Jordi Bertomeu, the Euroleague Basketball President and CEO, met with Lithuanian media on Thursday alongside Zalgiris Kaunas president Paulius Motiejunas before his team's Round 26 showdown against visiting FC Bayern Munich.
Jordi Bertomeu, President and CEO, Euroleague Basketball
"Thank you for joining us. It's always a pleasure to be here, enjoying the exceptional hospitality of our club. We have very few occasions to have a conversation, so the main purpose is to take advantage of being here to share with you everything you want to know about the league. I have to say that we are living a very exciting moment, we as the Euroleague, because I think that the competition level and all the ways in which we can measure the success and the growth of the league are positive. But also in terms of the sports industry, because we are living in a very interesting moment. We have in front of us many challenges that we have to face, and we thinking and working about this. Our conversations in these moments are about these challenges. The challenges are more about understanding how the new generations and millennials are consuming sports in general, and of course we care about basketball; how technology is creating new platforms, new disruptive ways in which we consume sport. We are living in a moment when brands are willing to have more access to our customers, to our clients, to our fans, and where the media landscape has been fragmented. When all this happens, it's very challenging, but it's also an opportunity because we can reach more people, and we have to understand how to do it. And this is exactly the topic of our conversations in the last year and will be the topic in the next months and years, because this is crucial. In a world that is changing and an industry that is changing, we have to understand those changes and we have to be innovative and disruptive if we want to keep being relevant.
"Talking about this, we launched a couple of years ago the concept of our Business Operations Club Services, an in-house service with the aim to help the clubs develop the business and to work together aligning the strategies of the clubs and the league.
"We just started this January with a very important new governing body in the Euroleague, which is our chief business operations board meeting. It's a very small group of chiefs of business operations from our clubs, who together with us try to align the strategies of the clubs with the league and try to see how we can change our strategies to make our business more productive and to make our business bigger. And I am glad to have Zalgiris in this small group because that reflects how important the club is becoming in our organization. It's obvious that we really share the same philosophy with the club in almost all aspects of the business, on the sports side and the business side. But it's also important that having Zalgiris being proactive in the definition of these strategies is exactly what we are doing by Zalgiris in this small group of five clubs that defines the commercial strategy of the Euroleague for the next years. It's not about just having a good strategy but it's also about good execution and performing well on the commercial side.
"Everybody was talking about how good Zalgiris did last year, how nice Zalgiris played basketball -- which, of course, is very important and we like this very much -- but it's also very relevant to have Zalgiris at the top of the clubs on the commercial and business side because sustainability is the main objective of the EuroLeague in these next four or five years. That will be our main objective. So I understand that you will probably love to talk about these traditional topics, FIBA calendars and all these things, but we believe that all this is done. We already have the competition - of course we have two more teams next year, which will be nothing significant in terms of change -- but what is relevant for us, which is an important fundamental, is to have sustainable clubs and in this regard Zalgiris, in terms of best practices, is one of the best in the league, also cooperating with us in each and every one of our activities.
"And because I am in Kaunas, I just want to point out the cooperation that we had a few weeks ago with Zalgiris when we hosted here -- as you know, at Vytautas Magnus University we are conducting our MBA -- and once again Zalgiris has been very helpful in all these activities. So in fact, this is a club that is a very essential part of the league."
QUESTION 1: Can you imagine a EuroLeague in the future without its clubs competing in the domestic leagues?
"I think we have to make a distinction about the fact that in some countries our clubs have difficulty to adjust and accommodate the needs of being part of a very demanding league, as the EuroLeague is, with the needs of the domestic league. Basically, we had some issues in Spain, in Israel, in a few countries. This is something that we have to discuss, and we'll have a conversation with the leagues, because sometimes it seems there is a competition between the domestic league and the EuroLeague, and this is absurd, because each one has their own space. Yesterday, we had a conversation with the leagues in Barcelona, we had a meeting with all the leagues, including the Lithuanian League, and that was the conversation, about the number of games. And we said, 'OK, we have more games, but we have more games with an average of 10,000 spectators.' If we don't have these games, who will organize games with 10,000 spectators in Europe? No league is doing that. So, if we reduce the number of games, then the only thing we are doing is to reduce the number of fans at games, and I don't see what is the advantage of that for anyone. So this is a very deep conversations. Different is the speculation -- because in Spain, when you mentioned Real Madrid, it's just speculation -- and if we talk about what happened in Greece, I will put this in the framework of the traditional Greek situations. I don't know how to qualify it better; I think you all understand me. So it's part of the game that never has been easy in Greece, especially if you try to analyze from outside, which is our case. So, I think that from one side there is a deep concern of how about handle in the right way these needs from both sides, from the EuroLeague side and the national league side, how to make our clubs comfortable in both sides. And this is one interesting discussion, but I don't think it's interesting these rumors that we have seen in the last weeks. That's a different thing."
QUESTION 2: With three teams playing in the last few Final Fours, any plans to make the competition more even, with a salary cap or similar?
