have responsibility. If the conversation goes always to the windows, with all due respect, in general, I think this is a poor conversation because I think the window is not the most relevant thing in the world because I think you don’t need me to explain what I believe about the windows and why I believe that the fact EuroLeague respects the window is not going to solve the problems of the national teams competition. I think this is obvious, it’s well known and I don’t need to expand more on this. But again if the conversation is about the windows, it’s a very short conversation. I don’t think this is the problem.
“I think we have more problems to tackle, I think we can work more on promotion. I think we have more responsibility in trying to address the structure of the competitions because I have to say that there are still some things that are not working properly because when you have teams that when they finish the domestic leagues, they have to think are we going right to champions league or left to EuroCup, this is something that is not normal, is not good. And also because those decisions always go together with pressure from the federations and we never wanted to play this game, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t believe this is something that has to be addressed. So probably this will be a more interesting conversation, probably more useful for the future of European basketball. I think we can add other topics on top of this traditional topic of the windows. Because again the windows conversation is a very short one. I don’t see the solution of the national teams’ competition by convincing the EuroLeague teams to respect windows when we have the calendar that we know and we still know that the best players will not be on the court for the reasons that everybody knows and FIBA has no problem with this. So why do we have to be a part of this?”
About Champions League and EuroCup competing for teams
“I am not afraid of anything. The concept of a closed league is a concept I didn’t mention. I said that we want to have 18 owners. There is nothing wrong to still have two spots for the EuroCup. It is not something that cannot be incompatible with what I said. Basically, clubs that go to play the Basketball Champions League, what they know is that they are not going to play ever the EuroLeague. So I don’t see what is the advantage of moving in this direction. Because, finally, if the goal is to play the EuroLeague, the wrong way is to go to the Champions League because then it is by definition impossible.”
On the sporting principle of an 18-team league
“I think that we have proven that when we have a good project which is solid from both a sports and structure point of view, this project will have room sooner or later to join the league because this is what we want. I understand that if we want to go back to the old principles that sports merit is the only argument to justify or explain why a team plays in this competition or another, at the EuroLeague level, this is something that belongs to the past. We need to deliver quality, we need to deliver a very high-level competition and to make it happen, we need to work based on stable projects, allowing team teams to make investments in facilities, structure, which is incompatible with the relegation-promotion system that is part of the European sports tradition. Since the very beginning, from 2000 until today, we have built this league based on the stability of our clubs, with different formats, different mechanisms, but at the end of the day, it’s always been the same concept. We are not going to change this. But if someone develops a project, we are going to pay attention to this project and I think we have examples in the league. For example ASVEL, Valencia, Bologna… One way or another they are going to end up in our league. Not only sports results are the path to the league.”
About game format for next season
“Regarding the format, I think the EuroLeague has proven that it’s a very successful format and we don’t see clubs willing to change that. We don’t have any intention to propose any change to the format. When we talk about EuroCup, I think it was cruel, but extremely exciting. When we introduce change in the competition format, we need to be patient. I remember back in 2016 when we introduced the new format, everybody was excited saying that it has been a great thing. I said at that time, despite the good feelings that everybody had, I said we have to be patient because when you change a competition format, you need time to stabilize, to really understand if it’s going well or not. I am in the same position regarding the EuroCup.”
About CSKA’s statement on next season
“I think that, first of all, what CSKA said is legitimate. It is what CSKA has to say. And I believe there is nothing wrong with what CSKA is saying in this letter. But there is another reality and I think everybody understands that even goes beyond the EuroLeague capacities. Because we are talking about sanctions. When we suspended the participation of the Russian teams during the competition, that was a very sad moment for all of us, it was not a EuroLeague regulation, it was a consequence of the decisions of our governments. And as far as I know, these are still there, it has not changed. So, we can enter in the process to discuss whatever we want, but if at the end of the day our clubs are not allowed to go to play against Russian teams because their government won’t allow them to do, so I don’t know how much we can discuss about this. So, this is the main point, that we are probably entering in a scenario where the discussions are not always at the league level. It goes from a superior level and I don’t see how much room do we have to change these at least as long as the war is there. But I hope it’s going to finish soon.”
About timetable on Russian teams
“The timing. Normally, once we finish the Final Four, we start preparing the next season. It takes 3-4 weeks to prepare bylaws for next season, all this stuff that has to be for a meeting that normally we call for the end of June, more or less. With the current circumstances, this decision has to be taken the sooner the better because probably we will have to find two team that will join the league and those two teams need to be ready and we need to know the calendar, to define arena availability to make a reasonable calendar. So for these special reasons, we believe we need to anticipate this decision, but I cannot tell you when. I am sorry.”
On relationship with IMG
“We already had six years, we have four more pending. I think the key question is about the commitment of IMG with the EuroLeague. And I am happy to confirm that the commitment is even bigger than the one they had in 2015 when we signed the joint venture contract because they understand the value of this property, they understand the potential of this property and, in fact, we are in ongoing conversation to see how we can improve the areas of cooperation going beyond the traditional media and sponsorship rights and trying to see if we can add more value to this company, which is an obvious sign of not only their commitment but also their happiness with this relationship. So my belief is we will have a long future ahead of us.”
On CSKA’s situation
“We have to make a distinction. CSKA is a shareholder of the company that owns the league. Nothing prevents them from being shareholders, so they will stay as shareholders of the league. The participation of the clubs in the league depends of the contract that we have with each one of our clubs. For reasons that everybody knows, that contract cannot be executed because Russian teams cannot play and other teams cannot play against the Russian teams. So, we have the problem with the contract. We don’t have a problem with CSKA being a shareholder of the company. There is no legal reason for taking CSKA out of the EuroLeague structure because there is not a political, legal, there is no reason for that. But when we talk about participation of CSKA in the competition that refers to the contract that each of our clubs have with us. And this contract, because of this situation, called force major or whatever you want to call, it is impossible to be executed, for both sides. So, we have to say that these contractual obligations are now on hold, a kind of suspension of the current situation until the whole economic, political, legal European system goes back to normal. When? Nobody knows. But I believe this is the more reasonable expectation for the 2022-23 season at this moment.”
On NBA visitors
“I have to say that the fact that NBA players or coaches come to our games, do not respond to any particular strategy. In case of Kevin Durant was more a personal relations with one Monaco player, and he wanted to see and have experience of a EuroLeague game, that probably for American players is difficult to have. And especially in the second game in Piraeus he had a full experience of what EuroLeague is. And the same with the Coach. I think that the fact that the Coach has some Serbian roots, with the Final four here, with all this environment, I think that helps the presence of Popovich here. But that does not respond to plan. We invite him as we invite every year the NBA and we offer them to invite anybody they want to come to EuroLeague. This has been a tradition since many years ago, In this case they invited Coach Popovich, other times they invited other people. We are always happy to have friends from the NBA, mainly when we have personalities of the level you have mentioned.”