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Euroleague Basketball Q&A: Jordi Bertomeu & Ioris Francini

In association with Euroleague Basketball

Jordi Bartomeu (Euroleague Basketball) & Ioris Francini (IMG)

What’s been accomplished so far under the joint venture with IMG, and what is left to do?

When we started two years ago, I always said our players, coaches and clubs needed one year to understand what was needed to face the new situation. Everything was impacted by the new competition format.

It was something unseen before – a true European league. We have been busy selling rights, increasing the quality of broadcast production, and creating much more content for different platforms that we didn’t have before. We have been focused on the short term – doing many things, very fast. These were the concerns for the first season and part of the second.

With the second season over, we have achieved more than we expected. First, the business is going very well, far better than the most optimistic forecasts. Second, our cooperation with IMG and the way we are working together is extraordinary. Despite coming from different worlds, there is a common understanding of what it means to build the project.

Third, and I think most importantly, our fans – our customers – have realised we have had an impact on them: the way the product has been designed and presented is significantly different from before we started the cooperation with IMG. From these three angles we are very satisfied.

If we talk about what’s left to do, it’s a long, long list! Basically, now the product is more or less defined, we have to find the right business strategies in an unpredictable environment. Business in the sector is changing rapidly, and we have to see the changes coming in the future and be ready so as not to miss opportunities. This is a permanent exercise – you must ever stop doing this.

What are your top priorities when it comes to adapting EB to the changing business environment?

The business is changing: the media landscape is fragmenting, audiences are fragmenting, there are changes in how media is consumed. Everyone knows this and we are having the same conversations. Finding solutions to these challenges is our main concern.

Our overarching theory is to align our sponsorship, media and digital strategy under the same concept. We are trying to reach a younger audience and trying to have the right tone of  voice to engage them – we know this will be critical in the coming years. For example, we have launched a concept called the Euroleague Creators Project, in which we are partnering with social media influencers and content creators that are relevant to young people, and that talk their language, to produce Euroleague content.

We know we have to be part of conversations with fans – the way we produce content for young generations will be fundamental and we are prepared to invest in that.

Looking at the opportunities we can offer our commercial partners in the digital environment is another pillar in our strategy. One of the most important projects we have launched with IMG is called EDIE (Euroleague Data & Intelligence Engine), a process to integrate data from clubs and the league. The idea is to create a central database that can help all of us to expand our businesses.

First of all, we will get to know our fans and clients better through an intelligence engine that analyses and organises data gathered from numerous digital touch points. Then we will  adapt our services, strategies and content based on the data, ensuring we deliver something that is relevant to fans at all levels. This is the biggest project we are working on. It is already running based on league data and we will start this year with data from two teams as a test. The idea is that in 2019-20 all the teams will be integrated.

The expansion of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague to include two new ‘semi-permanent’ teams from 2019-20 – ASVEL Villeurbanne and FC Bayern Munich –  is a major upcoming development. Explain how significant it is.

We need France as one of the major markets in Europe, and the same is applicable to Germany. Both are major markets with an existing basketball culture. When going to those  markets, there are different approaches. Germany, thanks to the growth of basketball in the last 10 years, is probably now more mature than France. You also have to take into account that what makes sense for us is to be associated with big brands, and this explains our position in Germany – to be in Munich, Bavaria, with one of the most prestigious sports brands
worldwide in FC Bayern Munich. It’s the best partner for the league to increase and improve our footprint in Germany.

When we talk about France, we have a team with a long  basketball tradition in Villeurbanne, Lyon – a significant market, probably the second after Paris. And it has a very popular and committed owner, Tony Parker. He has very big ambitions for the future of the club and we are working together to be sure that they will join us in 2019-20.

Strengthening the league’s footprint in Germany, France and the UK was a key pillar in the clubs’ strategic roadmap to boost growth and we are happy that we now have two of these markets well covered. Having a team from the UK remains an aspiration for the league. The market is less developed than Germany or France, but with the new league format there is now a product that is much more appealing to investors and brands. We are having conversations with potential partners in the UK, but this is still a mid- to long-term plan.

Developing EB’s sponsorship and digital structures are among the most important goals of the joint-venture. What are your plans for this?

