Kyle Hines threw an idea in the air on Sunday and Emmet Ryan decided to bite. What if Euroleague or Europe as a whole decided to have an All Star Weekend? What would it look like? Who would it serve? And what would be the point of it? It’s time for a deep dive
Team LeBron took the W over Team Giannis in the NBA All Star Game on Sunday night with the adjusted format getting mostly positive reviews. There were two lopsided quarters, one going for each side, the third was a tie, and the Elam ending seemed to work great for the finish, although Anthony Davis missing his first free throw before making the decisive score on his second seemed critical to the drama.
In North American sports, the NBA All Star game stands alone in its current standing. It is in better health than most when the event actually takes place. Baseball does fine for generating interest in voting, arguably better than the NBA, but its break tends to serve more for creating the dullest period of the year in the calendar there. The NHL has experimented more than most but struggles to get buy-in outside of the hardcore hockey market. The Pro Bowl is an abomination.
Would the format work in Europe on a wide level? That’s not easy to answer. There are national league weekends that tend to be fine but all too similar to the NBA style and get no notice beyond their home markets. Even there, it’s hard to gauge what benefit they provide. Let’s have a look at what might work here, asking some key questions along the way.
Is it Euroleague or Europe?
The short answer is the former but the latter merits some mention. The combination of politics plus the tendency of the best players to be with ECA clubs means a Euroleague focused All Star Weekend is the easiest path forward in terms of getting one to happen. That said, the commercial appeal of somehow getting a deal done with FIBA to make it a pan-European event holds major upsides.
A Team Euroleague vs Team Basketball Champions League (BCL) game would be extremely tasty, albeit weighted heavily towards the former in terms of quality, and would be an easy sell on a pan-European level. That’s more markets with more reasons to care. Politics means it won’t happen but its commercial merit, arguably superiority in the short term, makes it an idea that would be appealing. Still given its lack of likelihood, we’ll proceed assuming this is ECA only. Politics will however matter in other parts.
The parts of the NBA we keep
There are two that matter and they are important. The voting and the team selection. The vote weight of 50 per cent fan, 25 per cent player, 25 per cent media for starters insures against too much ballot stuffing. Throw in the coaches picking the reserves and we can be reasonably sure of a total talent pool that is reflective of the best players in a given season.
The team selection is the one I’m not going to be moved on. Most European All Star Games are usually Team World vs Team Whatever country the league is in. One giant nope. Team World vs Team Europe is too obvious and having the two team captains select, even without it being event based, will make for more interesting rosters. If it happens, that is the only way to go forward. Similarly no arbitrary Team East vs Team West or Team North vs Team South. We need to forget about the way the old FIBA All-Star approach went, it didn’t have enough of an identity that wasn’t borrowed and the same goes for the shorter lived FIBA EuroStars. Nope, let the players pick.
What is its purpose?
This is what really matters. Having an All Star weekend just for the hell of it is pointless largesse. It needs to be a core promotional tool for Euroleague. That requires working out what it can do and how to activate it.
An All Star game or broader weekend event should do the following:
1. Grow the interest in the product with a wider audience
2. Convert casual fans into hardcore fans
3. Get hardcore fans more invested, preferably literally
To do that you need to look at how you package it. How do you tell the stories of the players involved? How do you get the players to care in the first place? How do you make the game feel like it is the event you want people to see?
Treat it as an event not a game
Who gets the W should be far less interesting than the story of how they got it. You want this to be the razzle dazzle event, telling the story that this is cool. That means you’ve got to look at what you package around it. The game itself should be treated as the main event rather than the lone reason all of these lads got on a plane for an exhibition.
It begins with the where
The host city is crucial to any such game. There’s a nice upside here if Euroleague is smart about it. Cities and arenas that struggle to be considered suitable to the Final Four are a natural fit. Be it due to visa challenges, hotel issues, or venue size, there are challenges for quite a few spots.
Were a Euroleague All Star game to happen it would take a colossal idiot to choose anywhere other than Zalgirio Arena for the first such event. The city of Kaunas obviously has rabid fan interest, is rabid for a Euroleague Final Four, but tends to miss out more because of the hotel space concerns than anything else. It certainly isn’t arena quality. Seriously, if you have somehow forgotten what the place looks like have a gander here and drool:
You need an event that can sell in its own city. That also means it should be treated with host city prices. Euroleague Final Four ticket pricing strategies should never even cross anyone’s minds in head offices in Barcelona. Look at me, you see this, this is my disappointed face. The priority is a full house from people that care about the sport. They are part of the product you are selling to increase buy in, don’t gouge them.
