Some years ago no one would believe it but things have changed since then. According to rumours Greek A1 is all set to start negotiations with Turkish Airlines seeking a sponsorship for the league, which is going through rough times, financially wise.
Up to this day OPAP is the sponsor of Greek A1 (and almost every sporting league in Greece). OPAP is the Greek state owned gambling company, constituting a monopoly in business of gambling, with sports betting being their locomotive.
And although basketball is by far the sport with the highest standards, performance and success in Greece, OPAP simply doesn’t want to hear it, investing more and more in football, on the expense of the rest sports, especially basketball.
And while for an outsider Panathinaikos and Olympiacos give the illusion of prosperity and glamour in Greek basketball, the truth could not be further than that. Most teams work as charity projects of rich people, local municipalities and as front houses of businesses. They rely heavily on cash injections from their sugar-daddy owners, bail-outs from municipalities or even government amendments which clear them of debts, from TV revenue from the state owned ERT network, at the expense of tax-payers.
Most teams do not have a viable business plan, no income from merchandise sales, minimum income from tickets and most of them don’t even have a marketing departments. Even giants such as Panathinaikos and Olympiacos with millions of fans can not make up over 40% of their expenses, although having the best, by a mile, TV contracts in Greece and Euroleague, selling thousands of season tickets, averaging one of the highest numbers of attendance in Euroleague, having exclusive merchandise stores, online stores and even selling players to NBA.
Just days before the tip-off most teams didn’t even have a TV contract. An agreement was achieved at the last moment thanks to a couple of advertising agencies who represent Panathinaikos and Olympiacos and on the request of their clients, threw a bone (not a big one) to the smaller clubs. For what it’s worth they got 10% less than they got last year, from – you guessed it – state TV. Two private free-to-air networks who had bought some packaged got rid of them to minimise their losses.
But even with a wealthy owner, nothing is guaranteed, as there is a catch. Most of them register their cash injections in the books as personal or company loan to the club, and when they can no longer sustain the club or feel they had enough exposure, they demand all that money back, holding the club as hostage, blocking new ownerships and even dissolving the clubs.
For example Maroussi, a model team for almost a decade, got kicked out of Euroleague Qualifying rounds overnight because their wealthy owner decided to leave the team. Players were announced and some weeks later they all elft because they had not seen a single dime in their bank accounts. Olympia Larisa, a stable club from central Greece playing in an almost brand new arena, got relegated because their owner, a land developer, saw his business plummet during the financial crisis in Greece, which by the way is just starting. The club which signed international French, German and Lithuanian players three seasons ago no longer exists today.
OPAP is a billions on top of billions business which is taking advantage of professional sports in Greece in order to make profit, but only 7% of their income return to sports in the form of sponsorships. Every year they allocate around 140.000.000 in sponsorships for literally every sporting league in Greece. But more than 80.000.000 go into football. That is 16 times the amount basketball gets, 5.000.000 per year.
Beside the sponsorships OPAP also finances the rebuilding and renovating of the arena of any football club, as long as they ask for it. But they refuse to finance any works to be done on basketball arenas. Even at the OPAP billboards in basketball arenas, their logo is a figure kicking a football.
OPAP is also blocking sponsorships for basketball clubs from major foreign, online and not, betting companies, using the Greek law which prohibits any other betting and gambling agency in Greece, other than state-ran OPAP itself. Never mind that this conflicts European Union’s competition laws. So basically the financial-crisis-stricken Greek state which was bailed out by EU with 300.000.000.000 euros is blocking the income of foreign investment and cash flow to Greek basketball (and sports in general) and instead offers to pay-up (poorly) themselves.
With all these getting accumulated, ESAKE, which is the clubs’ owners union, has come into despair as things are getting worse by the day. So they have unofficially stated they are willing to discuss a possible sponsorship with Turkish Airlines, who also finances Euroleague as of this summer. Turkish Airlines is no stranger to Greek basketball, as they bailed out Maroussi last season.
Needless to say that renaming one of the best European domestic basketball leagues, and one with the highest symbolism in regards to the name of the company, into their brand name would make Turkish Airlines extremely generous with towards ESAKE, something that OPAP hasn’t been for a long time.
Because such a move would be ground braking and unheard of in Greek sports history, we must remain sceptical for now. As far as we know, all this pressure could make OPAP put their hand in their pocket and pay up what ESAKE is asking, although such a move would create a lot of stir in Greek society where the austerity measures are already costing thousands of jobs every day, while club owners get to play real life fantasy games with their teams with tax money.