For the fifth time since the start of the season, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO Jordi Bertomeu met with local press before a Turkish Airlines EuroLeague game to update them on the issues of the day for the competition, its fans and its stakeholders. On Thursday, the setting was the German capital of Berlin, where ALBA was hosting Zalgiris Kaunas in Round 11 of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Regular Season. Mr. Bertomeu was joined by ALBA Berlin CEO Marco Baldi.
Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO
"Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us today. We're happy to be in this country, in this city. Many good things have happened for us in Germany, especially this year, and I think that we are trying to enjoy this very special year for us, having two German teams in the EuroLeague. These are two teams that for us are very important because they represent the concept of a club that we love in terms of good management and in terms of a very professional approach to how we believe professional competitions have to be run. So, we identify our values in the values of our teams here in Germany, both Bayern Munich and ALBA Berlin. We are very proud and happy to have those teams with us, but we also have good news with us in our 7DAYS EuroCup, with Oldenburg doing a very good job, qualifying for the next phase of the EuroCup. Also, it's a very important year for us to come back to Germany for our Final Four, to Cologne. We are very excited to have this opportunity, the first opportunity to be in Cologne. We had two positive experiences in this amazing arena, but never before in Cologne. The fact that in only 11 days, all the tickets have been sold out, I think that represents how much our fans love this event. And it's relevant and significant the fact that the majority, or at least the country where we sold more tickets, is Germany. I think that 22 percent of the tickets have been sold here, so I think that's also good news for us. Being here in Germany, it's an amazing place for us because we can only talk about good things.
"To finish, I think the competition, in its first season with 18 teams, is confirming that the system that was implemented four years ago is working very well, something that will stay in the future. It's a concept that allows us to have these games where all the teams meet the other teams. We can have rivalries and we have the opportunity for our fans to enjoy all of our EuroLeague teams. I believe the fact that we increased the number of teams to 18 has been a very good decision, and I believe that, once again – it's probably too early with 11 game days to make assessments – but so far, I think we can say that we are happy because all the numbers, all the metrics, tell us that we have increased in attendance, in audience, and we signed new and better TV deals. All the metrics we have when making assessments about how the competition is going are positive."
About ALBA's chances to become a long-term licensed team.
Jordi Bertomeu: "Indeed, we have this vision. We believe that to complete the design of the league, we need to have 16 teams in equal conditions. We believe that if we started with 11 clubs as owners of the league with this long-term license, this group has been increased by two clubs, at least for a temporary period, with Bayern Munich and ASVEL Villeurbanne. We want to complete that with three more clubs with the same conditions in the near future. It is no secret that for us Germany has been a very important market. I just explained how good we are doing here in Germany, so as a natural consequence of this, ALBA is in the top of our candidates. To make it happen needs some work still, needs that the EuroLeague clubs establish the calendar for this process, and also it needs some commitment from both sides. But I am confident that, based on our view of the club, based on our long relationship with ALBA, we will manage to have good news for the future. A future that you cannot think to be very, very short term. So, it's not going to happen next year. I just want to be clear and to avoid misunderstanding. It's not going to happen next year. But we are working on that, and clearly, I cannot deny, because it's public, that we would love to have ALBA in this group in the future."
About long-term licensed clubs' need to make down payments.
Jordi Bertomeu: "When I said it's going to take some time, it's because we have to work internally to establish the mechanism and procedures for making it happen. There are many. One of them is also to make the assessment of the value of the EuroLeague license. We are working with some external consultancy company. It's an internal work; we have to reach a consensus with the clubs. We are trying to identify something that we're never done, which is to understand the value of one EuroLeague club. We have no tradition of trading EuroLeague teams, but I believe that in the future we will see probably things like that happen. Probably in the long term. But the first step is to have a fair and right assessment of the value of our clubs based on the technical structures, technical criteria that help us to define the value of a company, as happens with other companies in other businesses. But this is where we are. As I said, internally we still have some homework to do."
About the calendar.