Last year our main focuses were to make sure that production was in line with our commitments and pledges to broadcasters, and that our media rights sales were successful. That was essential to our business model. Sponsorship and digital were set to follow shortly after.

We completed the media chapter and what you’re seeing today in sponsorship is the tail end of the traditional EB business model of sponsorship. We have global, regional and local partners, and have heavy participation from certain regions. It’s a transactional, opportunistic business model.

We’ve made very important investments into the sponsorship function by adding a couple of resources to oversee, from an IMG perspective, the sponsorship programme. We  established a data-led programme called EDIE that we are now using as part of our sponsorship efforts. We are going to completely redesign the sponsorship programme, which doesn’t mean a revolution but will be about creating a structure that’s fit-for-purpose
going forward.

Our plan for the next phase of EB sponsorship will be presented at the end of this year to the board, and then we’ll start rolling it out next year. Of course, digital and social activation
and measurement become really important factors in this sponsorship focus. We’ve partnered with 15 to 16 influencers in Europe that have great followings and we want them to be a viral extension to partnerships with sponsors. We want the same thing on social, too: using the players, creating bespoke content through HEED [a new digital technology partner for the league].

With all these assets we are slowly building toward the medium- to long-term goal of having clear, visible and measurable outlets that will help partners in the new programme understand how we’ll activate partnerships.

You are implementing a lot of change. Does this mean significant new investment is being made?

Yes, significant new investment. EB and IMG share the same philosophy – it’s a long-term project so investments are needed. Our data project will mean a very high investment. The  media content strategy will imply investments, not only with our broadcaster partners, but also in creating extra and tailor-made content, and to adjust to all the platforms. We are working on a new website and app. We keep improving EuroleagueTV, our OTT streaming platform.

There are lots of investments. Most are in technology and innovation, but we also have a plan to invest in projects that promote participation of young people in basketball. We have a grassroots project we started in Spain, involving around 12,000 kids at 600 schools in nine different cities. We want to replicate this model in other Euroleague markets.

Media-rights revenue has grown in recent seasons. How do you intend to continue that growth?

As we expand, we will be including teams from markets that haven’t necessarily been the core ones, so we can see an elevation of value through expansion of the competition.

We are seeing a positive trend as far as the core markets are concerned and I’m looking forward to the conversations to be had in France, Spain and Turkey. For non-core markets such as Asia, we expect there to be some initiatives where we’ll try to create events in different geographies that will promote a greater awareness around Euroleague.

We have a three-pronged strategy: (i) increase interest and revenue in core markets; (ii) follow the expansion of franchises and factor in consequences of expansion on affected  markets; and (iii) identify markets that are not core markets of the league but where there may be an opportunity to grow awareness and following.

How is EB’s media strategy evolving in the changing media landscape, in terms of how it distributes content across the available platforms?

We’re undertaking a deep analysis of what a media return is nowadays. Previously, you had to balance wide exposure on free-to-air television against the often greater revenue  available on pay-television.

Today we’re in a very different place, where the platforms offering greatest exposure are often social channels, Facebook in particular. We’re undertaking a deep review, with the help of a third-party expert, that is engaging both sides of the JV and helping us redefine the principle of media return.

With that we’ll be able to explain and address the relevance of free-to-air TV, social, digital, clips, content syndication and influencers, and see how we overlay a vertical strategy instead of something one-dimensional.

If we can tell a sponsor that a mix of media assets is much more relevant and effective if we engage X amount of social channels versus 10-minute clips on free-to-air TV, then the sponsor will understand.

Free-to-air remains absolutely critical because exposure is essential for EB’s partners. We’re doing this review with our Global Insights group that is tasked with analysing 45 data vendors to provide all the data to understand and enhance this exposure.

We’ve been creating a social channels team which delivers bespoke content – lots of guerrilla-style  productions and behind-the-scenes stuff that engages with a different kind of audience. We also have HEED, which is based on external optical data-gathering and packages data in a slightly different and skewed way, making it fun and engaging. And in addition we have our direct-to-consumer OTT platform EuroleagueTV.

Endeavor acquired Neulion over the last 12 months and we have vertically integrated that into our company so we can control the layering of digital strategy across subscriptions, freemium, content syndication, working with influencers and working with social channels. This applies to our work with EB and other clients.

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