A story of the Turkish Basketball Super League
It’s been a while since I did a piece of writing here on TalkBasket yet, given the circumstances and the insight, I thought it was high time to give some perspective on matters related to the title at hand. For those that don’t know too much about me, I do a lot of consultancy work with pro basketball teams around Europe and across the globe in terms of analytics and team management as well as player personnel. I have been blessed to have competed at a high level in the past before I got into this line of business and know a little about the ins and outs of European basketball, for anyone that wants further insight on me click here.
So let’s get down to it.
Back in 2013 the Turkish Basketball Federation (TBF) took a decision to open up its media and sponsorship rights and signed an agreement with Infront Sports & Media to generate a fresh line of cash flow for themselves and the top basketball league of the country as well as for the clubs in the Turkish Basketball Super league (TBSL) for years to come (good or bad decision I’ll leave it to you to decide).
This plainly meant that the TBF handed over all national and international media, sponsorship rights and a majority of its commercial representation rights of the teams as well as its event representation rights over to the entity known as Infront Sports & Media. Since the date of the agreement (which can be found in the link above), there have been (positive) major influxes of sponsors coming into the league that have allowed the TBF and the teams on some level to seem valuable (smoke and mirrors in my opinion). The rest of this write up will cover what has gone on concerning the league administration, the teams, how bad management and non continued support from the so called federation that was held up the TBF’s former executive board which was head by former president (Harun Erdenay) and the current issues that are being faced by Hidayet Turkoğlu and the current league being run by a young league director that is trying to be innovative (namely, Derya Yannier).
The Turkish Basketball Super league
Since the beginning of the 2010s Turkish basketball has been on the rise (in terms of player performance) and going through a sort of second spring if we can call it for what it is (considering that the golden days came when Efes Pilsen won the Korac Cup back in 1996). Many star players from the U.S. and young European players have made appearances allowing them to be seen as rising stars. There even have been pros that have come into the league to revamp their careers and have had success by doing so.
The league has also been a developmental ground for certain Turkish players suchs as Furkan Korkmaz, Cedi Osman, Ersan Ilyasova that have been able to make a jump to the NBA in recent years as well as other countless names that have used the league to progress their careers. While in terms of player performance the league definitely has been a productive ground for success, in the backdrop of things concerning league management, team management (sponsorships to sustain success), the TBF’s support towards clubs and growing a fan base or even stabilizing the overall economics of the TBSL have been pretty bad.
The short list of success
The two steady stallions of the TBSL in my eyes have always been Fenerbahçe and Efes (Anadolu “Efes” or formerly known as “Efes” Pilsen). Both teams that have steadily been in Euroleague level competition while also competing in the TBSL. To an extent its due to the understanding that these two clubs see success stemming from being habitual, they utilize personnel that have know how in dealing with basketball economics, marketing, scouting as well as growing a conscientious fan base which has brought them longevity. Each season both teams spend millions of Euros trying to create a roster that will be seen as successful but it should not be forgotten that without the amazing work that goes on behind the scenes of the people that deal with the points mentioned, turning them into brands that are seen more than just teams.
Where the league and teams fall short?
With 15 teams in the current season competing to be champion of the TBSL; year after year the expectation that Turkish basketball is growing with added value would sound like it should be there however that really is not the case. The fact that mentality is lacking inside the TBF itself by those that are running the league (not seeing it more than just sporting events), sponsorships are seen no more than donations by teams and are not utilized to its full extent, the fact that there is an overflow of foreign players in the league (even though they do generate for top quality basketball) is hindering the development of young Turkish players, finally a majority of teams have the tendency to rely on the TBF, government support and the municipalities way too much which makes it almost impossible to get things done in an optimal way.