Jordi Bertomeu: "I will find a solution, but first I have to consider it as a problem. If you ask the players, they will probably have a different opinion. Players love games and they don't like practices very much. some coaches think a different way, and we have to respect all the opinions, and basically, opinions that come from someone like [ALBA head coach] Aito [Garcia Reneses], one of the most well-reputed coaches that we have in Europe. The calendar has been an issue for years and will always be an issue; we cannot deny thins. The growth of the EuroLeague has probably caused some problems in terms of the calendars of the domestic leagues; we cannot deny this. But in the end, we are talking about games with an average attendance close to 10,000 spectators. So, I am not very much in favor of reducing these kinds of games. I am not sure that basketball will take benefits from reducing games where we have 10,000 spectators on average, when there is no other competition that brings these numbers. I believe that what we have is a calendar that I cannot deny is busy, but when we talk about professional sports, we have to understand that things evolve. The time that we had one game a week is over, and the needs of our clubs, the needs of our fans, are different. And we have, all of us -- managers, coaches and players -- to adapt to a new reality. Because then what we are doing is to grow our business, and we don't have clubs with profits. The economy of the system tells us that players and coaches are the beneficiaries of this business, which is fair, totally fair. In the end, we are all partners in this adventure."
About what ALBA has to do to get a long-term license.
Jordi Bertomeu: "It's not any particular area that we want them to improve. It's just because when we enter in a system like the one we have in the EuroLeague, and we enter into it on a permanent basis, then the clubs suffer much more pressure from the league than the clubs that are participating one year in, one year out. We are building this process today around these 11 clubs and in the future around 16 clubs. The club structure has to be prepared for that. I don't think that's anything the club cannot afford, because as I said at the beginning, when we are here in Germany, we enjoy our relationship with the clubs in terms of the structure, the business orientation and the professionalism of our clubs. I am not going to enter into details, because honestly if I mention all of them, they're absolutely irrelevant because they are small details. What I will say, to make it short, is that to be in these 16 teams will be very demanding on a daily basis and we all have to adapt our structure to the new situation, that's all. I think it's more from our side than the ALBA Berlin side that we have to work, honestly."
About EuroCup teams moving to the EuroLeague and back.
Jordi Bertomeu: "Clubs with long-term licenses are safe because they have long-term licenses. We cannot affect them by this system. But what we introduced, by adding one more team to this promotion-relegation system, a possibility that we didn't have before, is that the club that performs well in the EuroLeague can stay in the EuroLeague, not at the expense of one long-term license team, but at the expense of the EuroCup runner-up of the same season. This mechanism gives us the guarantee that the system will not be blocked. We will always have a team coming from the EuroCup to the EuroLeague. I believe that the system is quite simple. This promotion-relegation system is a game only among the teams that come from the EuroCup and the teams that come the next season from the EuroCup. It's not going to affect the others."
About increasing long-term licenses but leaving only 18 teams total.
Jordi Bertomeu: "I believe so. So, I understand that from a calendar standpoint, 18 is a number that makes our calendar busier, but it's a good number because we keep the balance between territory distribution and the quality of the teams. Probably we can keep the same balance going further, but not much further than, probably, 20 or 22. But when we have this in front of us, we also have to consider the national leagues. Going further than 18 will make impossible to combine the national leagues with the EuroLeague. That's something we don't have in our mind in this moment. So, 18 will be the number in the short- or mid-term, because we believe that going to more than 18 will make the participation of our teams in the domestic league impossible. And we don't want to do it."
About the importance of ALBA obtaining a license.
Marco Baldi: "It's not so much about what competition you participate in. It's more about planning security. We are a club that is working within the market, on the market, so we depend on our activities. If we can describe where we are going to play and against whom we are going to play, and we can offer, let's say, the premium product, of course, this is a big help. It's a huge help. That's what I think Jordi mentioned before, in his words, that there is an advantage for the clubs who know that next year, the year after and so on, they are going to participate in this competition. By the way, also on the players' market this means something. I cannot say it means 10,000 more or one million more, but what I can say is that it provides planning security, and this is something very valuable."
About other clubs going in the right direction to join the EuroLeague.
