On the occasion of the first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague game held in St Petersburg this century, a press conference was held on Friday prior to the matchup between Zenit St Petersburg and FC Barcelona pertaining to Round 2 of the regular season. The press conference featured Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO, alongside Alexander Tserkovny, CEO of Zenit.
Founded in 2014, Zenit played the previous four seasons in the 7DAYS EuroCup before stepping up to the EuroLeague this season thanks to a wild card. The fans of St Petersburg have a lot of basketball tradition stretching back to the 1970s, when local club Spartak won the Saporta Cup twice and later helped launch the career of one of Russia's greatest stars ever, Andrei Kirilenko.
Read below the statements from the press conference guests.
Jordi Bertomeu, President and CEO, Euroleague Basketball
"In 20 years, Euroleague Basketball has changed a lot. To make it short, I would say that in 20 years we created an organization owned by the participating clubs. All clubs can play against the other clubs, something very innovative that is not happening in any other sport in Europe at a continental level. And we have created a business-oriented league, where our clubs have the opportunity to generate resources. And we have built very strong financial fair play regulations with the purpose of building a sustainable league and sustainable clubs.
So definitely, the EuroLeague has changed the map of European basketball thanks to the determination of our clubs. And now we are here in St. Petersburg, again.
"We had an opportunity last season to invite Zenit to join the Euroleague. We had an opportunity and we chose St. Petersburg because of the tradition of ball in this city, because of the ambitious project of this club, and because of the strong commitment of club management. It's a club that we knew because we have been working together these last years when the club has been participating in the EuroCup. So, together with the president of the VTB League, we agreed that this is a good destination for our league.
"We are convinced that it was the right decision when we chose Zenit St Petersburg. I know that it will be a difficult season because the EuroLeague is very competitive, is very demanding. But I am convinced that this will help the club to grow, this will help us to grow the popularity of basketball in the city, in the region, and in Russia. So, our hope is we will enjoy this season."
Alexander Tserkovny, Zenit St. Petersburg CEO:
"First of all, I wanted to say, that we, no doubt, are also very happy to see Jordi and the EuroLeague here visiting us. I want to say thank you one more time for the trust they have in us, for the chance to play this season, which the EuroLeague gave us. Without a doubt, we will do everything in our power to justify that trust and use our chance. Of course, we want to have a long history in the EuroLeague. I think this is most important for the city and the club. I want to congratulate you all at the beginning of the new season, and I am sure that it will be incredible."
About the fairness of allocating licenses
"I believe it is fair. Because it is not only about winning. It is about having clubs with good structure, with good arenas, capable of generating economic resources, and with the ability to have 10,000 or 12,000 spectators in arena. What we missed in Russia in the last years -- and I have to say that in the last three or four years situation is improving -- but for many years we did not see in Russia this level of development. These are the homeworks, if I can say it this way, that the Russian clubs have to do. We have been working very close with the VTB League, to help each other, to cooperate, to help the clubs to grow their structure, their business. But still there is a long way to go. One of the reasons we have chosen St. Petersburg, among others, is because we knew that one of the strongest teams in terms of attendance, of fan attraction, is Zenit. For us this is fundamental. Probably much more than if CSKA wins, or Fenerbahce loses, or Real wins, or Panathinaikos loses. This is not as important as to have professional teams.
"Alexander can confirm that from July until today we have had several meetings with St Petersburg, our staff with Zenit staff, and we never talk about sports. We always talk about how we can help the club have a better structure, because that is our main concern."
About another Russian team obtaining a license
"We do not have plans to deliver more licenses in the coming years. We don't have this plan. We have a transition situation with ASVEL and Bayern. And at the end of these two years that we gave them wild cards, we will see if they will get one license. We have to wait a couple of years. But clearly Zenit has an open door to the EuroLeague through the VTB League, because being the champion or the runner-up of the VTB League, of course there is a spot guaranteed for that Russian team in the EuroLeague, as has always been the case."
