Football, tennis, formula one, cycling, golf… and basketball? Canasta is the latest sport to be tempted by the United Arab Emirates checkbook. Already last October, Abu Dhabi hosted two NBA preseason games, between the Atlanta Hawks and the Milwaukee Bucks. And now Dubai has thrown its economic charms towards the EuroLeague. The most powerful European clubs, those that organize and manage the highest continental competition, have been holding talks for months in search of a juicy agreement for both parties: the emirate seeks to jump onto the trading floor and the organization that Dejan Bodiroga has chaired since September longs to open up the market and increase business. A checkbook with many zeros in between can speed up a signature.
The spark lit on October 11. The 13 clubs that govern the Euroleague and have the license to play each year of the tournament (Madrid, Barça, Baskonia, Olympiacos, Panathinaikos, Anadolu Efes, Fenerbahce, Maccabi, Zalgiris, Armani Milan, CSKA Moscow, Bayern Munich and Asvel Villeurbanne) flew to the emirate and met at the Coca-Cola Arena with Abdullah All Nabbodah, owner of the Dubai Basketball Club, one of the richest businessmen in the country and the man behind this new project. On the table, as the Euroleague admitted, was to discuss “the opportunities for potential collaboration” between the two worlds. And there the options are very diverse to give shape to an alliance that does not seem imminent. From making Dubai the venue for the Final Four of the competition in some of the upcoming editions (this course is Kaunas and the next one will be Berlin) to building a team that receives an invitation to stand among the elite.
The exclusion of the Russian teams due to the war in Ukraine opened the door for this season to other contestants. Alba Berlin enjoys a license granted for two courses, Monaco renewed its passport by qualifying among the eight best in the last edition, Virtus Bologna put its head in as Eurocup champion, Red Star made merits by winning the League Adriatica, and Valencia and Partizán received other letters of invitation in the mailbox. Roulette spins every summer. And it is in this auction of the offices where the Dubai project can find its place.
The economic potential is taken for granted to put together a block that tempts the great stars of European basketball from the bank account and that can even hunt some attractive discard from the NBA. In return, the Euroleague would open up to a new market and the signing of new sponsorship agreements. Turkish Airlines, which gives its name to the competition, ends its relationship with the competition in 2025. In the waiting room, the option of Fly Emirates is already slipping.
Although not everything is a red carpet. Josean Querejeta, president of Baskonia, has expressed his rejection of the entry of a partner who, due to his financial muscle, would force him to open almost a lifetime position. If this landing is consummated and in the future the participation of the Russian giants is recovered, the parenthesis of the invitations is greatly reduced. That is where another idea, still complex to fit, can come into play: progressively expanding the Euroleague teams from the current 18 to 20, 22, 24… More spectacle, a sweet treat for the fans, but also another twist on a calendar already saturated and that sometimes overlaps the European appointments of the clubs with the international performances of the selections.
The European basketball board does not stop moving, renewed by the landing of Bodiroga in the Euroleague and by the elections on May 20 in FIBA Europe, for whose chair the president of the Spanish federation, Jorge Garbajosa, is running. The two organizations have already held a couple of meetings to approach positions.
Tennis opened the court to men’s and women’s 500 category tournaments in Dubai and Abu Dhabi; the F-1 will close the circus this course on the Yas Marina layout; cycling star Tadej Pogacar rides for UAE Team Emirates; the same brand sponsors the shirts of Real Madrid and Arsenal; the royal family manages Manchester City; the European golf circuit is called the DP World Tour… European basketball, which in other times opened its competitions to non-continental teams and clubs, also lets itself be loved.
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