Euroleague Basketball has announced a new ten-year deal with IMG that is set to transform Europe’s top club basketball competitions.
The agreement, described as ‘a revolutionary joint venture’ and which includes an option to extend for a further decade, will see the two parties form two new competitions to replace the existing Turkish Airlines Euroleague, Europe’s elite club basketball competition, and the second-tier Eurocup.
From 2016/17 onwards, the revamped Euroleague will feature a new round-robin format and a reduced line-up of 16 teams – down from 24 in the current Euroleague iteration - with 11 sides that currently hold Euroleague A licenses given permanent berths.
These include: Anadolu Efes Istanbul and Fenerbahce Istanbul from Turkey; FC Barcelona Lassa, Real Madrid and Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz from Spain; Olympiacos Piraeus and Panathinaikos Athens from Greece; Russia’s CSKA Moscow; Italy’s EA7 Emporio Armani Milan, Israel’s Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv, and Lithuania’s Zalgiris Kaunas.
The 16-team field will also include the previous season’s Eurocup champion, three direct-access spots for domestic league champions, and one place for the winner of a qualifying round featuring eight teams. The 16 teams will compete in a round-robin regular season of 30 rounds, followed by a best-of-five playoff stage and the season-ending Final Four.
The new Eurocup, meanwhile, will feature 24 teams – 21 with access through domestic leagues and three wild card invitations – and will follow an almost identical format currently employed in the Euroleague. A ten-round regular season will be followed by a 14-round Top 16, two-game quarter-final and semi-final home-and-away series, and a championship game.
Between them, Euroleague Basketball and IMG will handle the commercial operation for both competitions, including the management of all global media and marketing rights. Reports attach an overall figure of UK£255 million (US$387 million) to the deal, which is understood to include a guarantee from IMG plus a revenue-sharing component should certain income targets be hit.
‘The new competition system builds on the principles of the brand, ownership and management of professional club competitions as well as the growth experienced over the past 15 years,” read a Euroleague statement.
‘This completes the vision of the clubs, expressed in the conclusions and strategic plan approved during the 2011 owner’s meeting in Versailles, since when Euroleague Basketball has been working on the clubs’ behalf.’
The Euroleague clubs’ decision to revamp their existing competitions will come as a significant blow to the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), who themselves have been publicly planning to create a breakaway league to replace the Euroleague.
FIBA’s proposal had called for a new 16-team competition, the ‘Basketball Champions League’, with eight guaranteed spots for Euroleague A-license clubs and reserved places for the national champions of France, Germany, Italy and Lithuania.
The new league was intended to align with FIBA’s new windows for national team competitions, which come into effect next year despite opposition from the Euroleague, and would have paid participating clubs €30 million per year.
Spanish newspaper El Mundo Deportivo reports that the Euroleague/IMG proposal includes a promise of €40 million in revenues per club per year, with any club wishing to withdraw from the competition required to pay an exit fee of €10 million.
‘The clubs wish to thank FIBA for the work it has done in recent months and the proposal it presented,’ the Euroleague statement said. ‘The clubs announced their firm wish to continue conversations and discussions held over recent months to achieve consistent unity among all basketball stakeholders - namely clubs, domestic leagues and federations – joining forces to develop common strategies and policies that work towards the sole objective of growing the sport of basketball at all levels.
‘Clubs will present the new project to the international federation and invite FIBA to join, working together for the growth and benefit of both club and national team competitions.’
The Euroleague/IMG proposal effectively moves Europe’s top competitions closer towards the kind of closed franchise model employed by the National Basketball Association (NBA). The Euroleague and IMG will no doubt be hoping to close the revenue gap between their clubs and those in the NBA, but their plan will be seen as a snub for Europe’s domestic leagues and many of their clubs who will now find it more difficult to qualify for continental competitions.
Jordi Bertomeu, the Euroleague Basketball president and chief executive, nevertheless insists the organisation has the support of its stakeholder clubs. “This is without a doubt the biggest decision the clubs have taken in Euroleague history after the one they took in June 2000 and that supposed its foundation,” he said.
“This agreement culminates the vision that the clubs had from the very beginning of creating a true European league, and partnering with the sports’ industry leader IMG in this journey will guarantee success, taking basketball to new horizons”
Ioris Francini, the president of IMG Events & Media, added: "This is a ground-breaking partnership which will change the face of European basketball for the long-term. Together we will enhance the quality of competition and grow exposure and awareness of these new competitions throughout the world. This is a very exciting development in the history of the sport and we are delighted to be working with Euroleague and the clubs moving forward."