The easyCredit BBL Final Tournament 2020 is about to enter its final week with a German champion to be crowned on Sunday June 28. And while the event without spectators has been seen as a major success with loads of telling storylines, there is ever-growing speculation and discussion about what the 2020-21 season might look like – ranging from drastically-cut player salaries to the hope of games with fans. And it is worthwhile to consider at least how much the Covid-19 crises could affect basketball in Germany over the near future.

Reward for staying strong

German basketball leaders have been rewarded for their strong stance since the outbreak of the virus to only postpone the season and not cancel it like ice hockey and handball – two of the sports in Germany which the league is fighting with in terms of ranking on the national sports landscape for an admittedly extremely distant second place behind football. The basketball league and its teams knew finishing the season would be critical in terms of fulfilling sponsorship contracts – and essentially securing at least the temporary survival of many of the clubs.

The easyCredit BBL on March 25 initially postponed a final decision on the season for April 30 and then on April 27 decided after consultation with the teams for a tournament with 10 teams. All 17 of the clubs were asked if they wanted to finish the season and seven decided against it for various reasons, primarily economic ones though. The plan was submitted to the Bavarian interior ministry on May 7 and the big news with the approval from the Bavarian state government approval for the tournament came on May 19.

International boost of attention

While the easyCredit BBL mainly was interested in just getting a chance to finish the season, Germany’s relatively successful handling of the Covid-19 pandemic – the number of deaths in the country never drastically increased and still are under 9,000 as of June 20 – helped the league actually take an exemplary role in the basketball world.

Germany was not the first to propose a re-start of the league though as Spanish ACB teams on April 20 voted unanimously to have a 12-team tournament if the season was to in fact continue. The final announcement that the ACB tournament would take place however came on May 27. The event, which featured the top 12 teams in the standings when the season was postponed, started on June 17 in Valencia and will crown the ACB champion on June 30.

The Israeli league is the only other competition in Europe that will continue on with the Winner League starting back up on June 21 and finishing on July 30. But with NBA still trying to figure out how a Disneyland bubble will work – and who even will be in it – Germany had the world of starved basketball fans from around the globe for themselves when the tournament tipped off in Munich on June 6.

International media – including the New York Times and NBATV – have reported about the league and interest on social media has come truly from throughout the globe with Indian fans even getting to play fantasy basketball with the best of the BBL.

And the storylines coming from Munich have really captured the hearts and minds of fans not only in Germany.

A number young German talents have really shined throughout the tournament, starting with the first game of the event and 21-year-old Bennet Hundt who poured in a career-high 30 points for BG Göttingen in a win over HAKRO Merlins Crailsheim. The 17-year-old Len Schoormann got a lot of minutes to showcase his skills for FRAPORT SKYLINERS and Jacob Patrick of MHP RIESEN Ludwigsburg became the youngest player to score in the easyCredit BBL since 1998 at just 16 years, 6 months and 19 days. There has also been Patrick’s teammates Ariel Hukporti (2002-born), Radii Caisin (2001), Lukas Herzog (2001) and his brother Johannes Patrick (2001), ALBA BERLIN’s Jonas Mattisseck (2000-born), Aleksa Kovacevic (2002) of HAKRO Merlins Crailsheim, the RASTA Vechta duo of Philipp Herkenhoff (1999) and Luc van Slooten (2002), and the ratiopharm ulm group of Christoph Philipps (1998), Moritz Krimmer (2000) and Nicolas Bretzel (1999).

Speaking of Ulm, basketball fans have been able to watch Jaka Lakovic’s surprise team roll through every opponent to reach the Semi-Finals. Ulm lost the league’s top scorer Zoran Dragic in January to the EuroLeague and then the team leader Killian Hayes decided against returning to Germany because he was preparing for the NBA Draft. Ulm brought in Thomas Klepeisz from Basketball Löwen Braunschweig and Dylan Osetkowski from Göttingen and the additions gelled immediately and mixed with Tyler Harvey, Archie Goodwin and Andi Obst they have been playing great basketball – to the surprise of many.

The tournament also has seen Ludwigsburg play some exciting basketball with the likes of Thomas Wimbush, who has drastically increased his market value with his showing in Munich, Nick Weiler-Babb and Marcos Knight, the latter who really wanted to step up his game after the team’s main man Khadeen Carrington did not return from the United States.

There was also the great passion and determination from Crailsheim, who were playing without a single import player as three of their main guys did not come back and three more were injured during preparations or the tournament. The Chilean-German Sebastian Herrera may actually have been the biggest winner from the tournament for what he did for Crailsheim. All of this positive resonance came despite Crailsheim not winning a single game.