TBF not staffed good enough
While the TBF is a privately run organization yet they are bound to the ministry of youth and sports in Turkey. A majority of the staff and workers of the federation have some level of background that deems them qualified however for the type of work that is being dealt with in terms of running the TBSL, understanding the macro and micro economics of a team sport, such as basketball, the type of work that goes on is lacking to point it out as clearly as possible. Derya Yannier, the former club manager of the recently shutdown NSK Eskişehir was recently appointed as the league director of the TBSL, while in attempts to be innovative and transparent as possible even his presence has not made much of a difference in how events are being handled. A brief example that comes to mind is this season’s TBSL All star event which barely scratched the surface in terms of basketball fans and was very average compared to past organizations. While this is just the tip of the iceberg, it is a tough thing to be able to make everyone happy in an environment that has so many expectations. The TBF has always had issues yet more has gone on in recent years as teams have begun to falter due to a lack of support.
In my opinion a major reason why Turkish basketball can not pull itself together in terms of value lies in the fact that handling a topic such as sponsorship and wealth distribution is by far not well handled overall. There has been no attempt at educating young professionals nor relying on the know how of consultants that can support the federation nor teams directly or indirectly to utilize incoming sponsorships (I am keeping Anadolu Efes and Fenerbahçe outside of the overall status quo of the league predominantly due to the fact that they are the only two clubs that manage and are self sufficient enough to be able to deal with this topic).
A brief example I’d like to share, currently the TBF itself has a listed 13 different sponsors. While in terms of numbers this might seem like amazing and the type of sponsors they have that support them in a wide variety of ways is great, has it ever occurred odd that the current Turkish Men’s basketball team or any of the National Teams do not even have a major sporting brand sponsor. Odd! Till a few years ago Adidas was the main sporting goods sponsor for the TBF and they used to support them pretty well, yet recent decisions and development both on the ends of major sporting brands such as Adidas, Nike or even newcomers like Under Armour have decided not to invest in basketball in a substantial amount which has ended up hindering the sport overall. While it is not 100% clear why the TBF is not seeking out working with a major sporting brand the fact that economy overall in the country is bad has not been the issue here. Its worthwhile to take notice though of these kind of issues. As mentioned before to me the case is about people that are not able to see or envision possibilities within an organization, hence tearing it down rather than seeking possible support from those that have know how about it.
If we would backtrack to the deal that was signed between the TBF and Infront Sports & Media which by far is above a few million Euros in value, where has all this injection of sponsorship funding gone to? It will likely stay as a question mark due to lacking transparency that is not provided at all on either end. Those that suffer? Well basketball fans across the basketball community of Turkey is just a starting point.
Young Turkish Players x Influx of Foreign Players in the TBSL x Scouting
One of the substantial points that hurts the growth of Turkish basketball has been the number of foreign players that compete in the TBSL. Again in terms of the visible sponsorship case of the TBSL directly there are a total of 8 various sponsors that currently are sponsors yet in terms of quality of the league it heavily relies on the influx of foreign players that are hired as personnel by teams to attempt and compete at the highest level to win the TBSL. While just last season a total of 6 foreign players were able to compete on court in the TBSL this number was dropped to 5 by executive decision from the board of directors of the TBF and in alignment with the league directory. Yet this still is too much. So much so that youth development players (Turkish) U21 or even at U23 level while at best get to compete in a league called the Turkish Basketball Developmental league (the BGL consists of 19 teams mostly tied to the TBSL teams) its very rare that these young talents get enough opportunity to compete for their parent TBSL teams. In part I see that while player scouting can be a sort of resolution to developing young talent. It should also always be an option for young Turkish players to seek out their options in playing abroad. While more and more student-athletes are now only seeing the true value of studying and playing abroad there still is so much more talent that can be developed and yet gets lost in the crosswires of teams trying to be successful in a short time span. End result, a lot of young talent gets lost not being able to see the light of day in the TBSL and rarely seek playing opportunities in Europe they tend to fade away. While in part the Federation has attempted and been successful at creating an environment for young talent simply put resources have not been dealt well enough to clear a full path and this is where one of the shortcomings has occurred. In part it could also be said that TBSL teams rely heavily on player agencies to find suitable player personnel and do not have an inhouse scouting solution namely a scout that has enough of a grasp that can assist in such matters. To an extent usually an assistant coach has to take on extra duties so that clubs do not have to add an extra body on the payroll which is a very short sighted way of looking at things unfortunately.
