Ludwigsburg. Before the final game of the basketball Bundesliga, the highlight of the season for the MHP giants Ludwigsburg in Bilbao is from Friday to Sunday. The first international title in the club’s history comes at the Final Four of the Champions League. In an interview, the president of the BBL and the first chairman of the giants, Alexander Reil, talks about the balance between the Bundesliga and the Champions League, how the prize money would be treated and the fans’ slow return.
On Sunday, the Giants clearly lost to Oldenburg and had to relinquish fourth place in the BBL. Is this defeat due to the upcoming Final Four in Bilbao?
Alexander Reil: It’s a shame, and we probably lost the home advantage in the playoffs. But we certainly did not say that we would accept defeat because Bilbao is more important to us. Nevertheless, one or the other player had the feeling that he was not really on the field.
Now the Final Four is the highlight of the season. How do you prioritize between BBL and the Champions League?
Basically, the league always takes precedence over me because it lasts longer and the interest in it is greater. But now we have qualified for the Final Four and can win a title with two victories. It’s not that easy in the league. Therefore, this weekend has a certain priority. We need to figure out how to change the switch again.
Do you think the team can do that? She has always shown strong performances in crucial matches.
The final tournament is something special for any player. I’m not sure if you can handle the pressure. I remember the Final Four in Athens four years ago. At the time, we were unlucky that two top players dropped out, but also that other top players could not cope with the pressure, and we went down without a word in the semifinals.
Fans were left out for almost two years during the corona pandemic, and returns are now sluggish in terms of viewership. How satisfied are you with the development?
Of course, we hoped – especially given the successes of the last three years – that the response would be greater. In other words: What more should we have put on the floor to get a better response? Six weeks ago, we started asking former season ticket holders who no longer come on the phone why this is the case. For more than 70 percent, the main reason is the fear of corona.
Are there other reasons for the low number of viewers?
Of course, there is also a certain habituation effect. Many say it was not so bad to watch the fights at home on the couch.
If you look at ice hockey or handball, it seems that the number of spectators there is approaching pre-Corona faster.
There was one who said he was going to the Bietigheim Steelers now. It’s something special there because they have never played in the first ice hockey league in recent years. It’s not so bad for us, we play in the Bundesliga every year. We have had great success the last three years, but because it has been relatively stable, it is a matter of course. And you can also see in the whole league: The audience response is highest where there is no competition. In Oldenburg, Bamberg, Bonn and Ulm – and even there are fewer spectators than before the pandemic.
You also remember the beginning in the MHP Arena. At that time, it took a good three years before the demand was there and the hall was full. Are you optimistic about going there again?
Yes, if Corona does not thwart our plans every year. If we are forced to close only 30 percent into the hall again in the autumn or winter, and everything has to start all over again, at some point it will also be difficult for the clubs to get through it all.
How do you rate the importance of the Champions League compared to other international competitions?
The Euroleague is certainly the strongest international competition. After that, the Champions League and Eurocup are no longer free. There are top teams in both tournaments, but I find the game format in the Champions League much better than in the Eurocup, where the teams have 14 preliminary round matches. A game quickly loses its meaning.
What does next season look like? Will the Giants play in the Champions League again?
If we qualify, there is a good chance we will play. As for other competitions, it is currently hard for me to imagine that after so many years in the Champions League we switch to e.g. Eurocup. That would be utopian.
Would it be just as utopian to participate in the Euroleague?
This question would only arise if we were to become German champions. But with the current system, it is very unrealistic. Winning a best-of-five series in the play-offs against, for example, Bayern Munich is hardly possible.
The Champions League has a high financial incentive. The winner will receive one million euros. How important is it to advance in the Champions League for purely financial reasons?
Since we are not that big and we have budgeted with the million, we will not have any financial problems if we do not win the tournament. Taking such an amount with will also help us after the Corona period.
How would the amount promote the Giants? Is there an option to keep star players longer?
We stick to our philosophy: If we win the million, we will in no way invest everything in players. One must constantly consider whether one wants two players on the team who break the salary structure. The money would help us, but they would never change the foundation of the club.
Are there also bonuses from your sponsors in the event of a Champions League win?
We have five or six partners who pay more when we play internationally. There was also a certain bonus to reaching the Final Four. If we finish in fourth place now, we can say that the entire Champions League business is in black.
What about the bonuses for the other places in the Champions League?
We are now at around 150,000 euros in bonuses in the previous Champions League season. Fourth place would not add much to it. If we were number two, it would be a total of 350,000 euros in prizes.
Would you use part of the bounty to retain a player like Jonah Radebaugh who has evolved brilliantly and is very popular with fans?
I would love to renew with him. We’re talking too, but what do you think he’s offering? If it only turns into something, I say to us: no chance.
But is the will there to keep him?
Clear! But an extreme example: If a player could earn 500,000 euros net in another club, we would never agree to it, even if we could afford it for a year. We would never have a player on the team who earns so much more than the others.