Best of the Decade: Off-court advances

Jan 06, 2020 by Print
Best of the Decade: Off-court advances

The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague has got better and better on the court during the last 10 years, and that has been matched by similarly strong improvements off the court.

Revolutionary change

By far the biggest and most meaningful change came in 2016, when Euroleague Basketball delivered a revolutionary change in the structure of the competition. From the 2016-17 season onward, the old two-phase format before the playoffs – regular season and Top 16 – was replaced by a genuine round-robin league, with a simultaneous reduction in the number of teams – from 24 to 16 (and now 18) – to heighten competitiveness and intensity. Thus was created what is now a 34-game regular season that has proven every bit as dramatic as its two-part predecessor – and more – while bringing fans countless gains.

The format change set a precedent not only for basketball, but for the whole of European sport. The EuroLeague is the only true league at the highest level of sport anywhere on the continent. For fans who previously had to rely on the luck of the draw to see their teams play against the biggest powerhouses and stars on the continent, now there are guaranteed games between all teams every season, bringing legendary players to all EuroLeague cities.

It was no coincidence that the format change coincided with Euroleague Basketball's entering into an unprecedented 10-year joint venture with IMG, a partnership which revolutionized the quality of television coverage as the competition benefited from the expertise of a world leader in broadcasting.

More games, more often

Thanks to the new competition format, there is also more action to enjoy than ever before. A lot more. The minimum number of games required to win the title now stands at 39: 34 in the regular season, three in the playoffs and two at the Final Four. At the start of the decade, by contrast, Barcelona won the title by playing just 22 games.

This near-doubling of the number of contests has given fans more games to enjoy and new days on which to enjoy them, with the introduction of double-round weeks providing regular EuroLeague action on Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the first time this century. It has also led to clubs building bigger rosters to cope with the extra demands, leading to greater depths of talent than ever before.

That brave decision to take such a significant leap into the future has been rewarded with the creation of a relentlessly competitive league where every victory has to be earned the hard way. The best playing against the best on a weekly basis means every game is meaningful, and there is no let-up in excitement for fans from October all the way through to May.

Speed and fairness

The quality of play has been enhanced by some changes to the way the game is officiated, most notably ahead of the 2016-17 season with a greater emphasis on flagging unsportsmanlike fouls, especially those that had unfairly stopped fastbreaks from developing. This stricter approach has greatly reduced the number of game-stopping fouls and led to a faster, more open style of play that promotes transition basketball and has led directly to more scoring. It has also forced defenders to work harder rather than simply reaching to break up a developing play with a lunging grab at the offensive player.

The quest for more accurate – and therefore fairer – decisions from referees was also boosted by an upgrade to the instant replay system, giving officials access to the best possible technology for the most important calls.

Cultivating clubs

Of course, on-court and off-court success are closely related. More professional organization in the back offices creates the right environment for players to flourish and reach their potential. A major step in that direct was the creation in 2017 of EuroLeague BOCS (Business Operations & Club Services), which helps Turkish Airlines EuroLeague clubs grow their off-court operations by becoming a hub of best global business practices and club business metrics. As with the popular format change, EuroLeague clubs again made a clear statement about the importance of empowering and boosting growth through stronger collective efforts and clear business-centered strategic planning. The creation of BOCS was at one with Euroleague Basketball's embrace of innovative ideas to lead its clubs and the game into the future.

Courting communities

Away from the excitement and drama of gameday, clubs across Europe made a great commitment to their local communities last decade with the creation of One Team, Euroleague Basketball's social responsibility program, which was launched in 2012. At its deepest level, sport is not only about winning games and competing for trophies: playing and watching can also be truly positive, inclusive and enriching experiences, and using basketball as a tool to genuinely improve the lives of vulnerable people is one of the league's most meaningful achievements.

Monuments to basketball

Another improvement in the last decade has been better facilities for supporters. Fenerbahce's Ulker Sports and Event Hall and Zalgirio Arena, opened in 2012 and 2011 respectively, are arguably the very best sporting venues in Europe, while the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul and Berlin's Mercedez Benz Arena have also been great re-additions to the list of EuroLeague arenas over the last couple of years.

The future

So what does the next ten years have in store? New arenas in Munich, Barcelona and Villeurbanne, for starters. But the other changes – and changes there will surely be – cannot be foreseen. The developments of the last decade, after all, could not have been predicted in 2010, and though we cannot be certain what lies around the corner of the 2020s, one thing is for certain: the future of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague is more exciting than ever.

Here's looking forward to 2030!