The Last Word: Euroleague must break out of its comfort zone

The lack of obvious effort in promoting what is supposed to be a major sporting event reflects badly on itself and the Euroleague.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
The massive turquoise building that is the Palacio De Los Deportes stands out of the salubrious Salamanca area of Madrid like a diamond among jewels. It is a fitting arena to hold an event of the caliber and size of this weekend's Euroleague Final Four. Just seven years ago the entire sports hall was gutted following a devastating fire that spread throughout the area. But it has been rebuilt and risen as a phoenix from the flames since reopening in 2005, hosting numerous events including major pop concerts and athletics meets. The Euroleague itself has only been going in its current status for the last eight years since the split from FIBA, but it has grown exponentially under the guidance of a management which has clearly aimed to create a competition of the professionalism and popularity of the UEFA Champions League in soccer. To some extent this success is on the way to being achieved, as noted by Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu at the Final Four opening press conference on Thursday afternoon, where he spoke of plans to "think about moving forward with new rules on minimum arena capacity and building bigger arenas in the future." He also stressed the significance of the stability amongst the four teams battling for the Euroleague trophy. The organization should be commended for the way it has grown and the professionalism it shows. All Israeli sports associations can learn much from the way the events are organized and the requirements teams have for quality facilities for both press and public alike. Fans of all four teams - Maccabi Tel Aviv, CSKA Moscow, Tau Vitoria and Montepaschi Siena - sat around outside chatting and enjoying the pregame experience, supping beers at the Te Deum Cafe next door to the arena while being interviewed by the increasingly large media presence. The Euroleague informs us that people from 80 different countries will attend the finals (something that has been blamed for the lack of sufficient numbers of tickets for Maccabi fans). This is all lovely, a vision of success that the majority of those connected to the Euroleague appear to be very satisfied with. But step outside the immediate confines of the area surrounding the sports arena and a very different vision emerges. While visitors to Madrid are greeted with a large Euroleague Final Four poster as they leave the airport through the customs gate, and there are adverts on the walls of the O'Donnel metro station which is closest to the Palacio, almost anywhere else in the city you would be hard pressed to find many people who even realize the Final Four is taking place in their home town. Of course it is not a surprise for anyone that soccer is the sport of choice for 90 percent of Madridistas and the city is in full anticipation of Real Madrid securing the league title this weekend. But the lack of obvious effort the Madrid municipality has made in promoting what is supposed to be a major sporting event reflects badly on itself and the Euroleague. It is not only their fault. The fact is the Euroleague will never challenge soccer in any competition for European sports fans' interest. But European basketball must realize just how hard it will be to change people's views of sport. As expected, at least half the journalists sitting in the press areas on Thursday were Israeli. It was interesting to see that the two local sports newspapers - AS and Marca - hardly mentioned the Final Four, but the Web site of Italian publication Gazzetta Delo Sport had it as the main story on its front page. The organizers should have realized the importance of extra promotion because, for the moment, the sport is unlikely to become anything more than a nice passing extra rather than a main event.