NBA sees Europe as long-term play

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PARIS -- Europe is a serious market for the NBA but there are no plans in the short term to establish franchises on the continent, commissioner David Stern says.

Four NBA teams have traveled to Europe this month to compete against top European clubs, with the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers setting up training camps in Spain, Italy, France and Russia respectively.

The NBA Europe Live Tour ends on Tuesday and Wednesday with a four-team tournament in Cologne, Germany.

Once in a league of their own, the NBA teams have found that the European game has improved. The 76ers and the Clippers both lost games on the tour, to Barcelona and CSKA Moscow respectively.

"There's an enormous movement of talent around the world and certain clubs are reaching out more for that talent," Stern said in Paris before watching the San Antonio Spurs beat Maccabi Tel Aviv 97-84 in a packed Bercy hall.

Stern dismissed reports that the NBA had any immediate plans to launch a European-based NBA league after considering such a project six years ago.

"I met with (Real Madrid officials) Jose Sanchez and Vlade Divac and they told me they had a great idea and that was a five-team European division," Stern told reporters.

"There's another long process in place," he added. "In the meantime there's no short-term likelihood of NBA franchises in Europe but I wouldn't be negative about the long term."

The NBA commissioner also ruled out staging regular NBA season games in Europe, saying it was "economically unfeasible."

The main obstacle, Stern said, was that European halls did not meet American standards.

"We're happy to share our specification with anybody planning to build an arena but the buildings in Europe cannot at present support NBA basketball," he said.

"Culturally, the arena has not come to occupy the same central spot in European life as it has in America.

"Right now there are no buildings but you tell me that someone wants to spend 300 or 400 million dollars to build them and then spend another 500 million dollars for the NBA franchise and you've got an owner wanting to do that, that's a very long-term project but that's something I would clearly consider," he added.

Stern welcomed plans to build halls in Berlin and London and said he hoped the 2012 Olympics would help to develop the game in Britain.

"They're building an arena in London which of course is the market that's the least sympathetic to basketball but the 2012 Olympics might see a change on that," Stern said.

"There's a broad-based committee that's in charge of how to develop basketball in the UK. We would like to use the 2012 Olympics as an opportunity to grow the grassroots of the sport and work together. We'll be very cooperative there because we think that the UK is a terrific market."

With its focus on entertainment and ability to attract the best players from all over the world, NBA basketball is far more spectacular than the European game and is an attraction whenever it comes to Europe.

"This is a statement to our partners that this is a serious market with 400 million people in western Europe and some large number in eastern Europe," Stern said of the tour, which has been used by the NBA to sell television rights and work on sponsorship deals.

NBA products sell like hot cakes in Europe and many fans in Bercy were wearing Spurs jerseys while cheering on Frenchman Tony Parker, one of the top players of the internationally-minded San Antonio franchise.

"Merchandising is very important to us," said Stern. "I always consider our T-shirts to be walking advertisements.

"Another way is through video games. They not only sell but they reinforce our brand because our name is on the product. There is also backboards and basketballs. Sales are sky-rocketing in Europe for basketballs.

"One of the reasons behind us coming here in 2006 is to let European-based corporations know that we're here," Stern said, adding that he believed the NBA would continue to expand on the European market.

"We didn't do quite as well as we expected this year because of the (soccer) World Cup and other things. We do expect to do much better next year when we're away from the pockets that have competed with us and advertisers and marketing partners will see us."

While the NBA is a highly profitable business, its European counterpart, the Euroleague, is struggling.

Asked whether the wealthy NBA might financially support the needy Euroleague, Stern said: "I don't think so."

"The Euroleague is the Euroleague and it has to find its own financial model that works. We'll support it as a basketball matter but as a business matter it's on its own."
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