Then comes the what
Please don’t just copy the NBA style. It has been tried across Europe and it’s so drab. Thankfully, I think, there’s no fear of an attempt at a celebrity game but it’s also worth dumping the 3 point contest, dunk contest, and skills challenge. Dump them all because, aside from it being better to be different, think about what you are selling.
Those portions are part of what the NBA uses for its All-Star Saturday night. They tend to drag out and are designed for a long TV broadcast. They also can put the fans in the arena to sleep pretty fast.
You want fan buy-in so look at what you are doing with the two or three days of the weekend. A 3×3 competition is much more conducive to the format. It gives reasons to get all the teams interested, could be run essentially as a straight knockout or with small groups, and then build up to a one-hour live event at the end for the semis and finals (assuming 10 minute games).
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Get every team in Euroleague involved, if a club doesn’t really care well it’s not like there’s a shortage of guys who could do with more minutes on most rosters. Get them the run out. The key is to build to an event that is digestible, exciting, and worth watching. It also means you can do more on the ground with fans in the host city and the personalities in the main event on the second day.
Would Rising Stars work?
This is one I’ve thought a bit about and while the lack of youth in Euroleague proper is an obvious concern, there is a middle ground I like that could be worth using. You don’t want a ANGT because we already have that and, frankly, there’s more to be done with the young guys already playing top tier ball.
The ECA however is not just Euroleague. Making this element something that includes Eurocup would help build out rosters and also shine a light on future stars who sometimes fly under the radar. I’m still not fully sold on it as a game to run in and of itself but there’s something that could be done there.
Now we get to the tough parts
In the strategic objectives, I left out making the players feel appreciated because it’s better addressed here. Let’s list off the challenges
1. Player welfare
2. The calendar beyond just the welfare thing
3. Making it sustainable
With player welfare, there are already complaints about the length of the season and the toll it takes. Forcing in another weekend of games won’t help even if they are more of the exhibition variety. If the business objectives are met, then it really shouldn’t be too difficult to ensure players feel both appreciated and looked after, that includes additional remuneration and perks.
The calendar is hell. There is no getting around it and this is by far the biggest obstacle to making such an event remotely feasible. There are no free weeks to choose, particularly in the most logical window of late January/early February for such an event. FIBA and the national associations won’t stop just so Euroleague can have a weekend to itself to promote its product.
Going midweek reduces what you can do to just a single game while also disrupting team training and ensuring at least one more double round week. If you want to find the single biggest obstacle towards making an All Star Weekend the calendar is it.
I see you all raising your hands mentioning international windows and this rather seems the obvious route to peace but we’re talking about professional sports so never assume rationality. A deal between Euroleague and FIBA to enable the national team windows to access all ECA level talent makes a bunch of sense, especially if Euroleague has plans to adjust the format of Eurocup anytime in the medium term, and part of such a deal could allow for this kind of weekend to exist.
Grand, fine, let’s do it but that brings us all the way back to the Euroleague or Europe question? The arms may be essentially put down but the problem hasn’t gone away. There’s no practical way to make a worthwhile All Star based event without solving them and it’s not close to the top priority for any party involved.
As for sustainability, even with the calendar issue solved there are few certainties. There will naturally be a hunger to go to the most commercially lucrative cities and go high on prices for the event were it to happen. Both of these would be dreadful calls. The city should be a tool to sell the event, not a place you need to fight to be relevant.
Kaunas, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Villeurbanne, Belgrade, and Tel Aviv should be the core of the rotation along with Bologna if they ever get a full licence. They aren’t the most Final Four friendly in Euroleague’s eyes but those cities can be activated for basketball pretty easily. Turkish readers will go, eh Istanbul. You’re getting more F4s soon as is Berlin, you’ll never be short of them, this project needs cities not in the core rotation.
As long as the calendar issue remains, everything else is moot. Whatever diluted product could be run would displease broadcast partners, sponsors, and players, while struggling to get fan engagement.
If the calendar issue gets solved: Yes with an if. That if being if Euroleague/ECA can package it to be an asset that adds to the league, that creates a better product overall. I don’t need an All Star Game to watch amazing hoops, there’s lots of it. I want it to be something more. I don’t think I’m alone in that thought.