About Zenit St. Petersburg's main goals
"We want Zenit to meet EuroLeague standards. It is not only about the sports aspect but everything connected to the club. It is office standards, standards of our youth project, on which we are actively working. We want to show that Zenit is not only the first team full of professionals competing on the highest level, but also a big project, where are young players are growing, scouts are finding new young talents, where we make the conditions for them to work on their skills. Only with these things can you talk about a serious future for the team, if you are purposefully working on your youth. We changed the way our office is working; we changed the conditions for our first team; prepared our facility; and we will try to make it the same as the top clubs in EuroLeague have. We gave all our efforts to make as good a team as possible, which can compete on the highest level. But talking about results, when we have no experience competing on such a level, is too early. Starting from the players and coaches and ending with the people in the office. We will give all our efforts and energy to show the maximum result. And we will see it closer to the end of the season. Hopefully, we will see a good game tonight by Zenit.
"Every game for us is a hard challenge. And it is mostly not about the opponent we are facing, but the intensity of the calendar we have. It is very important to keep the motivation level high for all competitions. It is not uncommon that a rookie team in the EuroLeague, trying to get the best result, completely failed in the national league. It's not only about sports aspect. We had the second-highest attendance in the VTB League last season. Tonight we are sold out, but the day after tomorrow we have a game against Nizhny Novgorod. How many people will come? That's why we are depending on the media's support this season. We are completely open for you. We are saying that first of all St Petersburg, not Zenit, needs EuroLeague."
About the coincidence between his visit and the away team being FC Barcelona
"The reason why I am here is very simple. I was invited from the club to come to the first game. And this is the first game. And when I was invited, the calendar was not made. So, I just fulfilled my word. It is a coincidence. For your information, in the last 10 years I have only seen one FC Barcelona game, in Barcelona. Many times around, but only one in Barcelona."
About what experience, what information will Zenit get from this EuroLeague season
Jordi Bertomeu: "It is a change in the culture way to run teams. It is a change because when you are playing in the EuroLeague, our clubs get average five, eight phone calls every day from Barcelona, to St. Petersburg, Milan, Moscow, to Istanbul. Because we are talking about so many things, and very few have to do with the game itself. We talk about how to help the club to increase business, how we can help the club to sell more tickets, how to help the clubs to improve their marketing strategies. Many many topics. Because the concept is that we work for the clubs, we are at clubs' disposal. It is our responsibility not only to run the league, but to help the clubs. This is an organization where the owners are the clubs, so we have to work for them. It is the main change."
About having conversations with Gazprom
Jordi Bertomeu: "We never had any conversation with Gazprom, never. In terms of cooperation, commercial cooperation, collaboration, we never had a conversation. I don't know in the future, but so far we never had this conversation. As a consequence of this, the fact that Zenit St Petersburg was invited to join the EuroLeague is just because we believed it was a right club for us and was a club we can help to grow. That's all."
About having a Final Four in football stadiums
Jordi Bertomeu: "This is very difficult. We had in the past a similarly crazy idea, but we don't want to lose the experience of our fans when they come to our Final Four. We are afraid that going to these big buildings will be spectacular, of course, but probably we would lose this atmosphere, this feeling, and believe this is very important part of basketball in Europe, to enjoy this atmosphere in crowded arenas with passion. And in big facilities it is a little bit risky to lose this environment."
About changing the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague format three years ago:
Jordi Bertomeu: "Clearly, the new format is a new product. Our offer to our partners, to our TV partners, to our commercial partners, to our sponsors, is a different one. Because what we offer to our partner is St Petersburg playing against other 17 teams in 34 weeks without interruptions. And this is a different product, with a much higher value, because of the quality. In the old system, we could have situations, where as an example, Barcelona never played against CSKA for four or five years, or Maccabi never played Real Madrid for three or four years. Because it was depending on the draw. Then the value of that product is a different one, and smaller. So the main thing when we changed the format is to present a different product to our partners. As a consequence of this, our incomes were increased by 150 percent. So, I think it is a clear explanation that the decision made sense from a commercial point of view."