Column: Possible 2015 Final Four destinations

It was Saturday May 12 2012. All eyes of the Euroleague audience were on Istanbul as preparations began for the final between Olympiacos and CSKA Moscow. It was an off day, but the Turkish city was buzzing. Fans outside the Sinan Erdem Dome were desperate to get tickets and if you strolled along the many lovely areas of the city, you would notice several Galatasaray football fans in the bars in Taksim Square getting ready for their championship game with bitter rivals Fenerbahce. They were not allowed to travel to the Asian side of Istanbul where the game was taking place for fear of crowd trouble but got the draw they needed to lift the domestic league and the iconic square was a swarm of maroon and yellow.

But for the media, it was another working day as 16 kilometres away from the city’s heartland they were inside the Sinan Erdem Dome getting ready for a press conference involving Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu. The conference room area was a sea of keyboard tapping and flashing images when the man himself entered accompanied by CEO of AEG Europe, Jay Marciano. The announcement that the 2013 Final Four would be in London wasn’t met with the greatest of surprises to the small contingent of British media (myself included) as they were expecting this announcement. It was a small part of the reason they were in Istanbul. But Bertomeu’s idea of having London as a host city for two straight Euroleague seasons caused a stir. Media outlets asked why give the Final Four to a country that hasn’t had a team in their competition since the London Towers’ dismal 0-14 season back in 2002 and why give it to a country that considers basketball a minority sport?

Ultimately, despite the Euroleague claiming that they thought the London Final Four was a success, the three-day event was a flop. Attendances for the O2 Arena were poor, mainly due to high ticket prices and the promotion for the event being massively overshadowed by Saturday’s FA Cup final at nearby Wembley Stadium. Eventually, after months of careful thought, the Euroleague board wisely decided to give the 2014 Final Four a different home, mainly due to the O2 Arena largely being booked up in May for a Comedy Gala and WWE’s Wrestlemania Revenge Tour.

While Milan’s Mediolanum Forum was picked in “London’s place”, thoughts wondered about the 2015 Final Four. Entertainment company, AEG who own the O2 Arena in London, Istanbul’s Fenerbahce Arena and Sinan Erdem Dome have a close tie with the Euroleague and might have their say in reality but here’s five venues that should get a mention and who we, at TB think should host next year’s edition.

1) KOMBANK ARENA, BELGRADE, SERBIA. (pictured)

Pros

An arena that recently broke the indoor attendance record of 24,000 spectators with the venue situated in a basketball heartland, with Partizan and Red Star selling the venue out on numerous occasions.

Regular flights in and out of the country with bus and train links being available also.

With Partizan’s appearance in the Final Four back in 2010, having something like this on their doorstep would be great for aspiring basketball players, not just in Belgrade, but in Serbia itself.

Cons

Belgrade has had a history of reported (I’m not saying it’s happened) racism and violence in major sporting events. The 2013 Serbian Cup Final between Partizan and Red Star was abandoned due to crowd trouble as flare guns were shot all over the arena.

Riot police are heavily involved in most domestic games (but that’s the same everywhere you go anyway).

2) ZALGIRIO ARENA, KAUNAS, LITHUANIA.

Pros

One of the arenas tipped to replace London this year but pipped by Milan, of course. The Zalgirio Arena hosted the final stages of Eurobasket 2011 flawlessly with great crowds and loads of fan activities.

The newly-built facility, now three years old has impressive conveniences for fans, VIP guests and media.

Lithuania + basketball = hoops paradise.

Cons

Kaunas Airport doesn’t run enough flights to mainland European destinations. Unless they’ve improved it since 2011 and the websites are inaccurate.

Lithuania and accommodation need to improve. While the country has tried to build more hotels, Kaunas is unfortunately one of the places that lacks in good, reliable hotels.

3) ÜLKER SPORTS ARENA, ISTANBUL, TURKEY.

Pros

A potential favourite to host the 2015 Final Four in reality so they should be number one, but the Ülker Sports Arena is the finest and most futuristic of all arenas in Europe right now. The venue was completed in 2012, just after the Final Four and has hosted NBA pre-season games with the latest being Oklahoma City Thunder’s win against Fenerbahce.

It would mark the first time that the Final Four was held (technically) in Asia. Landmark occasion, maybe?

Cons

Istanbul has already staged a recent Final Four. That’s the only argument. Then again; they wanted London back-to-back.

Anywhere for the NITJ nearby?

4) ARENA RIGA, RIGA, LATVIA.

Pros

With Latvia hardly bothering the Euroleague stage, this is a perfect opportunity for Mr. Bertomeu to expand the brand further like he did with London. Riga is an untapped resource and with a solid league and national team, this could be a good thing for the Baltic nation.

The airport is frequently used and the people are friendly. They would handle an influx of fans and media in their beautiful city.

Cons

Arena Riga holds just under 13,000. For a Final Four it would be one of the smaller venues visited. The again, with a 20,000-seat arena like the O2 attracting numbers of 9-12,000, maybe Arena Riga can be one of those ‘cauldron of noise’ venues.

Transport is rumoured to be weak in the capital.

5) STOZICE ARENA, LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA.

Pros

Despite criticism in 2011 about the size of the nation itself, Slovenia hosted one of the most memorable Eurobaskets in recent memory. Having a Final Four would only be considered a good thing.

Transport, hotels and the main square are all a nice walk away. It’s admittedly about a 40-minute from the Stozice to the main shopping area, but it’s a lovely walk.

The NITJ can be held at the Hala Tivoli.

Cons

Unless the Slovenian transportation department can include tickets or accreditation as bus cards, there could be a slight problem.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS…

Phones 4 U Arena, Manchester, England. CEZ Arena, Pardubice, Czech Republic. Nokia Arena, Tel Aviv, Israel. Olimpiysky, Moscow, Russia.