FIBA and Euroleague have been at loggerheads for a while. It serves no-one any good but the dispute shows little sign of resolution. Emmet Ryan is more than tired of the fighting and it’s time for both sides to end the animosity. The solution is obvious, all it takes is being willing to make the first major concession. Here BiE’s editor lays out the simplicity of the resolution and why both sides need to jump at it
For those who have missed the latest developments in the FIBA and Euroleague conflict, here’s as quick a recap as one can manage. FIBA is progressing with its plan to run qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup during the traditional club calendar part of the year. Euroleague isn’t releasing its players. National associations are threatening to ban clubs and/or players. Those clubs and/or players are responding about as well as one might expect. Everybody is fighting and nobody is winning. In simple terms, everybody is being illogical.
The story so far
This corner has covered the issue extensively through our Civil War series. A couple of highlights worth noting:
From ‘Closing off sense…’
The point of all this is to make basketball a financially viable product, heaven forbid someone outside of the USA tried to be profitable with a sports team that’s just bizarre, that grows its audience and keeps it happy.
BiE has taken a editorialy neutral stand throughout this war, mainly because this corner thinks both sides are acting like spoiled children, and it isn’t moving from that but the sheer amount of snark in this piece hints that FIBA’s latest actions have given the governing body an extra special place in the doghouse in the past couple of weeks.
And lastly, from ‘Let’s do more than lunch…’
I need you to imagine a situation. Patrick Baumann has just stepped into his gig at FIBA, it’s literally his first day, and he calls Jordi Bertomeu first thing. He tells Bertomeu that he wants to examine ways FIBA and Euroleague can work together. He wants to see what common ground they can find. He wants to grab a beer. Baumann makes no threats, no ultimatums, not even a hint of passive aggression. He’s just someone who is a position of power and cares about European basketball who wants to talk to another person in a position of power who cares about European basketball. Bertomeu would be an idiot to say no to that beer.
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So folks, here we are
During EuroBasket there was the small matter of Ettore Messina letting fly early in the tournament and everyone following up with responses, counter responses, and debates over who would really be available for the qualifiers. The key thing to take from all of this is that everyone was ready to fight. We don’t need to dig into deep philosophy to explain why this wasn’t sensible, the raw stupidity of such positions was explained neatly in an episode of Star Trek Deep Space back before the show even got good. Watch Quark explain via the third rule of acquisition:
FIBA has reasons to feel it can win, Euroleague has reasons to believe it can win, right now nobody has a clear advantage despite both sides thinking they do and everybody is gearing up for the long fight. The only people that profit from war are arms dealers, I’ve said it before but it’s more apparent now. Lots of people are getting rightly angry online and a bunch of smart people are asking folks to not get angry and offer solutions. Well, I’m not worthy of being a verbose deep thinking Irishman if I don’t offer one and a rather bold one at that.
The resolution: Euroleague gets EuroCup, FIBA gets dates
It’s time to be the bigger person here. That goes to everyone involved. Euroleague wants control over the top two tiers in European basketball, neatly and with access to all markets. FIBA wants its windows during the season to push national team basketball and, with it, the sport outside of the top club tiers outside of the major tournament finals. FIBA is the logical one to make the offer here. Offer Euroleague what it wants, complete access of up to 48 teams across Euroleague and Eurocup (given that number is likely not going to jump beyond 42 over the next few seasons it’s quite the carrot to offer) with zero restrictions on whether clubs opt to go with Euroleague’s competitions or FIBA’s club competitions. In return, Euroleague works out a way for the calendar to adopt breaks for international windows during the season. FIBA gets its time for showcasing the international game at more points of the year, strengthening its brand in the process.
So far the offers from Euroleague and FIBA alike have been small, tweaks here and slight concessions there. Nobody’s gone with the big offer, the type of thing that gets to the heart of the problem. Big proposals are hard for people to deal with because they shake up the norm.
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Why FIBA should go for it
What’s your end goal here? It’s to grow the sport of basketball everywhere. Well getting those dates with access to all but the NBA players helps you a heap there. Games clashing don’t help, big names being absent don’t either, and just because a high percentage of players that were at EuroBasket will be available for the next window doesn’t mean it’s a good situation. When you are missing your biggest names it’s a problem but the NBA at least doesn’t account for as large a chunk as those in Euroleague and Eurocup. This solution gets you that big chunk of guys who fans, particularly the casual ones you want to lure and the club-first hardcore nuts you also lust after, are familiar with. You also get those players without things getting messy, things stay clean, people are happy, and all the talk is on the games not the battle to get them played.
What are you really losing? The Basketball Champions League has already proven it is more than Eurochallenge Redux and that’s not just because you got a few clubs and federations who would normally have jumped to Eurocup. The decision by Euroleague to reduce the number of teams in its competitions helped just as much as did the ability to sell the BCL as something worth caring about. It’s not perfect, I still ain’t hot on a name that makes people first think of a different sport, but you have what you need from the competition. A couple of clubs, even the better ones, won’t change that.
