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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

Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at today’s Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nation’s premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the city’s elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s latest film “Mommy” at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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