Another major point where concerns and issues rise from happen within the TBSL team managements and ownerships specifically. There are really only a hand full of teams with ownerships that do a stable enough job in building up and staying afloat during the course of the regular season and playoffs. A lot of teams heavily rely on the cash flow generated by the Spor Toto/IDDAA (the betting sponsor that hands out commission to teams) in part this is seen as a type of charity hand out or perception should be that it is. About 70% of teams in the league barely generate any kind of fan based income (ticketing or merchandise sales or added event sales) and due to the limited resources that clubs divert to basketball team owners usually have to rely on second best option to pay out its teams which is the cash flow that comes out of Spor Toto/IDDAA as mentioned. This has been such a major issue that teams have had to postpone or withhold payments to players or even coaching staff or team managers causing foreign players to apply to Basketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT – it should also be noted that Turkey currently has the most sanctions of any FIBA European country click here to check the list). Off of the top of my head here is a short list of teams that have had to shut down its doors due to financial issues or have had to shrink: (in no specific order) Olin Edirne (which became Eskişehir Basketball later on), NSK Eskişehir, T.E.D. Kolej, Uşak Sportif, Yeşil Giresun, Trabzonspor and now with the recent news that Banvit is pulling its support from Bandirma Basketball there will be a total of 7 major clubs that have/will have shut down. The blame, bad management in part and not being able to work up the game of basketball as an entertainment across the country.
I, first of all, hope that I have been able to give some insight into matters that have been building up as a bubble in Turkish basketball, soon enough like every bubble a burst will occur so while there still is time there are things that can be done. Aside from educating or teaching coaches the TBF could very easily create courses or even education programs to develop young professionals that can eventually become GMs or even staff that could be employed by teams across the league. The time and resources are not a major issue as with the presence of online education and being able to educate individuals has become much more suited in the fast paced internet driven world we live in.
Working with consultants and people that have know how in related matters. There are dozens of consultancies based in sports, to highlight one of them the European Basketball Advisory Group is a respected organization that is also a Non-profit and handles organizational matters with the utmost care.
Creating stable finances to run clubs is the toughest frameworking that takes a toll on ownership yet in the long run has the best ROI, incorporating a structure so that clubs have strong as well as sustainable line of income means serious changes to how not just a club is run but how fans (NOT FANATICS) should support the club, merchandise and added club driven event sales can boost a professional team. It is vital to recognize that throwing money at a sport and hoping that it sticks is a thing of the past, smart relationships that build a win/win/win effect for all those involved is a strategy that needs application.
Youth development, scouting both to me in a sense go hand in hand and while the method of solely relying on player agencies to assist clubs with finding talent is changing, 70% of the clubs of the TBSL need to figure out a scouting structure that will aid them in not just finding foreign talent but also local talent that will get them to play at a better level.
It’s a fact that the game of basketball is changing and evolving, its no longer just a playground where players and coaches strive upon, there is a whole network of professionals ranging from sponsorship managers, to targeted social media managers, ticketing professional to executives that deal with player personnel aside from GMs or team managers concerning branding.
While I will never claim that I am an expert, I have a very common sense of things when it comes to basketball economics (both macro and micro) and with so many big brand names that have sponsored the TBF as well as the TBSL over the last 3-4 years alone it brings me to question what has happened to all the generated wealth, income from all these agreements (aside from the cut that Infront Sports & Media gets for doing their part)? The level of transparency that is expected from a federation, lacking. The league is a bubble ready to burst soon if things are not worked out and yet another team or two decides to shrink or get out of professional basketball…
“The cake is still the same size… yet with so many more at the table the question is how everyone can get a fair share of it” – a renowned US congressman
For those that want to reach out to me to ask or even comment feel free to do so, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts,