Basketball Boom Sees Rising Payouts in Superleague
Published: April 1, 2005 (Issue # 1057)
A decade ago professional basketball players in Russia were about as confident as striking miners that they would receive their salaries.
But thanks to backing from big business, regional politicians and the Federal Security Service, top Russian clubs this season are awash in cash and readily paying top dollar to some of the best players in Europe.
"Ten years ago, players in Russia were just praying they would get paid by their clubs," said Reed Salwen, whose U.S.-based sports agency, Entersport, has represented more than 10 athletes playing professional basketball in Russia. "Some clubs would not pay their players at all, some would pay them late. You had players fighting with the management and agents filing lawsuits. Players were afraid to sign contracts. Now many of the best contracts in Europe are available in Russia."
As a result the Russian first division, a 14-team competition known as the Superleague, has become one of the strongest leagues in Europe and joined the Italian and Spanish leagues as perhaps the most lucrative options in the world for professional players outside of North America.
Just how much money is floating around the Russian Superleague is difficult to say. The details of players' contracts are as a rule not disclosed in Europe. Furthermore, Superleague clubs are notorious for keeping the size of their budgets under wraps.
But sports magazine ProSport estimated ahead of the 2004-05 season that the Russian teams would spend a total of $71 million this season.
In an informal survey conducted by The Moscow Times of 10 of the 14 Superleague clubs, including last year's top four finishers - CSKA, UNICS, Dynamo Moscow and Ural-Great - only one, BC Samara, would discuss its budget openly. A club spokeswoman said she hoped Samara could muster up a paltry $1 million budget for the season.
The top clubs spend far more. ProSport estimated CSKA Moscow's budget at around $20 million this season, likely making it the richest basketball club in all of Europe. CSKA has a major supporter in Mikhail Prokhorov, a basketball fanatic and controlling owner of Norilsk Nickel with Vladimir Potanin, with whom he is tied for the honors of Russia's seventh-richest man with an estimated fortune of $4.4 billion, according to Forbes. Prokhorov satisfies his basketball passion as the owner of a controlling stake in the club.
Even $20 million could be a conservative estimate, given that sources close to CSKA management said the club's budget last season totaled around $23 million and a CSKA executive said this year's budget is larger than last year's.Pages:  [2 ]