Major questions for the future

All of that sounds so positive, which makes it all that much more of a downer when you consider the possible future for the sport in Germany.
The German economy, like every other one around the world, has been hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis. And German clubs have already felt the impact of that – a number of them sending their employees into short-time work. Some also asked their fans if they could refrain from requesting a refund for the game tickets that were unused because of cancelled games. The players, coaches and staffs of a number of teams also showed their commitment to their clubs by saying they would accept not being paid their salaries during the crisis. And many of the clubs were forced to go through difficult talks with sponsors about possibly having to repay monies because of unplayed games.

A major issue is the lack of ticket sales income. FC Bayern Munich for example had eight home games remaining in the easyCredit BBL and EuroLeague for the rest of the Regular Season. There are reports that Bayern lost 150,000 euros for each of those games – meaning at least 1.2 million euros is not there, not to mention the home games during the playoffs.

There is also uncertainly with Bayern if will their main and jersey sponsor BayWa will be there next season as the sponsorship deal expires at the end of this season. Still, Bayern club president Herbert Hainer said the basketball team doesn’t need to worry about things financially.

“We continue to invest in infrastructure and will have in 2022 with the SAP Garden, probably the most modern arena in Europe. And we are also continuing to invest in the team. So we really don’t need to worry at all,” he told the Abendzeitung.

But Bayern might be one of the few clubs who don’t have major worries. Unlike German football, German basketball clubs can’t rely on big television money to carry the teams. Most rely very heavily on ticket sales – most estimated at about at least 20-25 percent and up to 30 percent. The question right now is if there will be fans for next season and add to that concerns about sponsors coming back at the same levels. That leaves it no surprise that Covid-19 will make itself felt from a financial standpoint in German hoops.

RASTA Vechta GM Stefan Niemeyer believes player salaries in the league will take a huge hit.

“They will drastically sink – by up to 50 percent,” he told the German Press Agency dpa.

Lower sponsor and spectator income will make it so that many sports “will never be like they were before,” Neimeyer added.

“Player contracts could soon be interlinked with attendance figures,” he said – with the hope that fans might be allowed to return to arenas.

Back on March 21, Niemeyer was quoted as saying: “The situation is really very serious … If left on our own, then we have practically no chance of keeping RASTA Vechta alive.”

Brose Bamberg CEO Arne Dirks wasn’t quite as grim as Niemeyer, but he did tell the MagentaSport podcast Abteilung Basketball that he expects his budget to go down.

“Naturally, we assume that the budget again will clearly decrease. I would simply say between 35 and 40 percent.” Dirks said on May 27.

He added that nationally there will certainly be “a clearly different level of player salaries.”

Some clubs struggled to even survive the first couple of months of the crisis.

SYNTAINICS MBC, for example, even started a crowd-funding action to help secure the club’s existence in light of the crisis, asking for 85,000 euros between March 23 and April 20 and getting commitments totaling nearly 97,000 euros.

And it doesn’t take an economic guru, according to EWE Baskets Oldenburg’s Philipp Schwethelm, to figure out that money will be tight.

“Anyone who can count to three knows what an economic crisis means especially for us athletes. Salaries will certainly go down,” Schwethelm told dpa on April 6. “If companies have to save money, then one of the first things cut will be costs for sports.”

Will fans be allowed back

Society in Germany is opening up, though the entertainment sector has been one of the last ones allowed to re-open. Still, it remains impossible to imagine that tens of thousands of fans will stuff themselves into an arena for a concert or sports event in the near future. That leaves the question: when will fans be allowed back into games, even if at a lowered capacity?

Bayern’s honorary president Uli Hoeness said it would be great if maybe a “couple hundred” fans could be allowed into the Audi Dome for the easyCredit BBL Final Tournament 2020 as a “test”, especially since the pandemic has been handled quite well in the state of Bavaria, according to Hoeness.

EWE Baskets Oldenburg CEO Hermann Schüller spoke out against an entire 2020-21 season without fans.

“Nobody wants a complete 2020-21 season of games without fans and there will not be that. We need home games with spectators to present a season economically,” he told the Nordwest Zeitung. “A possible scenario would be that we start later than usual, maybe in October/November, and every team will have two or three home games without fans. Then after that, ideally still in this year, spectators can come back.”

FRAPORT SKYLINERS CEO Gunnar Wöbke said games without fans are not an option.