Jordi Bertomeu: "I think the EuroLeague has been very clear in the last years that we have some markets where we want to improve our footprint, or to have a footprint, from one side. And from the other side, there are some traditional basketball markets that we believe the EuroLeague has to have a presence in. In the first category, I think we have always mentioned Germany, France and the UK as our strategic markets, and our intention is to move our sport more north to these three big markets. Decisions like the one we made on ASVEL Villeurbanne and Bayern Munich have to be understood in the framework of this vision. Germany will remain as a priority, because we believe that to have at least two teams in Germany is something worthy and important for us. France, again. UK, probably you believe it's a dream to have a team in a market with no basketball tradition. We are people who like to take challenges, so we are working in these directions. But, also, there are markets like Russia and the Balkan area that corresponds with the Adriatic League region that also are very good territories for basketball and have to be taken into account. So, we are working basically in these two areas, for different reasons, the ones I mentioned."
About the competitive level between the EuroCup and the EuroLeague.
Jordi Bertomeu: "The EuroLeague is a very difficult competition. I never played this competition, but I know that it's difficult. It's tough. And we have seen teams like Fenerbahce that are suffering. A team like Zalgiris, that has been in the playoffs the last couple of years, and even the Final Four, is suffering. And if you see the standings, there is not a big difference between some clubs and others. So, when we have 10 games played, and we're going to play the 11th, I think it's very early to say if we are disappointed with the performance of one team or another. Valencia started bad but now seems to be getting better. The calendar is difficult, the calendar is not symmetric, so it's difficult sometimes to compare one team with another, for instance, if some team played seven games away but only three or four at home. I think that to make this kind of assessment during the season is difficult because the competition is very difficult. It's very tough and we have seen in the last years that many teams are competing to enter the playoffs. I think last year until the very last day we had five or six teams competing for the playoff spots. So, I believe that those teams will perform well, and I don't see a big difference between clubs. Budget probably always has an impact on the clubs, but we've seen in our past that not always the richest clubs win the competition. So that's sports."
About Olympiacos playing only in the EuroLeague.
Jordi Bertomeu: "You have to take into consideration that what happened with Olympiacos has to do only with Greek basketball and with the conflict they have internally in the Greek federation, with the Greek League and all these things that you probably know better than I do. The only thing as a league that we can say is that we cannot be contaminated by problems that other leagues have. And we will not be contaminated for that. That's why we accept Olympiacos in the EuroLeague because the fact that they decided not to play in the Greek League was a decision that I am not in favor of or against. I have no opinion about that. But it's clear that it was taken as a consequence of a conflict they have internally in Greece. And we cannot interfere in this problem and we cannot be affected by this problem in any way. They have to evaluate if what they did is the right thing to do, if that will help them to solve the problem in Greece, if that will help them to perform better in the EuroLeague. I don't know. What's the impact of the decision on the reputation of the club, too. There are many elements that have to be taken into consideration, but it's their responsibility, not our responsibility. The only thing we have to do is not to suffer in any way for this, otherwise the league will lose its own personality. And the EuroLeague is clearly a product that people identify with regardless of what happens with the domestic leagues."
About 16 teams with long-term licenses being on equal in terms.
Jordi Bertomeu: "When we talk about clubs with licenses, we talk about clubs that are owners of the company. So, when clubs are owners of the company, all of them have the same rights."
About clubs being the sole owners.
Jordi Bertomeu: "We never had the idea to open the company to third-party investors. We have other shareholders who are important stakeholders in basketball, as are the domestic leagues. We have nine national leagues that are also shareholders of the company. But we don't have third parties that are not related to the game itself, either as a league or as a team."
About clubs playing exclusively in EuroLeague.
Jordi Bertomeu: "No, because as I said when I talked about the number of teams, when I want our teams to leave the domestic leagues, I will propose a league with 24 clubs and 46 game days. It's as simple as this. But I am not doing this. I am trying to keep the number that, despite the numbers with the calendars that we were talking about before, allows our clubs to keep playing in the national leagues. So again, what happened with Olympiacos, it's not that it's not our business. All this business is our business. But it's a different thing when some league has internal problems, that are not sport problems. We have to protect our league and not be contaminated by this problem. So, we had a rule that if a club is not participating in a domestic league it cannot participate in the EuroLeague. But in this case, we approved an exception based on this argument. If Olympiacos had been relegated to the second division as a consequence of the sports results, it might have been a different situation. But it was not the case. Our business is to protect our league, and in this case protecting our league from any kind of contamination from something that is not working properly."