EuroLeague still hoping for fans to attend its Final Four

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FILE – In this Sunday, May 19, 2019. file photo, Moscow players celebrate as they win the Final Four Euroleague final basketball match between Anadolu Efes Istanbul and CSKA Moscow at the Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria, Spain. The EuroLeague is hoping to have fans back at its Final Four this May in Cologne, Germany. The signature event of European basketball was called off last year because of the pandemic. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos, File)

EuroLeague CEO Jordi Bertomeu is an optimistic person by nature.

He wasn’t necessarily surprised that his league has been able to handle the challenge of playing this season with teams from 10 different countries and essentially 10 different sets of rules while navigating a pandemic.

He also has hopes his league’s signature event can be a major happening again this spring.

The EuroLeague announced Thursday that it has partnered with Elevate Sports Ventures, a U.S.-based consulting firm that will help the league develop strategy for ticket sales, fan experience, hospitality and more for its Final Four in May — an event where, Bertomeu hopes, fans will be present.

“Of course, not a full house, that’s for sure,” Bertomeu said. “It’s still too early to say if spectators will be allowed to be in the gym, but the most important thing, our biggest concern at the beginning of the season, is that we managed to play the season.”

The EuroLeague Final Four is aired in more than 200 countries and brings together the best teams from top leagues across the continent. It was canceled last year because of the pandemic; this year’s event is scheduled for May 28-30 in Cologne, Germany.

“We are still confident that some percentage of fans will be allowed,” Bertomeu said. “So, what we are trying to see is how we can compensate the fact that it will be a different Final Four compared to the previous 16, 17 editions where a Final Four has been typically the big party of European basketball, the showcase of European basketball. In the next weeks or months, we will try to figure out how to do this in the best way possible and how to be close to our fans if they cannot be with us.”

This is where Elevate enters the picture, though the EuroLeague was in talks with the firm before the pandemic about making the Final Four an even bigger event. They come up with plans for everything from premium seats to fan engagement.

“We’ve talked about how can it be more reflective of, say, maybe what you see in the United States around a Super Bowl week or what you may see around some of the biggest sporting events we have,” Elevate president Chip Bowers said. “You can bring communities together to engage in a lot of different passions of life and use that particular event as a gravitational pull to bring people from different cultures together to celebrate this moment in time.”

The EuroLeague is generally considered the second-best basketball league in the world behind the NBA. Like soccer’s Champions League, it essentially is a season-long tournament between the continent’s top clubs who also play domestic schedules.

It has pressed on this season — and got through some early frustrations — in mostly empty arenas, much like the NBA and other professional sports leagues have around the globe. Protocols can vary country by country, and things have evolved constantly throughout the ebbs and flows of the pandemic.

Some fans are back. That’s a good sign. As playoffs draw nearer, more may be at games. And next season, Bertomeu hopes, will be normal.

“This is not about being optimistic This is being realistic,” Bertomeu said. “We cannot stay another season far from our fans, without the experience of having them in our arenas. At least in Europe, one of the things that define or describe our sport is the passion of our fans. These amazing crowds that we have is one of the main assets. That means a lot for us when we cannot have them with us.”

Having at least some of them at the Final Four would be a major step in the right direction.

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