On the occasion of AX Armani Exchange Milan's game on Tuesday with Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, corresponding with Round 9 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season and coinciding with the home team's homage to the great Dino Meneghin, a press conference with local media was held by Jordi Bertomeu, the President and CEO of Euroleague Basketball.
Mr. Christos Stavropoulos, General Manager, AX Armani Exchange Milan
"Good evening to everybody, I welcome Jordi Bertomeu. We are very happy to have Jordi with us such an important night not only for Olimpia but for all Italian and European basketball"
Jordi Bertomeu: President and CEO, Euroleague Basketball
"Good evening to all. I'm very happy to be here with my colleague Roser Queraltó, on a special day, celebrating an extraordinary player, Dino Meneghin, a huge personality who wrote the history of European and world basketball, whom I had the luck to know personally when I was 12, and I'm happier for this reason.
"We're happy because the EuroLeague and the EuroCup both started the season very well, for the quality of the games, audiences and attendance. We are always cautious as we are just in Round 9 and it's early to make a clear analysis, but we are happy so far. I think we're doing well, and also the Italian teams are working well, with Milan atop the EuroLeague table, Virtus Bologna qualified in the EuroCup, Umana Reyer Venice leading its group, and Trento and Brescia still in the running for the Top 16. We're also happy because other Italian teams that represented the top level in the recent past, like Fortitudo Bologna, Treviso, and Virtus Rome, are back, which is great news not only for Italian basketball but also for European basketball in general.
"We always look to the future, and we'll take an important decision in the next two weeks, at the next Euroleague Board. It's a future with concepts to elevate the standards for clubs, to elevate the quality of our product to give our fans a better experience. We also want to elevate the level of our management to make the league compatible on the economic side. These will be the fundamental points we will developing during the next months because we have the vision to become, in a short time, a league with 16 long-term licenses, a steady league. It will remain open, however, with the EuroCup granting access to the EuroLeague. This is the goal for the next two or three years, and we'll start working with the clubs from the next board meeting that will be held on December 3 in Athens."
About the coming changes allowing for evaluations of new national leagues or clubs that interest the league
"It's a first step on the way to having the 16 long-term licenses, as it allows us to evaluate different realities. We're not looking for a particular national league, but rather for clubs, as the EuroLeague is a league of clubs and the owners of the EuroLeague are the clubs. There are realities like the ABA League, where a team must represent that reality, and we have other realities like Germany, or we have a very specific project to have a team in the United Kingdom, and there are interesting projects like Valencia or Virtus Bologna or in Russia, for example. Those rules approved last summer will permit us to test which teams are ready to obtain a long-term license. It's the road used for Olimpia Milan; we tested them for two seasons, we considered it was a correct decision and they have earned a long-term license."
About financial fair play
"We've been working on financial fair play for many years. These kinds of rules need to be progressively implemented and we are working for their full implementation. There are two fundamental parts. The first is to have the safety that our clubs' commitments are fulfilled, that our players and coaches get their salaries, and – when we have faced problems, because we have faced them – to manage them by finding, in my opinion, a quick solution. The second part is also fundamental because having an owner spend his money in the club is not something bad, but it's bad if the club trusts only in the owner's money. Such a system is not sustainable in the long term. What we are doing is, on one side, the part of the money that the owner can put in the club will be reduced, and at the same time we're working with the club to improve its management on the commercial side. We're working on a club-by-club basis because we understand that each reality is different. For example, Milan and Moscow are in different situations. So we are working on two different directions; on one hand, we are reducing the contribution of the total budget that the owner can invest to make it more sustainable, and at the same time we are helping and supporting our clubs. For example we have a group of four people permanently traveling to help the clubs improve their performance, a program not just based on us acting as policemen, but also on giving help to our clubs."
About the possibility of Virtus Bologna coming to the EuroLeague
"There is a very clear possibility; by winning the EuroCup and then having a good performance in the EuroLeague to stay, a new rule approved last summer. A different thing is the chance to get a long-term license. This will be linked to an improvement of the club infrastructure; I think they have already announced a project in this sense. When I talked before about Russia, or Virtus and Valencia, it is because they are two clubs with tradition, a project for the future, they are stable, they have the ambition to play at the top level and it is absolutely necessary to have an infrastructure that will help them to improve their business and make it sustainable. To be clear, we need to differentiate between the two possibilities, one clear and depending on them, and the other one – to obtain a long-term license – I don't think Virtus has the possibility to have this in the next two or three years because they don't have the arena. But once they have it they will certainly be candidate."
About the round-robin system
"The evaluation is positive. We already stated it after the second season, as after the first one it was too early and we needed some time before making an evaluation. I have to say that all we have seen in the first season has been confirmed and improved in this fourth season. I have already stated that this system arrived and will stay, the league concept of having all teams playing a round-robin format will not change. If in the future we have the possibility to add more teams then the system will need some modifications. The concept that all the teams will play each other will stay. It's the key to our success and responds to the concept of a European league that we envisioned many years ago."
About the current relationship with FIBA
"There is no news at the moment. I met FIBA secretary general Andreas Zagklis in Athens during the tournament in the memory of Mr. Pavlos Giannakopoulos, and we talked about a possible meeting during the season, but he was just coming back from a World Cup that had been very demanding for him. We are available whenever Andrea considers it to be the right moment. We are, as always, available to talk about anything, and I personally think that there are so many things we can talk about and we can do together. Each one has its model: FIBA has its model and they have stated that their calendar concept has worked well; and we have our model, which we have already said has also worked well. So these are good news for basketball and there are many things to discuss, and this could be a great opportunity for basketball."
About the Italian League
"It is always difficult to evaluate the reality of others and normally it is not fair, so not talking specifically about the Italian League but talking in general we can say that the standards of the European league are always progressing, but we did not see a similar policy from the domestic leagues. The teams playing in EuroLeague, because they won that right, have difficulties to follow the pace of the teams playing just in the domestic leagues because they are not ready, they don´t have the structures. We are more demanding with our clubs every year and we'll never go back, as we have agreed that with our clubs. Our by-laws book is bigger every season and this is our progress. If you don't work for progression, the gap will be bigger every season. For this reason, we think that the EuroCup is the perfect competition to develop teams' projects, a very good competition, but not so demanding as in the EuroLeague."
About Zeljko Obradovic's time-out speech
"All of us know the personality of Obradovic, the winningest coach in Europe, but besides what I can think, what is objective is that this is an internal relationship for him and his players. The way to manage this relationship can't be our responsibility. It may be a responsibility of the club's president, if he considers that this is not the right way to address players. We can give our opinion if third parties have been involved, like last week's situation during the Real Madrid-FC Barcelona game. This is something totally different, as the comment of a person affected a third party, in that case Barcelona. In this case, if there was an issue, it would be an issue between a coach and his players. For the moment, the players have not commented anything around this and neither did the players' association, and therefore it would make no sense for us to jump in on what we consider to be internal matter."
About referees in the EuroLeague
"To be on the court to officiate a game is tough and the referees' decisions are questionable many times, but there are many seasons that we don't talk about the referees with the clubs. We have a group of professionals with us; we have 10 coaches preparing the games with them; and we have an advanced method of evaluations. But on the court, in the end, we have three human beings who take their decisions and sometimes they can also make mistakes like I make mistakes every day. I don't have the perception that they are the weak link in the EuroLeague."