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NBA considering new stand-alone European league among other steps to grow game

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While the NBA is very serious about expansion — hello Seattle and Las Vegas — and growing the game domestically, much of the league’s growth in the next decade will be international (that is part of what drives franchise values). The NBA is positioning itself as the pinnacle of the sport but wants its brand to be part of more than just one North American league, it wants things such as the Basketball Africa League as offshoots.

The NBA and international basketball arbitrator FIBA have been in talks about growing basketball and their brands in Europe, and that could include a new league that shuts out the current pinnacle of the sport on that continent, the EuroLeague, reports Kurt Badenhausen of Sportico.

…the NBA is considering a variety of more ambitious options that could exclude the EuroLeague. One of those would include a new standalone NBA Europe league, according to multiple people familiar with the NBA’s thinking who were not authorized to speak publicly.

The league has been approached by stakeholders on several ways to expand the European business outside of a EuroLeague partnership. Any new property would be launched in cooperation with FIBA, which has a long relationship with the NBA and on whose central board NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum sits.

The smells of the European Super League talks in soccer, an ill-advised concept that will not die because it could make the wealthiest clubs even richer. European basketball works sort of like soccer/football on the continent, with domestic leagues — French league, Spanish ABA, Turkish league, etc. — then the top finishing clubs in each of those domestic leagues play each other in the EuroLeague, the international club competition that is best compared to soccer’s Champions’s League.

The difference with the basketball EuroLeague is that 16 of the 18 slots are predetermined for super-clubs that get long-term licenses and wild cards. Some teams can play their way in, but it’s not like the soccer Champions League where teams have to play their way in every year. (For example, if FC Barcelona soccer had a very down season, it would not qualify for the Champions League. However, FC Barcelona basketball is essentially grandfathered into EuroLeague no matter how it played.)

What bothers FIBA — and apparently the NBA — about EuroLeague is they don’t control it or make any money off it. (Plenty of NBA owners feel the same way about the Olympics, they just can’t dislodge that event.) If the NBA and FIBA can spin off their own league, they stand to make more money and have better control of the product, however it tear at the fabric of the European leagues and the meritocracy that is the fabric of the game where teams can earn their way into higher levels of the sport, or be relegated to lower levels with poor performances. This scene from “Ted Lasso” — when AFC Richmond was brought into Super League-style talks — nailed the sentiment of soccer fans.

To be fair, the NBA and FIBA do not appear to be too far down that road yet, but this is all about the NBA making more money, as the Sportico reporting notes.

The NBA’s discussions with the EuroLeague to date have been on ways to support it, with one possibility being to tap the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department (TMBO). Another would be to sell partnerships for the EuroLeague, as the NBA does for USA Basketball…

The NBA thinks that the basketball ecosystem in Europe and Middle East could be worth as much as $3 billion in annual revenue, based on Raine’s [a consultant brought in] projections.

Basketball is thriving in Europe in plenty of ways — three of the top four MVP candidates this season are from Europe: Nikola Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Luka Doncic — and the NBA is looking for ways to more closely emulate the European player development system. However, the NBA is a business, and that’s what will ultimately drive the NBA’s next steps in Europe and around the globe. Sure, the NBA wants to grow the game, but it all comes back to making money in the end.

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