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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.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Sept. 3


Although the Peter and Paul Fortress sand sculptures are more central and therefore more visible to the throngs of tourists, the 300th Anniversary Park of St. Petersburgs own collection closes today. The World Collection of Sand Sculptures that have been on display at the park reaches its final day, so fans of the classic beach activity should get there while they can.



Thursday, Sept. 4


Vladimir I. Danchenkov, Head of Baltic Customs, will be in attendance during AmChams Customs and Transportation Committee Meeting convening this afternoon at the organizations office near St. Isaacs Square at 3 p.m.



Friday, Sept. 5


Scrabble lovers and chess masters get their chance to assert their intellectual dominance at the return of the British Book Centers Board Game Evenings tonight. Held weekly on Friday nights, the event gives both board game lovers and those hoping to improve their English the chance to meet, greet and compete. Check out the centers VK page for more details.



Saturday, Sept. 6


Athletes will relish the chance to get the latest gear and try out something new at I Choose Sport, an annual event at Lenexpo forum that plans to welcome more than 30,000 people this week to the international exhibition center. Not only will visitors get to try their hand at various athletic endeavors but they will also be able to peruse equipment that can fulfill their dreams of becoming a champion.


Local KHL team SKA St. Petersburg open their season this evening at home against Lokomotiv Yarovslavl at the Ice Palace arena next to the Prospekt Bolshevikov metro station. See their website for a full schedule and available tickets.



Sunday, Sept. 7


Check out retro and antique cars at Fort Konstantin on Kronstadt Island in the Gulf of Finland at FORTuna, a yearly car festival that highlights the eccentricities of the Soviet automobile industry. A car race, contests and a stunt show will give visitors a chance to rev their engines.



Monday, Sept. 8


This evening marks the opening of the two-week ballet festival High Season at the Mikhailovsky Theater. Check the theaters website for more details about performances and featured dancers.



Tuesday, Sept. 9


Discuss the latest news and issues at the AmCham Hazardous Waste Management Roundtable this morning in the Tango Conference Hall of the Sokos Hotel Palace Bridge on Birzhevoy Pereulok. Starting at 9 a.m., planned topics include the Krasny Bor landfill and waste transportation between Russia and Finland.


Learn more about the citys modern architectural trends at the SPIBA Real Estate and Construction Committees meeting on the topic Contemporary Petersburg Style: What is It? Participants will get the chance to discuss whats in-demand with RBI Holdings Irina Petrova and Lubava Pryanikova, and the current state of the local real estate market. Please confirm your attendance by Sept. 5 through SPIBAs website if you wish to attend.



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