"First of all, we have to see the big picture. Now we have, as you say, three clubs that made the Final Four in the last years. But probably we need to remember that for years we had teams like Maccabi and Panathinaikos that were dominant in the EuroLeague, and then we had Barcelona in many, many Final Fours. So, those are cycles and we have to see this as a natural evolution of all the sports, and we see the same in many sports. If you look at the NBA, you'll probably say that Golden State is always in the finals. Those are cycles. Probably in the next five years, they will not be in the Final Four, those three teams. You never know, but we had the time when Panathinaikos or Maccabi were more dominant, then Olympiacos, and Barcelona, I don't know how many Final Fours they made, I don't remember. But I don't think we have to take this too seriously because it's cyclical. What's not cyclical is to see how we make the league more balanced. You mention salary cap as a tool that has been useful in countries where the league is running and operating in only one country with only one law, so it's easy to implement these kinds of tools. That's not our case, obviously. We have a fragmented taxation system in Europe if you compare the 11 countries that are part of the EuroLeague, so you cannot have any common point. So it's very difficult to implement policies that can help us to have a more balanced competition from this point of view, because taxation is always the main issue when we talk about salary caps, because the price of the players cannot be different under the salary cap concept from one country and from one team to another. In Europe, it's impossible because we have 11 countries with 11 laws that have never have been able to harmonize or homogenize the taxation system from this point of view. But we believe that there are other tools that can help, and I think that the financial fair play regulations that are progressively being implemented in the league will help in order to adjust the financial mechanisms of the clubs. We believe that in the next years, it will be much more strict in terms of the control of the losses of the clubs in order to avoid having more contributions from the owners than the one that's allowed at this moment. So there are other mechanisms that we can use to reduce the gap of between budgets. At the end of the day, we can't change the market conditions."
QUESTION 3: If Zalgiris asks your advice to play in only EuroLeague or also the Lithuanian League what will be your answer?
"I think that Zalgiris doesn't need my advice for anything. They know the situation better than me. I cannot make any kind of assessment of the Lithuanian League because I honestly it would be unfair because I have no idea. We have a structure where domestic leagues are part of the structure. And we have at the bottom the domestic leagues and at the top the EuroLeague. And this is the system. In the States, they have the professional leagues at the top, and the colleges competitions at the bottom. It's a different system. So I think both systems need each other, so I cannot see only one system. So the fact that we want to make the compatibility for both competitions is clear when we said we will be 18 clubs in the EuroLeague in the future. Because if at a certain point we go further than 18 clubs, then the compatibility is over. The clubs sent a very, very clear sign. When saying that we will not go over 18, the clubs decide that the compatibility is good for global basketball, that we keep both levels and both competitions at a good level. Again, it's important to accommodate the needs, because Euroleague is not competing against the domestic leagues. What's important is that the domestic leagues understand that the good impact of the EuroLeague in the country helps the domestic leagues as well, because I believe that everything that happens that is good news for basketball is good for all of us. We all take advantage of those good news. If at the national team level, we have good competitions or good performances, it's good for us, it's good for everybody. If the NBA is doing well, it's good for everybody. If we do well, it's good for everybody. I think that we have to make this assumption very clear, and then we have to help each other to perform well. So the domestic league have been – I don't want to say suffering – but the fact is that in the last years, the growth of EuroLeague in terms of games make the domestic leagues a little more uncomfortable and they need to accommodate their calendars. When doing this, they have to understand how important it is for them to have top basketball in the country, because that helps all the clubs. So I think that all of Lithuanian clubs cannot ignore how good it was for all the impact last year of having Zalgiris Kaunas in the Final Four and performing well and so on. It speaks about how important it is to have synergies in this moment instead of competition."
QUESTION 4: Any chance for a Final Four in Kaunas?
"We will consider Kaunas seriously. It's clear our position. We have everything here except some infrastructure. I have this conversation with the authorities and of course with the club. Basically, it's about this, because you have the best fan base in Europe, the best arena in Europe. It's almost compulsory to have a Final Four in Kaunas. Now we have to solve these logistic problems, which are important since the Final Four started becoming bigger and bigger and bigger. This year we will have a Final Four in Vitoria, and you will say that it's more or less the same. But it's not just Vitoria; we have three cities involved, with San Sebastian, Bilbao and Vitoria. We will have activities everywhere, so it's a different thing. So we have to be creative also here in Kaunas, because we have been creative in Vitoria. Especially accommodation is an issue, probably the biggest one. I am sure that in time it will be solved, and as soon as it's solved, we will land here for sure."
QUESTION 5: Next year, when 10 teams will miss the playoffs, are you worried about them playing games for nothing? Will you change the playoff system?
