heinnews this week asked good friend Martin Fünkele to take over the Interview of the Week and he provided an insightful discussion with Euroleague President and CEO Jordi Bertomeu at the Euroleague Final Four in Berlin. They discussed how far along the Euroleague has come in marketing, the financial advantages of bigger arenas, comparisons to and appreciation for the NBA and the black hole of TV coverage in Germany. The final three questions were heinnews’s David hein catching up with Bertomeu after Panathinaikos survived a CSKA Moscow comeback to win the 2009 Euroleague crown.
heinnews: Many people say that this Final Four has the best line-up in the past decade. Would you say that the marketing, structure and organization wise, it’s the same?
Bertomeu: Sure, I would say yes. Every year we take one step forward. Definitely Berlin for us is more than a step. Maybe it’s a small jump. First of all we have a market at this facility that allows us better to explore our inventory, offer a very comfortable environment for all our activities – marketing etc. So this event will be the first time that we have the potential to reach an audience of three billion households worldwide – which has never happened in the past. There is no precedent in the history of European basketball for this exposure. So I think that we are building together with the clubs a very first class product.
heinnews: You called it a small jump. Maybe it’s a milestone. How important is the deal with Anschutz for that?
Bertomeu: Definitely, it’s one of the keys of our future development. They have expertise in organizing events. And they have these unbelievable facilities across Europe. And they know very well how to co-ordinate an event and how to organize entertainment for people. So it’s an excellent combination of knowledge.
heinnews: How long will the deal run?
Bertomeu: Well, what we agreed was that the next three years we will cooperate in many aspects. It’s not only about Final Four events. They will work together with us and with the clubs, trying to help the clubs in the building or even the management of their arenas. Because we have approved a rule starting 2011-12 that all clubs will have to have 10,000 seat arenas. In many cities – Siena, Istanbul, Vitoria, Kaunas, Lyon – there are projects starting to build new gyms. So we are also co-operating with Anschutz in that aspect.
heinnews: On the court, especially player-wise, there is often a comparison to the NBA. The connection is there obviously. Do you like the comparison of Euroleague basketball and NBA, or are you a bit scared of it? Is it helpful for the game?
Bertomeu: I think we cannot avoid this comparison. You’re talking about the strongest basketball worldwide. Of course, the NBA has achieved a level of excellence through the years – but with their own particularities that are totally different than the ones we have here in Europe. The concept of the NBA helps the concept of basketball because they made our sport global, which is something that we all have to appreciate. Compared to Europe, they have different concepts. We are more focused on clubs and teams. It comes from the court where our basketball is more of a team game compared to the NBA game, which is more individual. So everything comes from this.
For us, it’s more important the brands of our clubs rather than the personalities of the players. What makes sense in Europe, and not just in basketball but also in football, to be part of a community called Manchester United, called FC Barcelona, called FC Bayern Munich. That is our strength, our power. The American style is more based on the players – no matter where they play. Sometimes it looks like a competition between players. They have great players, but they can build their concept around them. That’s why we have two different approaches. But in the end it’s always basketball with a ball and a ring and players. There is a difference but that difference will always be there.
Since the level of European basketball is growing every year we can see how close we are in international competitions. The final of the Olympic Games in Beijing was a very clear picture. And the fact that the NBA has 80 non-American players talks about how the rest of the world is growing in terms of basketball.
heinnews: What was your reaction to the enormous contract that Olympiacos gave Josh Childress this past off-season? Is that a sign or the beginning of a trend?
Bertomeu: First of all, it’s a unique case, so we cannot say it’s something that is happening in general. We have very few cases like this one. In any case, it’s good to have owners who made this effort to help their teams and of course the league. I don’t think it’s a trend. We need to see at least two or three years for it to be a trend. Let’s see what happens next year. Of course we are happy to have these players and our owners investing – not only in this case. This year we had many teams bringing players back to Europe who left maybe three, four, five years ago. But now they are back in Europe. You have Jasikevicius, Navarro, Delfino. We have many players who are back in Europe, which is also good news.
heinnews: If you look at the financial situation of the four teams in the Final Four – Panathinaikos, CSKA Moscow, Olympiacos and Barcelona – 30 or 40 million euros is something they could spend. We have a very difficult financial situation global-wise and all of these teams need strong ownership but may have trouble making the money on the market. Are you scared at all of that system?
Bertomeu: As a league, we always have to be scared when we talk about an imbalance of budgets. We are working with the clubs very hard in order to help them and convince them about the need to have a budget with a better structure than we have right now. We need to teach them … this is one of the reasons why we want bigger arenas. And I think that the case of Alba Berlin is very interesting. When you have this facility then you can start working with a different approach with the budget. You can work more efficiently with ticket sales. So this part can increase the overall budget, which is also the more stable part of the budget.
Unfortunately because of the situation of Europe with the smaller arenas that has been tough for the clubs to budget according to this principle. That’s why our policy is to convince them and to force the teams to move into the bigger arenas to teach them and help them and advise them how they can improve their revenues and to have a more balanced budget. We also have to understand that professional sport worldwide, in terms of economics, used to be much stronger. Not only in basketball. If you talk about the NBA, two-thirds of the NBA teams are losing money. We have to understand how we can survive. Sports are not a normal business. Sports represent a number of things. When a city has a team, the team has a contribution to the community. There are more things around it than a normal business. That’s the explanation for me.
heinnews: The development of the Euroleague and European basketball has really caught up in the last 10 years. What is your picture, your dream for the next 10 years?
Bertomeu: My dream will be to have a league with 24 clubs, each with 10,000-seat capacity arenas with all of them sold out every game, with even better TV coverage than we have at this moment. I think we have excellent coverage but we want to solve some black holes – like Germany.
heinnews: What can you do there?
Bertomeu: We have tried I don’t know how many different things. But I think this Final Four can help. The agreement we have with sportdigital and eurosport I think can be a good start. Also the league recently signed a TV deal for the Bundesliga. So I think that is a good sign that things are moving forward in the right direction. The point is, we would like to have a very competitive game where the players do not need to go outside of Europe to find the competition they expect, that all their aspirations are covered here in Europe. And for this we need to be competitive. We need to improve our business and improve the quality of our services. And I think this gym (o2 World arena) and this Final Four is exactly the proof of what we are working toward.
heinnews: A lot of people said before this Final Four that it was the best Final Four field of history. There were two unbelievable semi-finals and an unbelievable final. What are you thinking so shortly after the memorable final?
Bertomeu: I totally agree! This was the best ever. We had four great teams and this unbelievable facility. The groups of fans were very supportive to their teams. And everything around the event was excellent. So I just want to thank everyone who helped us achieve this great achievement for us.
heinnews: Fans also saw a tremendous youth final. What does this weekend mean for European basketball?
Bertomeu: We want to show how strong our sport is in Europe, the capacity of our clubs to produce great talents. And this was an opportunity to show to everybody that we have the stars but we also have young people coming so the future is strong.
heinnews: Last question and I will let you celebrate with everybody else. How does it get better than this?
Bertomeu: Well, we have to figure out how it can be better because next year it has to be better. So we will work on that.