Xavier Bidault: “Germany, France, the UK are markets where we want to develop”

2018-06-03T12:35:49+00:00 2018-06-03T12:35:49+00:00.

Aris Barkas

03/Jun/18 12:35


Xavier Bidault, the basketball commercial director of IMG Media, talked to Eurohoops about the growth of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and the upcoming expansion.

By Lefteris Moutis/ moutis@eurohoops.net 

After two years of collaboration, IMG and the EuroLeague as just scratching the surface of what European basketball can achieve commercially. There’s a lot of potentials still untapped and as Xavier Bidault said to Eurohoops: “The question now is how do we keep going”.

Τhe goal is to create a league that will be profitable for everyone involved and above anyone else for the clubs.

What do you think is the biggest accomplishment resulting from the collaboration between the EuroLeague and the IMG, in the new era of the EuroLeague?

“I think it was a combination of things that started last year. One of them – and it’s not necessarily part of the collaboration – was the decision to change the format, to reduce the number of teams from 24 to 16 and change the format of the competition to one where everyone plays against everyone else in the regular season. That had a massive impact and it changed completely the structure of the league, it changed completely the content and how many games we can offer to partners, the quality of those games as well.

The second big one, I would say, is changing the production standards, mainly for the live games, having some consistency across all games. Whether you’re in Spain, in Greece, in Russia, the games are going to be produced exactly the same, using exactly the same equipment and number of cameras, following the same running order and sequences, adding some context to the live feed, more stats, more graphic elements, to help you understand the game a bit better if you’re not used to the competition. So, all of those production efforts, making the live products more consistent and more premium had a big impact as well, and we’re thinking about who we’re producing content for and what kind of content, and that also had a massive impact. We’ve seen a lot of growth in interaction and engagement on social media”.

There are more games, the games are played on Thursday and Friday, and Friday is a dead day for football so the EuroLeague can attract football fans as well. So, do you have any other changes in mind in this direction, to attract more fans that are not so engaged in basketball?

“I think telling the story of the EuroLeague a bit more is key. I think, when you engage with the EuroLeague competition you realize that it’s great basketball, the passion of the fans and that it’s also presented in better and better ways. And you see that in the arenas with a lot of the teams trying to make a better game presentation and it’s a great experience. If you don’t know much about EuroLeague basketball, you’re never going to experience that.

And telling that story of what it is: it’s the second best basketball league in the world, it’s very competitive, it’s very passionate and there’s a lot of great elements in it. It’s something we’re trying to do, and something that we can start doing from next season is to have a crossover between football and basketball because there are a lot of football fans who are basketball fans as well and a lot of basketball fans who are football fans. And we are lucky enough that many of the EuroLeague clubs also have football clubs, like FC Barcelona and Real Madrid and so we will see if we can do something, invite them to the games for example. We might start doing that in the UK as well because a lot of the football players are basketball fans. That is one of the tactics that we use, but overall, telling the story of the EuroLeague to a wider audience and making it more mainstream is the most important thing”.

The expansion will begin in the 2019-20 season with France and Germany. Is that a move on behalf of the EuroLeague and the IMG to get the EuroLeague established in bigger markets?

“Yes, absolutely. I think Germany, France, the UK at the moment are markets where we want to develop. The balance we need to strike is with the quantity versus the quality. Jordi Bertomeu spoke about that during the Final Four. We want to make sure that if someone joins the EuroLeague will be competitive enough. This is great for us and we are going to work with them as closely as possible to keep on promoting the EuroLeague in those markets”.

Are you jealous of football and the football Champions League, and would you like to copy that competition in the EuroLeague?

“I’m sure I could be jealous of a lot of things they do, a lot of things they have, but it’s a different property, it’s a different sport, they are not things that we could compare. We’re not trying to replicate what they do. I mean, there are many things that are specific to basketball and the EuroLeague.

The structure of the league is different. The fan base and the behavior, in some cases, are different as well, so there are a lot of case studies and good examples that we can use from the UEFA Champions League and the NBA, the Premier League, from many leagues, but we’re not trying to replicate them. It’s about taking the best elements from of all of them and then creating a new entity because we are unique”.

Speaking about money – because, in business, in the end, it’s all about money – Jordi Bertomeu said that the EuroLeague had a 50% growth. What do you think will happen in the next years in terms of growth and revenues for the teams and how will the product be more successful in financial terms?

“The growth he was referring to was for the first year of the new era and that was really a result of two things we have discussed already: the competition’s format and then the new content and its consistency around Europe. The question now is how do we keep going. One area is expanding in new markets like Germany and France, see what we can do in the UK, in the US, in China, in big basketball markets, big economical markets, we have a role to play there.

We need more initiatives from the teams as well, where it’s setting standards for all leagues in terms of trying to increase the consistency of the game experience and sharing the best practices in terms of ticketing and hospitality and sponsorship. That program officially started last year, so now you can see that the attendance is growing and we have more fans. Having a full arena is key for the product whether it’s about the TV broadcast or the atmosphere, but it also means more revenue. The more fans you have, the more fans are paying for tickets, the more revenues there are for the teams, and this is good. We see that with ticketing, I think we’re going to see that with sponsorships and in other areas”.

You mentioned ticketing. Do you think that if you push the teams more, the A-license teams, first of all, to play in bigger arenas – because there are some teams that play in small arenas even though their cities have bigger arenas – this will help the product? Will it make it easier for the fans to be more engaged and to produce bigger revenues?

“That’s a complicated question. First of all, some of the teams are restricted by the arena they have, whether they own the arena or are just leasing it, sometimes it’s the best available in the city. It’s not just about the size of the arena. You can have an arena with a capacity of 20.000 people but the attendance might not be satisfactory. I’d rather take a small arena that is full of people than a half-empty gym.

The point about ticketing, what the EuroLeague is trying to do with the teams is not necessarily about the quantity but more about the best practices and tactics on how to sell tickets. What’s the right price, what’s the right packaging, what comes with buying a season ticket? Do you just get the ticket or do you also get to meet players, access to practices, all of the things that some leagues are doing but that are not necessarily part of European sporting culture? So, to answer your question, yes, it would be great to have bigger but also more modern arenas, and have control over them, like owning them and being able to do whatever we want, but there’s a lot more to it than size”.

At the end of the day, it’s all about money and Jordi Bertomeu has also said that many times before. There are many big sponsors, presidents, and owners of the teams, that pay a lot of money, and there are teams like Barcelona or Real Madrid that also have big football clubs that give part of their revenues to the basketball teams. Are you optimistic that within the next few years that will change in European basketball and that EuroLeague teams will have earnings without an owner or a football club having to pay for their expenses?

“First of all, as part of the EuroLeague bylaws, there are some rules about revenues and the minimum commercial revenues teams have to bring. There’s already a mechanism in place where the EuroLeague is capping the financing from football clubs and companies owned by the club’s proprietor. And again, a part of the process is how can people sell sponsorships, sell commercial partnerships in general, and a lot of this is educating the clubs, trying to take the best practices and educating people about being more business-savvy. There’s already a mechanism in place and we aim to improve it”.