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Fiba joins forces with US investors to boost Basketball Champions League

Fiba has signed a strategic partnership with US sports and media investors GCBH LP which will provide funding and expertise to drive the development of its premier European club competition, the Basketball Champions League.

Although none of the parties is willing to discuss the level of financial commitment, SportBusiness understands that the investment is likely to be in multiple tranches delivered to meet evolving objectives.

GCBH LP is led by Brian Bailey, whose 25 years in private equity has seen him hold senior positions at the Carlyle Group, Carmichael Partners, Carousel Capital and Forstmann Little & Co., and Kevin Tsujihara, former chairman and chief executive of Warner Bros. They are supported by a group of investors and operating partners, some of whom have been involved in NBA franchises.

What is seen as a transformational agreement will be delivered through a new entity, Fiba ClubCo, which will hold shares in the Basketball Champions League alongside 11 European basketball Leagues and the Union of European Basketball Leagues.

The new vehicle will provide equity funding to develop and commercialise the Basketball Champions League, which is currently in its fourth season. It will also support the revamped Intercontinental Cup which brings together the champions of Fiba’s continental competitions and will also include the winners of the NBA G-League.

The Fiba Basketball Champions League is a merit-based, Europe-wide competition open to the winners of domestic leagues. The rival EuroLeague grants long-term licenses to the biggest club brands in Europe’s biggest leagues.

It is likely that additional funding will help extend the appeal of participating on the Basketball Champions League and Fiba secretary general Andreas Zagklis sees the introduction of third-party investors as a “change of gear” for the competition.

He said: “This sends a message to the clubs that this is a high-quality project.”

His thoughts were echoed by Basketball Champions League chief executive Patrick Comninos, who says that the involvement of high-profile US investors is a clear signal of intent.

Comninos remarked: “It shows that, as a relatively new competition, we have built a high level of credibility. These are experienced US investors who understand basketball and have followed and scrutinised the Basketball Champions League very closely.

“We will continue to invest in the growth of the competition to create the best conditions for the clubs. Playing in Europe should be a privilege for clubs who succeed in their domestic leagues. It certainly shouldn’t be a financial burden on them. We now have more resources available to (enhance) our overall proposition to them.

“This is smart money which is being brought to the table by individuals with a great understanding of the media and sports industries and they will help take us to the next level.”

Bailey, a principal at GCBH LP and himself a passionate basketball fan, said he is excited about the potential to grow club basketball.

He said: “We have pulled together a group of world class investors and we think we are bringing not just finance but expertise and relationships to the table as well. We think that the BCL is a good model and we share Fiba’s vision for developing the sport in Europe and worldwide.

“We are taking a long-term point of view and see great potential for development and growth in basketball in Europe and in the Basketball Champions League model in particular.

“Basketball Champions League has already come a long way. Its digital and social platforms are very good and we think there is a lot of potential for the future. We have a lot of media and tech experience which we can add to the great job that has already been done in this area.

“Ultimately our aim is to make Basketball Champions League even more attractive from the standpoint of exposure and finance and that means making it good for the clubs and, of course, good for the fans.”

In the agreement, Akira Partners, Kellerhals-Carrard and Phanar Legal advised FIBA and BCL; Latham & Watkins and Bar & Karrer advised GCBH.