Two years ago, EuroLeague Basketball decided to change the schedule and create a new format. They wanted to make their product more attractive. Both to commerce as well as regular fans. Yet, the schedule has proven to be problematic.
Since 2016, teams play against each other home-and-away in a round-robin format. Under the new format, each team plays at least 30 games. This number may rise to 37 if they go all the way to the Final Four and the Championship Game.
Last season, EuroLeague Basketball also decided to make additional changes to the schedule. As a result, for five weeks during the regular season, each team plays two games (one home, one away). Certainly, the new schedule has made the league more balanced and competitive. But at the same time, it ensures only the best and deepest squads will go all the way.
Basketball fans can see traditional powerhouses face each other more than once during the season. The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague starts next week, with CSKA Moscow welcoming Barcelona and Panathinaikos hosting Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Furthermore, the Israelis will face the Moscovites at home one week later.
Increase in viewership and ticket sales
Without a doubt, the changes the EuroLeague Basketball made to the schedule and format were for the better. However, this decision has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, EuroLeague Basketball has managed to attract more fans, not only in Europe but worldwide. The competition has increased the number of TV broadcasting partners. Consequently, the matches are available in more than 140 countries all over the world, which leads to higher viewership and potential income.
Moreover, each club has increased its ticket sales, which shows that more and more basketball fans attend the matches. In addition, EuroLeague Basketball includes the top basketball clubs in Europe. This means that all team rosters consist of many of the top players from Europe and beyond. As a result, the majority of the matches are very exciting and of very high quality.
Furthermore, the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague becomes more competitive year after year. What we see is traditional powerhouses struggling to reach the playoffs. In the past two seasons both Barcelona and Maccabi Tel-Aviv failed to advance to the playoffs. Instead, other teams, like Zalgiris Kaunas, Baskonia and Anadolu Efes, played consistently and secured their place in the postseason. EuroLeague Basketball made the changes to the format and created a new schedule to ensure maximum competitiveness. The league wanted to see each team be at their very best in every game.
For sure, this decision is beneficial to the fans, the basketball media, and commercial stakeholders. Yet, the new schedule is still a challenging process for the clubs. The new format made it essential for the teams to have an active roster of 15 or more players. This would enable them to have a deep bench with an effective rotation in order to minimize the risk of injuries. The vast majority of the EuroLeague clubs are also challenged in a competitive domestic league. Gone are the days when every game in the domestic league was a walk-over and teams could focus entirely on the Euroleague. Now, every game of the season is a do-or-die game.
This has consequences. Traditional powerhouses, like Olympiacos, Barcelona and the 2018 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague champions, Real Madrid, had to deal with many injuries. Key players were sidelined for some weeks and their absence was painful for their teams. Such cases were the “Reds” leaders Vassilis Spanoulis, Kostas Papanikolaou, and Giorgos Printezis as well as the “Whites” frontline.
The aforementioned players had no sufficient time to rest. Consequently, they missed crucial games that cost either one or more victories or even the qualification to the Euroleague Final Four. Things are even more difficult for the Spanish teams, as the Liga Endesa is the best and most competitive European league. As a result, these teams can’t focus only on the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. They should also be at their very best in the Spanish League.
Euroleague basketball in conflict with FIBA
Another issue that EuroLeague Basketball has to deal with, due to the league’s schedule, is their conflict with FIBA. In particular, the schedule of the 2019 FIBA world cup qualifiers. The World Basketball Federation’s decision to change the qualification process for national teams led to the creation of the so-called “FIBA windows.” However, the FIBA windows are played in the same days as the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague games. So, the top EuroLeague players have to choose between their national teams and their respective clubs (employers). And, of course, they choose for their clubs and the EuroLeague games over the national teams. Therefore, the Euroleague schedule and that of the FIBA remains a problem and a continuing conflict between the parties. The situation is not likely to change anytime soon.
EuroLeague Basketball has no intention to change the current schedule (nor has the FIBA by the way) and emphasizes the positive aspects of this project. Furthermore, the organization has announced the league’s expansion from the next season onwards (2019/20). This EuroLeague expansion will see Bayern Munich receive an associate wild card for two seasons. At the same time, EuroLeague Basketball is close to reaching an agreement with ASVEL Villeurbanne for another wild card. The 18th team is also expected to come from Germany or France. Without a doubt, the EuroLeague expansion will help the league become even more competitive. At the same time, though, the schedule will become even more challenging for the clubs.
It’s all about the money
EuroLeague Basketball is considering to expand to more European countries. Yet, the structure of the organization doesn’t leave much room for an increase in participants. Eleven of the 16 clubs have signed a 10-year contract, which means that their participation is guaranteed. No matter what their results are, both in the Euroleague as well as in their domestic leagues. As a result, teams with a long tradition and strong fan base (Crvena Zvezda, Partizan, Lietuvos Rytas) don’t have a guaranteed place. The commercial market potential of those seems to play a decisive negative role here.
From that perspective, Great Britain has a bigger commercial value than Serbia, and Germany bigger than Lithuania. Therefore the Euroleague is constantly fantasizing about a British club in the Euroleague. To underline that dream EuroLeague Basketball hosted the 2013 Final Four in London. On the other hand, at least four Spanish clubs play in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague every season. Three of them are traditional powerhouses (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Baskonia). Yet, the fourth one (Unicaja Malaga, Gran Canaria, even Valencia) is more successful in the EuroCup. EuroLeague Basketball seems to focus on clubs with the highest budgets that come from countries with the biggest commercial potential. That’s why Bayern Munchen can get a wildcard, despite the fact that until a decade ago they played in the German Regional liga (4th tier in Germany). That’s also whyASVEL Villeurbanne can get a wild card. For the record, no German or French team have ever won the Euroleague. At the same time, no team from the Adriatic league is considered for a wild card. Despite the fact that those teams have won the Euroleague several times in the past, their national teams are title contenders at every event, and basketball has a long tradition in that part of the world. If money is the only criteria, why don’t we have a “Euroleague” with teams from Great Britain, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, Qatar, Shanghai, and Singapore? This Euroleague strategy is controversial, to say the least. It remains to be seen how things will evolve in the following years.
To sum thing up, the new Turkish Airlines EuroLeague basketball season is about to start and will be competitive for another year. The best EuroLeague players are ready to fight tooth and nail for the coveted title. Yet, the schedule is in conflict with that of the FIBA and the national teams. Players risk fatigue and injuries. That could have big consequences for themselves and the ambitions of their teams. Neither the Euroleague nor FIBA is willing to settle for a compromise, so the players are caught in the cross-fire. This is not good for basketball and for now, the FIBA seems to be at the losing end. The 2019 world cup qualifiers are a mess since the best national teams play without their best players. For the sake of basketball, a solution and compromise have to be found.