Following the 12-month ban of Panathinaikos’ owner, Dimitris Giannakopoulos, for his verbal confrontation with Fenerbahce fans on social media, the “Greens” and Euroleague’s CEO, Jordi Bertomeu, should rebuild their relationship and not let things get out of control.
The ongoing conflict between the Greek giants and the league has reached its turning point, as Giannakopoulos has threatened to leave the league, if his appeal to the decision is rejected.
The owner of Panathinaikos thinks his ban is completely unfair, as he was defending himself and his family, after the confrontation with Fenerbahce fans became personal.
On the other hand, Bertomeu has stated that the organisation has “no tolerance for any disrespectful behaviour towards fans, coaches or executives.”
The referendum and its implications for Panathinaikos
Giannakopoulos was inclined to hold a referendum, which would determine whether the club would remain in the Euroleague or the 43-year-old businessman would leave the club.
However, he reconsidered his initial decision and changed his mind, so the outcome of his appeal will determine what will happen next.
That said, it would be in the best interest of both sides to call it a truce and let things return to normal. Otherwise, the situation could deteriorate and nobody would know what could happen.
If Panathinaikos leaves the Euroleague, then they will be forced to play in the FIBA Champions League, which is a far less prestigious competition.
Concurrently, many members of the roster would decide to leave the squad and join other Euroleague clubs, while the same would happen with many of the sponsors, too.
Moreover, the fans wouldn’t be interested in watching the matches in the Champions League, while such a scenario would create a financial catastrophy.
On the other hand, if Giannakopoulos leaves the club, then Panathinaikos will need to deal with a series of financial problems that will negatively affect its operation, as the “Greens” would be no longer considered a top-tier club.
Is the Euroleague “vindictive” against Giannakopoulos?
The organisation doesn’t want to see the six-time Euroleague champions leave the league, as this would “shake” their initial plan and might lead to other clubs deciding to abandon the Euroleague as well.
This situation would bring Bertomeu and the other executives to a vulnerable position, as these teams would consider moving to the FIBA Champions League.
So, the league would become much less prestigious and much less competitive, as Euroleague clubs are supposed to be the top ones in Europe.
However, one should take into account that Giannakopoulos’ ban is exaggerated, to say the least. I don’t think his behaviour was disrespectful to the organisation itself or to other clubs (including fans, players and staff) and Euroleague executives.
Instead, he had a verbal confrontation with Fenerbahce fans, which quickly became personal and got out of control, yet similar situations have happened many times in the NBA or other sports (e.g American Football, UFC, European football).
I am of the opinion that a two or three-game (or even four or five) ban, along with a fine, would be enough and things would quickly get back to normal.
Given the history between Giannakopoulos and Bertomeu [1) €150,000 fine for his comments after Panathinaikos’ Game 1 against Barcelona in 2013 and 2) verbal assault against the referees following Panathinaikos’ game against CSKA Moscow in 2015], one can think that the organisation has adopted a very strict approach towards the Greek businessman, which only deteriorates the relationship between the league and the Greek club.
Consequently, it’s not likely there can be mutual trust between Bertomeu and Giannakopoulos and that’s why the “Greens” are looking for alternative solutions.
The actual problems and what is expected to happen next
Although Giannakopoulos’ comments were exaggerated, concerning his willingness to leave the team if the club’s fans decide to remain in the Euroleague, he was correct on what he said about the league’s real issues.
The level of officiating (which is very low, compared to previous years), the management, the TV rights, the sponsorships, the way the CEO is elected, are some of the issues the Euroleague executives should deal with and solve, instead of spending their time arguing with Giannakopoulos and “punishing” him for his social media comments.
Only if the Euroleague solves its actual problems, the situation will become better and the clubs and their owners will respect the organisation and vice versa.
Regarding the future, I think the decision about Giannakopoulos’ appeal to his ban will retain the intensity at high levels, no matter if it is positive or negative for the Greek businessman.
Yet, things will not get out of control, as the regular season has reached its turning point and the “Greens” are fighting for a place in the Final Four.
So, no major changes are expected in the short-term future, whereas any major developments could happen during the off-season, when Giannakopoulos will certainly question the way the Euroleague operates and will ask for changes to be made.
Overall, I think both Giannakopoulos and Bertomeu should call it a truce as well as work on solving their individual problems (Final Four, Greek Basket League for Panathinaikos, officiating and other issues for Bertomeu) and then discuss during the off-season how things could change for the better.