Why Euroleague should go for it
You want control. You want time to focus on growing your business as a whole. You don’t want distractions. This resolution solves all that and comes with built-in growth plans. You are a business, you want to give time to growing your core product, this gets you that.
The windows? If you are really smart you see an upside in FIBA doing some free marketing for you. Two weeks in a year is a lot to give up but for peace of mind it is a bargain and you are already thinking about how to juggle dates if and when you expand Euroleague itself. In the meantime selling to the non-Euroleague viewer the story of dude playing for Serbia, France, Greece, whatever that guy who did cool thing can be seen more often in your product helps build brand association.
Stop being adversaries
Now, look what we have here before us. You got the Saracens sitting next to the Jones Street Boys. We’ve got the Moonrunners right by the Van Cortlandt Rangers. Nobody is wasting nobody. That… is a miracle. And miracles is the way things ought to be.
There’s always going to be some idiot that wants to be Luther (this one not the Idris Elba one), somebody who doesn’t want peace and cooperation because of whatever their vested interests and distrust in the other side.
This war began because both sides not only saw each other as adversaries but because nobody recognised that ending that attitude was crucial to any meaningful progress being made. Nothing good can come from the most powerful body of clubs being at war with the body that holds the most direct influence over everything else in European hoops. It goes way beyond respect, it goes towards how each party is thinking before they even know what they want. Be it Baumann or Bertomeu, the first thought for either should be ‘how does what I want to do benefit them?’ when looking to engage with one another.
Know the real competitor
As long as basketball fights internally, it loses. The numbers might be going up for both Euroleague and EuroBasket but neither is getting the growth it can because neither Euroleague nor FIBA is maximising the potential of a harmonious relationship. When you work together and have, not just present, a reason to be united in ambition then you can take on the real challenges that lie ahead and achieve sustainable growth. Basketball’s competition is not other forms of basketball nor is it just sports itself. Every from of entertainment and recreation is a competitor.
That’s the world we do business in today. We, all of us, are fighting for the consumer’s time just as much as we are fighting for their money. Every second won is a victory for the process. Every second spent not cooperating is an investment in failure. From administration, to analytics, through media and marketing, there are so many opportunities, both data and human driven, for the two bodies to make each other better.
The here and now
Euroleague’s offer to FIBA wasn’t exactly much of an offer, although I like the idea of moving championships to the end of the season rather than the start (more on that in a moment). FIBA’s suggestion of adjusting dates would have meant a lot more if it didn’t come out in recent days rather than at the start of the process. Realistically, and probably for the best, both sides need to punt the year ahead and take the licks that come with it. FIBA won’t have full rosters, Euroleague will lose some eyeballs on certain game nights. The healthy thing to do, in order to move negotiations forward, is to accept this for the two windows FIBA has built in for this season and not try to make a big deal about what one another is doing.
Don’t forget the players
No really, don’t.
FIBA and Euroleague are so busy fighting one another that the players are effectively being seen as props in the war. FIBA is trumpeting the lone summer off per four year cycle, which is an improvement but still not close to facilitating what most players actually need. There isn’t a players union across Europe, making one is hard but there ought to be and facilitating this is something both bodies should probably consider because it’s an awful lot better than having to deal with individual gripes as well as generally making the players feel more appreciated.
Here’s what I’m offering
This isn’t the first time this corner has made an open offer but I’m hoping it’s the first time somebody is smart enough to say yes.
Jordi, I see you have a packed schedule on Wednesday 25 October. Patrick, I see the same for you. That makes it the perfect date for you two to come to Dublin because both of you will be showing that you are putting the future of your organisations, and all of the stakeholders, ahead of the squabbling.
The offer is simple. On Wednesday 25 October I’ll be seated in the smoking section of The Blackbird in Rathmines looking for two chaps from outside of Ireland to talk to about Gilgamesh. We can see where it goes from there. No lawyers, no consultants, no advisors. Just two people with a neutral arbiter having some drinks and pizza in plain sight. Jordi, bring three cartons of Lucky Strike Click Menthol (these) that you will find in Barcelona airport. Patrick, you’re buying the drinks, pizza, and my taxi home. You get this column for free, my negotiating skills come at a price albeit an absolute bargain.
Of course, what would I know, right? I just came into a newspaper on its knees four years ago inheriting a magazine that was outdated and irrelevant, turned the latter into one of the most valuable and least vulnerable media properties in Ireland while finding a way to get an interview with a mattress salesman named the business interview of the year. What use could someone like that possibly be?
I’ll be in the Blackbird from 8pm Irish time that night. Your people already have my contact details. All y’all need is the common sense to work together for peace.
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