EuroLeague’s New CEO Eyes League Growth in Europe’s Premier Cities

EuroLeague Basketball hired former Portland Trail Blazers President Marshall Glickman as its acting CEO in mid-September. Glickman, tabbed to replace league founder Jordi Bertomeau, believes he can grow the popularity of the European club basketball competition—and league revenues—by bringing some of the “pizzazz and the entertainment side” found in U.S. broadcasts across the pond. Awarding permanent licenses to clubs located in diverse, world-class cities is also part of the plan.

But to deliver on those initiatives, Glickman will need to raise a meaningful amount of money. While the number is less than a billion dollars, he said the total will be in the hundreds of millions. “We need more resources and the way to get there is to [help] develop a new roadmap” for global basketball, Glickman said. That roadmap ideally includes EuroLeague working collaboratively with FIBA, various domestic leagues and the NBA to collectively grow the game.

Bertomeu, EuroLeague’s top executive for the last 22 years, helped to grow annual competition revenues from $400 million to $650 million over the last seven years.

Glickman comes into the top position with EuroLeague experience; he spent two years working as a special advisor to Bertomeu from 2002 to 2004. The league’s familiarity with him, along with his understanding of the political, economic and cultural nuances within Europe, made him a natural fit to serve as the competition’s transitional CEO. (He has not committed to remaining in the role long-term.)

Glickman is expected to bring fresh ideas and a new perspective to the EuroLeague, and to help lift the entity to reach new commercial heights. The semi-closed competition currently consists of 18 teams, 13 of which are permanent members (11 are current shareholders, two are in the process of formalizing share acquisition). The other five operate on short-term, provisional licenses. Shareholder clubs control 75% of EuroLeague assets. The union of leagues (ULEB) and several other individual leagues collectively own the other 25%.

The former NBA club executive hasn’t been in his new role long, but he has already homed in on the need to grow fandom in Europe’s preeminent cities. “You have a league where the strongest basketball markets are in the weakest business markets, and the greatest business potential is in places that are not considered traditional basketball markets,” Glickman said.

The EuroLeague’s best markets are Vilnius, Lithuania; Belgrade, Serbia; Athens, Greece; Istanbul, Turkey; and Tel Aviv, Israel. But proprietary research indicates “there is wide open space for growth” in several of the locales that drive Europe’s economy, “particularly in France, Germany and the greater London area,” Glickman said.

London will be the toughest of the three for the EuroLeague to unlock, if only because basketball currently ranks as the eighth or ninth most popular professional sport in Britain. However, a large number of English kids are taking up the game and other pro leagues have found success in the U.K., leading Glickman to believe there’s an unmet desire for team sports. “When the NBA goes to London with exhibition games, they sell out in two seconds,” he said. “The NFL works in London. Even Major League Baseball works in London. We think a permanent EuroLeague team can be very successful there ultimately.”

Glickman is convinced that if the EuroLeague begins to “funnel more resources into those growth markets, there can be a sea change in terms of interest from potential partners and from various broadcast and digital platforms.”

But to do that, he knows he’ll need growth capital. Some of the money would foster success in new markets (think: formation of youth academies, potential subsidies to help offset higher OPEX in those cities).

Glickman also needs funding to recruit and retain top business talent, improve the quality of the league’s media distribution platforms and make decisions in the best long-term interests of the competition (as opposed to taking the deal that pays the most money).

The new CEO would like to get more resources into the existing clubs’ hands too. “I want to help our clubs grow on the local and regional level, and have a better balance between what commercial assets are best monetized locally by the clubs versus what assets are best monetized collectively by the league.”

The EuroLeague’s league-level commercial assets reside under an entity known as Euroleague Properties. It has a 10-year joint-venture with IMG Media—Euroleague Ventures—that exploits the league’s television and digital rights, partnership and sponsorship opportunities and live-event inventory.

There are no league-wide licensing deals. That is because some EuroLeague shareholders are tied to large football clubs that have long-standing, lucrative pacts already in place (think: FC Barcelona and Nike or Real Madrid and Adidas).

The EuroLeague’s ability to raise the private equity or venture financing it needs may hinge on finding a way to “co-exist with FIBA,” Glickman said. FIBA currently runs some of its qualifying tournaments during the EuroLeague season and the overlapping schedule forces the league’s best players to decide between playing for their club team or their respective national team.

It is not hard to envision the EuroLeague under Glickman’s leadership moving closer to the closed league model seen in the U.S. Adding a few permanent clubs in world-class cities would support the league’s efforts to grow the game in those markets and could help it to generate meaningful dollars in the form of lucrative expansion fees, although it is hard to peg what a EuroLeague team license might command because there are no recent sales to use as comps.

EuroLeague Basketball has a second-tier competition called the EuroCup. Twenty of the next best club teams participate and the champion and runner up gain promotion. So it doesn’t make sense to close the EuroLeague entirely. Without a path to the top competition, fans of EuroCup teams have little reason to engage with the property.

But making 16 of the 18 spots permanent seemingly does. That is unless the EuroLeague decides to increase the size of its competitions. “There’s more demand than 16 for sure,” Glickman said. “There are a whole bunch of markets that are pursuing EuroLeague licenses right now.” It is conceivable that the EuroLeague could grow to 20 teams, with 18 of them permanent license holders.

Glickman will bring a decidedly American approach to EuroLeague content and production. “I want to see our games, in terms of the audio and visual, become more of a show; become more fun to watch,” he said. “I [also] want us to do [more storytelling] through our digital platforms, our social platforms and through our more traditional [media] channels. That’s a big part of this and what attracts a lot of people.”

While the new CEO does not expect the EuroLeague to match the worldwide mass appeal of the NBA. He sees basketball’s role within the cultural fabric of younger millennials and Gen Zs and is convinced there remains a meaningful opportunity to increase demand for his league—both within existing and growth markets.

by JohnWallStreet