Club basketball in Europe is currently booming with the highest level tier and most prestigious competition, the Euroleague experiencing rising attendances, greater commercial income and more global fans than ever before. The Euroleague is now second only to the National Basketball Association (NBA) in terms of profitability. Since its inception back in 2000, the competition has played a key role in increasing the popularity of the game in traditional basketball hotbeds such as Spain, Turkey and Greece and new territories like Germany and Italy.
For seasoned basketball fans, the rise of the Euroleague is well documented as some of the most celebrated sides from the continent including Barcelona, who last won the title back in 2010, have had what many describe as ‘NBA-level’ talent. Spaniard Juan Carlos Navarro is among a clutch of stars that have performed consistently on Europe’s biggest stage for years. This talent can also be found within the twelve other countries that are currently represented in the Euroleague. For example, six-time champions CSKA Moscow boast a roster of NBA caliber players in Nando de Colo, Kyle Hines, Milos Teodosic and Andrey Vorontsevich.
The emergence of these extremely talented stars on the European stage has made the Euroleague a valuable commodity and been a key factor in increasing attendances and mainstream appeal. There were 22,000 hours of coverage from the continental competition beamed by 71 broadcasters covering over 201 territories in 2015 while average attendances have more than doubled since the turn of the millennium from 3,565 to 8,351 in last year’s campaign. The game is also among the most popular sports in many countries; Sports Illustrated recently claimed, “basketball is the only sport the 3.2 million Lithuanians truly care about”.
Basketball’s roots in Europe actually date back to the beginning of the sport and current NBA star Kobe Bryant has been vocal in his admiration of the culture and training in Europe. Basketball is now reaching a wider mass audience in many countries due to the popularity of NBA, which could soon become even more popular internationally than domestically due to growing viewing numbers in Europe and Asia. The rise of the Euroleague and NBA has also resulted in new and emerging markets embracing fantasy sports, which have traditionally been huge in North America, and betting via live dealer sites. While the European Daily Fantasy Sport (DFS) market is not yet a match for the US, there are signs of progress.
The growing popularity of basketball in Europe has also had a profound impact on the game stateside. The influence of global stars, owners and coaches has increased the tempo of the game and resulted in more ball movement and three-point shooting, which is in contrast to the isolation and superstar ball of the 80s and 90s. Teams in the US now also scour the globe for the rising stars. Basketball may never eclipse soccer as the global game but it is quickly becoming an international sport for a growing legion of fans and brands around the world.