"I don't know any competition in the world, including other sports, that at a certain point in the season, there are not clubs that are playing for nothing. It happens many times. It happens also in the Champions League sometimes. It happens in all the domestic leagues in football. It happens with the most-recognized competition, which is the NBA. And people don't see an issue with this. So the question is, why do we have an issue with this? Because teams have been playing in the EuroLeague with no hope to make the playoffs, but they are still competing, still winning games, still impacting on the ranking, still impacting on the playoffs, indirectly. Because our teams are very professional. They know that when they go to the court, they have to perform, they have to win, because this is about building the product. If you go back through the 18 EuroLeague seasons, you will have many examples of games where one team had nothing to do with the result, it was not interesting for them, and they won. And the other team probably was trying to qualify for the next phase, or for the playoffs, and they lost. And we have plenty of cases in 18 EuroLeague seasons. It's natural in all sports that at a certain point in the season that there are a few teams that have no chance to qualify. A different aspect is to introduce some relegation system, but under the current model that makes no sense. So I think the most important thing is that the clubs are competing, the clubs understand how important it is, and we can see our teams are doing very well. I have no complaint in terms of how our teams are performing this year, as was the case last year and in previous ones. But it's natural in structure of the competition; it happens everywhere."
QUESTION 6: What will be in the EuroLeague's future in two, four or 10 years?
"In 10 years, who knows? Probably you will have another guy at this press conference, so ask him when that happens. But in two years, I hope I will still be here with you. I think that we are now in the process of consolidating the model. I personally don't see an expansion of the number teams in next four or five years, because we have to consolidate what we have. We always rush to make change in basketball, sometimes too much. So we have this system, and I believe the system is being consolidated. We will add two more teams next year, because it's very important to add important markets like Germany and France, good brands like Bayern Munich that will definitely help the growth of the league. But the future, I believe that we have to think more, when we talk about expansion of the league, that we want to have a team in London, when we are saying these things -- because actually, it's true, we are looking in this direction when talking about the future -- our view is that this expansion will not imply an enlargement of the number of the teams, but will make a substitution some of the current domestic leagues (while enlarging access through the EuroCup), something like this, but not the number. My belief is that 18 will be the number. First, because the calendar, getting back to the point compatibility with the domestic leagues, does not allow us to go any further than 18 teams without the risk to damage the leagues. From other side, it's because the key of the success of the EuroLeague is the quality. And quality and quantity don't always go hand in hand. So 18 is the right number we believe in terms of balance, the quality of the teams, the distribution of European territory, and to be compatible in the calendars. That is our view now. I believe that we will stay at 18 teams for some time in the future. For 10 years, I cannot not answer."
QUESTION 7: What did the EuroLeague do after last season's shot-clock issue in Moscow?
"We gave an opinion, and the EuroLeague's opinion was clear. We cannot be happy when we have this kind of mistake. I think that we explained what happened, and we apologized for what happened, as has been the case later on with another game Zalgiris was involved in. So, we made mistakes. That's sure. Probably this mistake was something unusual over many years, which gives us the idea that even the things that we believe are working properly, we have to keep paying more attention to them. We trust the table officials of each one or our teams, including Moscow. Unfortunately, in this particular case, the table officials in Moscow were not performing at the level that the competition deserves. There was a substitution of all these members. We reacted, but as these are mistakes, we regret that we cannot do anything else."
QUESTION 8: In the EuroCup, it's one spot for Lithuanian League?
"Yes, it's one team for the league, according to the ranking. As an exception one year we had five Spanish teams in the league. The exception was a consequence of the previous year, when we reduced from 24 to 16 teams, and the Spanish team had no right to qualify for the EuroLeague. So we compensated them the following year, but that was an exception. According to the rules, the maximum number of teams from the same country is four. And if one Spanish team is the EuroCup champion, this means that the Spanish League will not qualify any team to the EuroLeague. The Spanish representative will be the EuroCup champion, who has priority over the team coming from the domestic league. So there is no option for Spain to have five Spanish teams, or all five teams from the same country in the competition."
QUESTION 9: How many teams will play in the EuroCup in the future?
"The EuroCup also needs time for consolidation. In the last years, we have this structure of 24 clubs, which we believe is the real dimension for the second level of European competition. Three years ago, we had some issues from the clubs because they were under very huge pressure from their federations to go to the FIBA competitions, but fortunately we are now more or less in the normal environment, so today we have all the clubs we want, all the clubs we need. The clubs understand that the EuroCup is the second competition in Europe. They understand that if their ambition and vision is to go to the EuroLeague, the EuroCup is a must. They understand that it is important to be part of this. And our idea is to increase the number of teams that will go from the EuroCup to the EuroLeague. So we will start talking with our clubs about this in the next meeting, because the level of the EuroCup clubs deserve to have more teams awarded with a spot in the EuroLeague. That will be an extra motivation also for the clubs in the EuroCup. So we are working on that. We will start talking with our clubs about this in the next board meeting, not for next year, but we will try to implement this idea, the sooner the better. It basically consists of, instead of having one team from the EuroCup go to the EuroLeague, probably having the champions and the runner-up. This is the idea, basically."