Since its rebrand at the turn of the century, EuroLeague basketball has been on a steady rise. Originally founded as the FIBA European Champions Cup in 1958, just 11 years after the NBA, the competition has undergone numerous changes in branding and format in this time, with its current version proving to be the most popular yet. While no league can claim to be number one in a sport globally dominated by the NBA, the EuroLeague is carving its own path as a high-quality alternative to the American competition with ever increasing quality, marketing and viewership.
The most important factor in the rise of the Euroleague is its ever-increasing quality. One of the main reasons for this is the variation its continental format facilitates, whereas the NBA is based across similar nations, the USA and Canada, the Euroleague features teams from across Europe. This gives matches a real international feel, with teams from different countries adopting widely varied tactics and styles from their respective regions. At times the NBA can feel a little one dimensional, as many of the teams are seeking to play the same way, which means the variation usually comes from individual actions rather than team patterns.
The strategic differences between teams from Europe’s many nations makes the EuroLeague exciting for fans, both in the arenas and at home. Another aspect of the EuroLeague that makes it so entertaining is the fact that games are much more spaced out than in the NBA, where matches are played every 2-3 days. EuroLeague matches are usually a week apart, and while most teams also compete in domestic leagues, the best players are usually saved for the bigger competition. The NBA is also suffering the negative effects of fixture congestion, something that also happens in other sports such as soccer and that has been reflected in a study carried out by three academics in which they demonstrated the effects of the heavy physical demands faced by elite players. Whatever the sport, fixture congestion causes injuries to pile up and the quality of games suffers as a result of tired players. The EuroLeague has no such problems and is thriving as a result.
As a knock-on effect of the increasing quality of players and teams, EuroLeague basketball is also on the rise in terms of its popularity. One of the main reasons for this has been the steady flow of players being traded to NBA teams, which has made the EuroLeague a great place to see the stars of the future. In the past, the likes of Pau and Marc Gasol have gone from dominating the EuroLeague to starring in the NBA, and countless others have repeated the feat. The 2020-21 off season saw Oklahoma City Thunder draft Théo Maledon and Aleksej Pokuševski from EuroLeague teams, while Facundo Campazzo moved from Real Madrid to the Denver Nuggets and Nik Stauskas moved from Spain’s Baskonia to the Milwaukee Bucks. Such moves have helped put fans in seats for EuroLeague games, as they give fans the chance to see NBA stars before their rise to greatness. Additionally, the EuroLeague has also always been a viable option for players seeking a different path after spending time in the NBA, players like Shane Larkin who played for the Mavericks, Knicks, Nets and Celtics in the NBA, are carving out their own paths in the EuroLeague. As well as contributing to the level of competition in the league, these moves have helped the EuroLeague boast the second highest attendance of any professional basketball league in the world, second only to the NBA.
Marketing is another area in which the EuroLeague has continuously elevated in the last 10 years, securing major sponsorship deals that have helped boost the profile of the competition. Since 2010 the league has carried the Name of Turkish Airlines, one of the world’s largest mainline carriers, as part of a multimillion deal. Whether by accident or design, signing with an airline has taken the EuroLeague name around the world encouraging more viewers from Europe and beyond. Matches held between EuroLeague and NBA teams have also helped boost the profile of the European competition, particular as fans have been able to see just how quickly the gap is closing between the two leagues.