Jordi Bertomeu, the Euroleague Basketball President and CEO, met with Italian media on Tuesday alongside Massimo Zanetti, Virtus Segafredo Bologna owner, prior to Game 1 of the 7DAYS EuroCup Semifinals against visiting UNICS Kazan. Here is a transcript of their comments:
Massimo Zanetti Virtus Segafredo Bologna owner
Virtus belongs to the EuroLeague and we are working to make this possible next season. We wanted to participate this season but after last season cancellation due to COVID-19 pandemic we didn´t have the opportunity and it also affected on the plans to start the construction of the new Arena
Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO
Stability is a key point to build on for the future of our competitions because only with this stability, not always thinking about the concept of immediate sporting results, the last game or the last season, only by focusing on stability can we focus on this project in the medium and long term and stimulate this concept, but at the same time we have high standards for our clubs with respect to management. The question is how do you evaluate good management? It is clear that the sporting result is an objective way of evaluating it, but today I think it is important to evaluate the satisfaction that our fans have as a consequence of their experiences by attending matches. The game, the experience at the arenas, the experience watching the game on TV, on streaming platforms, on social media, because today sport is not like 20 years ago, the formula with which young people live sport today is very different.
It is clear that all industries and economic sectors have changed a lot in the last year and if we talk a little about the entertainment sector, we see that cinema, music or the editorial industries have changed a lot. Today the product, the promotion, the marketing and consumption have changed and it is not the same as it was 20 years ago. It is interesting to see that sport is still anchored on concepts created after the Second World War, with the principle of sports meritocracy, promotion and relegation…. We think it is time to look at all this in a different way. We cannot make a professional league based on the concept of winning at all costs, but must look for a concept of sustainability based on an efficient structure that gives a sustainable economy to clubs, a guarantee of the future, and which allows you to develop the project and bring home investments like the one we heard about a little while ago. Doing this without stability will be very difficult.
At this moment with COVID, a sad moment for everyone, it can also be an opportunity to think about the future of professional competitions and we are preparing a profound restructuring based on these principles that I spoke of before. It is clear that if we think about the future of the EuroLeague today in 10 years, it is unpredictable, but it will certainly be much more demanding each season. We cannot know if in four, five, 10 maybe 30 years the Euroleague will have 24 or 26 teams, but our job is to help the clubs to be ready to face this different reality that will be more demanding every time. The task of the clubs, on the other hand, will be to be ready, to work to develop a profound, professional structure that can face this reality which, as I said, will become more demanding every time.
And this is the reason why we think that today's EuroCup will be the EuroLeague of the future. This is why we want to work with this group of EuroLeague and EuroCup teams because sooner or later, they will all be part of the same reality. For this we need stability. I am not saying this in order not to give the right value to tonight's match, which is obviously very important for Virtus but also for UNICS Kazan, like the match that is now being played between Monaco and Gran Canaria, but you have to look at things in the perspective of time because we have had so many teams in the history of the EuroLeague that are no longer there. And we can't afford this again, and these are the general lines of what Euroleague Basketball is working on.
Before answering your questions I wanted to thank President Zanetti for the day we are experiencing today.
About the number of games and comparison with UEFA Champions League
From what I understand, the reform of the UEFA Champions League, to which you referred, goes the opposite way; the Champions League project consists of enlarging the championship because there are not enough matches for this level of quality. A team playing the UEFA Champions League Final plays seven home games at the end of the season, its fans have enjoyed only seven times the best competition on the planet. I don't believe that on this basis it is possible to do a minimally sustainable business. I don't think we will go in the future to have fewer games, but if anything to add games. I say this because if we have to make the choice of having matches with 10,000, 12,000, 14,000 spectators instead of matches with 2,000 or 3,000 spectators, I think the choice is obvious. The future of the EuroLeague - I am not saying next season or even the following one, so do not be scared - it will not be to remove games, but to add more. It is clear that the response of the fans with the presence in the stadiums and with the numbers of the TV sends a message: the EuroLeague matches are the ones they want to watch.
About the number of wildcards next season and a possible wildcard for an Italian team
There will be two wildcards next season.
No. We have clearly said that the natural path to get to the EuroLeague is the EuroCup, but we have to work particularly with the Adriatic countries, which is a very important territory for basketball. At this moment the entryway into the EuroLeague for teams from France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, is through the EuroCup.
About a possible increase in the number of teams participating in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague
I think the three-to-five-year landscape is still unpredictable. We are working to have teams ready to play in the EuroLeague. Now the first goal is for 2023-24, to have 16-18 teams with a EuroLeague license, being part of the owners by the league as today we have 11 teams with FC Bayern Munich and LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne most probably joining this list as we announced several weeks ago. This is our idea for 2023-2024, but it is not sure that we will succeed, because it does not depend only on us. The tasks must also be done by the clubs to have this structure of a League with stability. This is the concept we are working on for all teams.
About Virtus being a stable and sustainable team
Clearly, first of all, because for us Italy is an important country. The emotion I felt at the beginning of this speech has nothing to do with it. For us, France, Germany and Italy are strategic countries, countries for which we have a very important investment plan for the next three to four years. If you only want to look at Italy, it is obvious that its history is very important and we have huge respect for it, but we always look to the future and today Virtus represents an absolutely indisputable future.
Obviously, we have a task to do, us and the club, but this is what we will do in the next two or three years together, to ensure that the beginning of the building and the EuroLeague, everything goes with the same timing.
About teams with better arenas
The arena is the fundamental element to guarantee economic sustainability, because the arena allows you to make a much more balanced budget, much more rational, and allows you to enjoy, beyond the basketball matches, many other activities that are positive for the club's economy. Euroleague Basketball's outlook is very optimistic and positive because there are arena construction projects with a certainty of inauguration in Lyon, Munich and Valencia and there are projects in Milan and St. Petersburg, and I think there is one in Bologna. And we are talking about arenas between 12,000 and 16,000 spectators, so I think that in a reasonable time we will have a list of arenas that - I don't say will be NBA style because I don't think we need this, but they will be arenas of great quality and I think that we already have some now. If one goes to the Zalgiris arena, I think it is absolutely an NBA-style arena, and I believe that the others that will be built in the next few years will be based on the same concept.
About the current relation with FIBA
Relationships are good. Clearly, FIBA has a slightly different responsibility than we have, they have to take care of very important things for basketball such as the promotion of basketball, the development of young people. All of this is part of their responsibilities, together with the national team competitions, and we are in a much more precise and limited situation organizing the first two professional competitions at the European level: the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup. Relations are good. If there is the possibility of helping each other lately, we do it. A very simple example: we have the Final Four in Cologne. After that FIBA will make the EuroBasket in Cologne. So we are working together, we are helping them because our experience can be important for them too. Relations are peaceful. We do not have big common projects, but relations are good.