The Ins and Outs of Euro-Ball
Sabrina Scott gives us the low-down.
With the influx of international stars into the NBA/WNBA in the last decade, and then with the lockout this year, European basketball is suddenly more visible in the States. But just because it’s more visible, doesn’t mean we understand it any better. So, hopefully I can answer some questions you may have!
Unless I specifically say otherwise, this is how things work in both men’s and women’s hoops in Europe (from my experience!). And generally speaking, each country works the same, with the exception of a few rules here and there. (I’m speaking of the domestic leagues, not EuroLeague/EuroCup/etc. which have a whole different set of rules.)
First and foremost, nearly EVERY country has multiple professional leagues, and they’ve been in existence for decades. What differentiates the leagues, is the budgets of the teams, and the number of foreigners each team is allowed to have.
The number of foreigners is where you’ll see the biggest difference in rules.
On the women’s side, the rule generally is that a team can have two or three foreigners on its roster. For example, I’m in France this season, so we have two non-French players (myself, and a Ukrainian) and the rest are French (or carry a French passport). I have had seasons where I have been the only foreigner (last season in Sweden, for example), and I have also been on a team with three other foreigners (also in Sweden, in 2008-09).
The men’s side is more complicated, and varies quite a bit more (probably because stakes are higher, with larger salaries, bigger crowds, etc.). In some countries (Germany and Belgium, off the top of my head), there is no limit to the number of foreigners a team can carry. But, there is a rule that at least five players on the roster must be domestic players. So in those countries, many times you’ll see six or seven Americans scattered throughout team’s rosters. Other countries have rules about the number of domestic players that are required to be on the floor at all times.
The rules are a bit controversial, and seem to be changing on a yearly basis, so it’s all a little difficult to keep track of. Furthermore, the roster rules are in place mostly to ensure the development of the local talent. If every team could field an unlimited number of foreigners, the number of jobs for domestic players would drop across the board.
Secondly, how teams are funded is vastly different from how it’s done in American professional sports. Salaries are paid by sponsorships for the most part. Which is why you see uniforms covered in logos and company names. It’s also the reason why multi-year contracts are rare in Europe (you only see multi-year deals involving the biggest/richest clubs). I have never signed a contact longer than one season. Since salaries are paid by sponsors, you never quite know, on a year-to-year basis, what a team’s budget will be. So you don’t want to tie yourself into a situation where a team may not be able to pay your salary. Clubs many times, are funded by city subsidies as well.
If a team plays only in their domestic league, they’ll play a game just once a week, for the most part (on the weekend). And they’ll only play games within their country (so my team this year plays only on Saturdays, and only against other French teams).
Four or five teams per league can also play in outside/International leagues (EuroLeague, EuroCup, EuroChallenge, etc.). In those cases, teams will have games during the week, on top of their domestic league games. International games are usually reserved for weekdays, either Tuesday or Wednesday in most cases. All the leagues are separate entities, and have no bearing on each other.
Now, how do you go about finding a team and securing a contract in Europe? That’s one aspect that is the same as American professional sports. The best way to find a team is to sign with a quality agent. They’ll contact teams, negotiate for you, and hopefully find the best possible situation for you, both on and off the court.
I no longer have an agent, however. Since I have been overseas for almost 10 years, I have developed numerous relationships and connections along the way. My last three jobs have come about because of prior relationships, through former teammates, coaches, and the like. Both ways have worked out just fine for me.
Finally, you might wonder what a run-of-the-mill contract get you. Most importantly, you get a furnished apartment to live. Many times, a car is also a part of your contract (though you must pay for the gas of course!). It’s also commonplace to have at least two round-trip plane tickets as part of the deal (so you can go home at Christmas). I’ve also had it in my contract that I am provided with one meal a day from a local restaurant, or given a food stipend on a monthly basis. You’re also provided with health insurance, which as we know is a huge perk! And, of course, your payment schedule should be included. There can be other things based on your needs (if you have a family, for example), but that’s what a barebones contract will get you in Europe.
Hopefully I’ve answered the basic questions that many of you might have about Euro-hoops. If you are curious about anything else, or want further explanation, don’t hesitate to ask!
Check out Sabrina’s personal blog here.