Sergei Ivanov: The League Board Decided To Return To A Classic Playoff Format

Sergei Ivanov: The League Board Decided To Return To A Classic Playoff Format

The League’s honorary president commented on the results of the 2018 League Board meeting. 

On last season: One of the defining characteristics of last season was the new scoring record: teams averaged 83.4 points per game. That’s a good number, which I hope will help attract fans to the arena. 

I love efficiency rankings and want to note two clubs: VEF and Nizhny Novgorod. Despite quite modest budgets, they achieved very impressive results. VEF was the only non-Russian team in the top eight. Nizhny Novgorod, meanwhile, gave the fans some excitement in the playoff quarterfinals. 

On the League’s newest club: During our examination of Zielona Gora’s application, we had no issues with the arena, budget or transportation. Zielona Gora was accepted unanimously into the League. I’m confident this club will increase the level of competition in the League. 

On Spartak-Primorye’s application: As for Vladivostok, the situation is a bit more complicated. Spartak applied to two competitions: the VTB League and Superleague. The club promised a budget guarantee and promised to play at the Fetisov Arena, which currently hosts the Admiral Hockey Club. Let me say right away that the arena was a good choice. But basketball games have never been held there and they don’t have any basketball equipment. There was also no written guarantee of the club’s budget, which was the most important piece. That’s why Spartak-Primorye’s application was rejected by a majority of the clubs. Two clubs voted “Yes”: CSKA and Zenit. Vladivostok was recommended to play at the new arena for a trial season in the Superleague. If everything goes well, we’ll look at the application again next year. 

On changes to the regulations: Many changes were made to the regulations as a result of the meeting. First of all, we are returning to a playoff system that features best-of-five series in the semifinals and finals. There were two reasons. One, the football World Cup in Russia was the reason we held the Final Four. I don’t think we need to explain to anyone what would have happened if we had held the playoffs during the World Cup. The second reason was financial: the expenses for holding the Final Four at a neutral arena were the League’s responsibility, not the clubs’. It proved very expensive. The reality in Russia is that you can’t make money on a Final Four. We were in the red, but that wasn’t the biggest factor. We spent a lot of money which could have gone to the clubs in the form of bonuses. Only one team, Nizhny Novgorod, voted to keep the Final Four.

On the playoff format: We’ve returned to a classic format in the playoffs, where the team with the better record plays the first two games at home. But the biggest change is that the team with the highest seed entering the postseason will play the team with the lowest seed in the semifinals. In doing so, we’ll increase the drama in the regular season and try to avoid a situation where a team coasts during the first half of the regular season and only gears up for the playoffs. 

On bonuses: We have bonuses for attendance. Since last season, the League has received complete data concerning number of tickets sold at each game. Once we began analyzing the data, I was horrified. Several clubs that boast about high attendance sell a maximum of 30% of their tickets. The rest of the tickets are given away to pad the numbers. Going forward, we will only give bonuses to teams that successfully sell tickets instead of herding the public to games. 

On budget transparency: The VTB League is the only sports league in Russia that reveals club budgets. From now on, they will be published in September, not in April, before the start of the season. There’s one simple reason for that: The clubs don’t know how much bonus money they will earn at the end of the season, which means the numbers in September will be more accurate. 

On TV in Russia: Match TV continues to show our games, which we pay for. We will have a new contract. Professional sports cannot exist without TV money, but, unfortunately, everything is backward for us. I’m reminded of a recent example: The Russian Football Premier League recently signed a contract with Match TV and will receive 1.7 billion rubles per year. We would dream of receiving even one tenth of that amount, but it’s not possible at the moment. 

On foreign TV broadcasts: VTB United League games will be shown on major American sports website Bleacher Report alongside the NBA and other global competitions. This was made possible thanks to a deal between League TV partner Lagardere and American media giant Turner, which owns both ESPN and Bleacher Report. 

On the new sponsor: This is big. We have a new sponsor, Fonbet. In addition to their legal obligation to pay us a percentage from each bet made on VTB League games, they decided to sign a five-year sponsorship deal and pay us 25 million rubles per year. You can see that we receive far more from betting companies than we do from television. But we are satisfied with the Match TV partnership. The quality of the broadcast has improved. It’s night and day compared to 10 years ago.