“We are financed up to 98 percent from sponsors and tickets. Empty stands would be a disaster. Our sport could not survive that in the long haul,” he said in an interview with Sky Sport.

It would make more sense “to completely stop league operations for a while.”

Wöbke continued: “In addition, we have to ask ourselves why and for whom we even play basketball. We are doing it for the fans. Games without fans would be completely pointless.”

And medi bayreuth’s GM Björn Albrecht was also against games without fans.

“We are working with our sponsors on an estimation of the economical situation and want to get closer to a plan on what our budget will look like. But no matter how we crunch the numbers, games without fans for a major part of the season is not imaginable,” he told the Kurier on May 20.

“We live from the event in the gym. Therefore, our position is clear that we want a latest possible start – towards December – and not a number of months with games with no fans.”

Schüller said it really comes down to waiting to see how the pandemic develops and if a second nation-wide wave of infections can be avoided.

“We need to wait and see what the framework conditions from the political and health officials look like,” he said.

One thing that Albrecht, Schüller and co know is that easyCredit BBL CEO Stefan Holz will do all he can to have fans in the stands as soon as possible.

“What’s clear is that games without fans is only something for emergency situations and definitely not a permanent condition. We also would like to not have to start the new season with games without fans. We must play with at least a certain portion of spectators in principle already from the beginning of the season. We are working on that, but it’s not in our hands and in the end it’s not our decision,” Holz told the Abendzeitung.

Waiting on answers

That waiting will also keep clubs from being able to truly determine their budges and rosters for next season. Clubs cannot negotiate with sponsors about monies in earnest until they know if fans will be allowed to attend games. Therefore they also cannot know what money will be available for players.

Another factor still unresolved is the licensing and what will happen with the minimum budget, which was agreed upon in April 2018 and increased from 2 million euros to 3 million euros starting for the 2019-20 season.

“We have not decided yet,” Holz told dpa on June 3. “The clubs were asked to calculate out by May 31 a few scenarios for next season. The BBL rating committee along with independent auditors will then look it over and give us a recommendation in the coming weeks.”

Holz said the league might have to cut back on the 3 million euro number.

“Then we might have to suspend the minimum budget of 3 million,” he said.

Holz was also asked about a possible nation-wide emergency fond for sports in Germany, including professional clubs, requested by the head of the German Olympic Sports Confederation Alfons Hörmann.

“We have been reserved with demands over the last weeks and months because we know that other branches are system relevant and are ahead of us in line. But now we have come to a point in time that we are saying: ‘We are also here.’ Professional sports has an important function as economic factor, purpose in life and emotional component for millions of people,” he said.

“If it will be necessary to play a longer time without spectators then we will not survive. Therefore, we would need financial help, if there were this arrangement.”

And when asked how much would be needed, Holz said: “If the BBL GmbH and the league together have a revenue of between 140 and 145 million euros, then you can figure out what kind of numbers we are talking about.”

One possible solution was discussed by medi bayreuth’s veteran leader Bastian Doreth.

“Maybe there will be clauses in contracts that say they will remain at a lower level while games are played without fans. And then when spectators are allowed to return, the level will be adjusted. I think different scenarios are possible,” he told on May 26.

“It’s very clear that everyone must take a step back because at the end of the day there is just less money available. Sports is only a mirror of society. I think this situation could last two or three years before we are back at today’s level.”

What does the future look like

As Doreth concludes, the effects of this crisis will be felt for some time. And even 100 percent fan capacity will not necessarily solve the problem as the clubs will likely have to deal with less sponsoring euros coming into their coffers. And ticket sales make up only between 20 and 30 percent of budgets while about 100,000 euros come from TV rights according to BIG – Basketball in Deutschland magazine from February 2019.

Certain is there will be less money in the game next season – and most likely the following two if not more years as well. Players must be aware of that and that will make clubs that can pay more that much more attractive.

Less money could mean the level of players coming into Germany dips. But that too is not necessarily true. That depends also on the stability of the German economy – and society – and how it deals with the pandemic, also in relationship with the rest of Europe.

If the German economy can rebound and more companies can survive and actually have money to spend sponsoring sports, then Germany could actually come out of this pandemic even stronger in terms of their financial standing in Europe – if say Spain, Turkey, Italy, Russia and Greece are all still reeling economically.

Is that a silver lining in an otherwise dark and dreary near future? Maybe. But we are still at the very, very early stages of knowing exactly what all this will mean and how it will impact the game down the road.

In the mean time, let’s just be happy we have basketball and enjoy so many of the fun storylines we see coming out of Munich.


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