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Expectations are very high: interview with Umberto Gandini

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Expectations are very high: interview with Umberto Gandini

The situation of Italian basketball on the occasion of the Italian Cup in the photograph by Umberto Gandini, President of LBA.

Olimpia Milano-Aquila Trento and Reyer Venezia-Estra Pistoia raise the curtain on the second of the three consecutive editions of the Frecciarossa Final Eight at the Inalpi Arena in Turin. For the occasion we had the enormous opportunity to speak with Umberto Gandini, President of LBA. From the current state of the Lega Basket Serie A to the recent past, with an eye towards the short and long-term evolutions of the tricolor segmented ball.

What has changed in your approach to basketball from 2020 to today? Initially, did it perhaps represent a brake or, in a moment where more than an internal and well-known figure in the basketball sphere, is it still useful today to have a look at the road from outside the cone of light of the street lamp that illuminates it?

My arrival at the Lega Basket coincided with the first lockdown and the Covid epidemic; therefore, the impact was with the management of the emergency, the subsequent cancellation of the championship and the need to secure the clubs. Then we moved on to the season of closed doors and then partial openings to the public. After this period, we were finally able to work normally and thus implement all the ideas we had prepared to allow the recovery and the reconquest of the space that basketball deserves in the national sports panorama. I believe that the experience of football, the contacts I have gathered over time and not belonging to basketball in the strict sense have helped me overcome very complex moments in unknown seas.

Support Sportellate: associates Our work is based on the commitment and passion of a young editorial team. Through the association you help us grow and always improve the quality of the content. Join now! As a member of various Italian and European football institutions, how many differences in room for maneuver have you noticed within Italian professional basketball? If so, which ones, specifically? Was it able to transport anything or is it a system with too peculiar specifications?

The dynamics that pertain to sports organisations, regardless of the discipline, are the same: the dimensions, the economic and political ones, the capacities and the social impact change. So it’s about tackling themes and problems with the same professionalism and determination, whether they be top-level football or Serie A basketball. In particular, in our case the relationship with the Italian Basketball Federation is very important, but not dissimilar to the Lega Calcio/FIGC relationship.

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The reception of Turin and the Pala Alpitour (now Inalpi Arena, ed.) format of the Final 8 has met with unprecedented success in the history of changes of venue of the Italian Cup. In addition to all the organizational and competitive aspects enhanced by Brescia’s victory in 2023, what aspect did LBA focus on to further improve the Piedmontese basketball week?

The collaboration with the institutions that we found in Turin was of the highest level and this convinced us to keep the location of the Final Eight stable for three editions, even perhaps displeasing someone who will not have the opportunity to host them until 2026. We wanted to increase the offer with the involvement of the LBF for the Women’s Italian Cup Final Four, we have pushed on entertainment and collateral initiatives to offer the spectator a complete experience, as close as possible to that of major events such as the NBA. And then we wanted to put the spotlight on some of the protagonists in the history of Italian basketball, to remember what they did to allow us to be what we are today. And the expectations are very high.

Correct us if the perception is wrong: is Umberto Gandini a League president whose work is judged more positively by those who experience basketball “tangentially” than by those who regularly frequent it? A recent IPSOS/StageUp survey he indicated you as the most appreciated Italian sports manager of 2023: is this an aspect that you feel more in relating to other realities or in the daily dialogue with the internal components?

The result of the opinion poll research you mentioned on the notoriety and satisfaction of sports managers in 2023, in which I was found to be the most popular sports manager according to the interviewees who represent a cross-section of the Italian population, is a recognition that has gratified me professionally and for which I’m proud: it means that people like my work and this encourages me to always do better.

The official website was updated without prior communication during the current season, with statistics difficult to find and several technical malfunctions in the use of the play-by-play system unfortunately found not only after the update but also in recent months. On the other hand, the constant and notable increase in attendance in the arenas speaks of an increasingly sought-after and desired live sporting event, also thanks to collaborations with influencers hosted on the sidelines. Is Italian basketball a sport easier to talk about than to analyze? Do you now consider it inevitable that Legabasket is gradually transforming itself into the broadcaster of reference for itself – above all thanks to a notable implementation of multimedia content on LBA’s social channels -, even to the detriment of independent digital information?

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Basketball is a beautiful sport to tell, it has important characters and stories, which often deserve more space, and this is what, as LBA, we have decided to do, producing a lot of innovative content, especially for the world digital which now represents the fastest and most direct way to reach the public. I don’t see this as a detriment to information, on the contrary it seems to me to be an added value and an incentive to find good things to talk about. We don’t want to compete with anyone, we have a role, including an institutional one, and a heritage of values ​​to promote. Accessible and open to anyone who wants to talk about it.

He recently declared to the Gazzetta dello Sport that LBA has set itself the objective of 85% filling of the arenas for championship matches by 2025. Going slightly further, beyond the next two years, what are the points on which you think it is most useful to focus for sustainable growth outside of the single weekend race? We would try to submit three to him, let us understand which ones are more or less achievable by LegaBasket. 1) A more effective strategy to obtain revenues from television rights greater than those envisaged in the three-year offer awarded by Eleven Sports and subsequently taken over by DAZN; 2) A substantial acceleration for the de-bureaucratization of all procedures that would allow companies to invest with guarantees and security in new structures; 3) More sophisticated and stimulating information, communication and in-depth analysis of the daily dynamics of the protagonists of the parquet, be they players or coaches.

I would say that all three are objectives to be pursued, with different difficulty coefficients. We will have a new call for audiovisual rights during 2025 and we are waiting to see if and how the law on the matter will change. And especially if there are others player as well as DAZN who is doing a wonderful job with the rights to our championship.

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The infrastructural theme is general and concerns the entire panorama of sports facilities and not just the stadiums that are talked about so much. We have small and old arenas, which do not allow growth either in terms of attendance or revenues. We hope to have greater attention from the Government and facilitations in the case of private individuals interested in investing.

Regarding communication, we are already on the right path and we will try to do better in the future, to attract more and more people to our world.

A substantial acceleration in inducing a de-bureaucratization of all procedures that would allow companies to invest with guarantees and security in new structures… More refined and stimulating information, communication and in-depth analysis of the daily dynamics of the protagonists of the parquet, be they players or coaches? From your point of view, how do you evaluate the cultural impact of the football monopoly on the world of Italian sport and information? Is it an incorrect feeling that basketball – and the rest of the “other sports“, pardon the term – does not even try to emancipate itself from the niche that has always housed it?

All sports today are niche, small or large, in a monocultural country from a sporting point of view. Basketball works every day to broaden the niche, as I think others do. Then the Sinner phenomenon happens and tennis benefits from it as with Jacobs and Tamberi for athletics or with the successes of the national teams in other disciplines and the interest towards this or that discipline temporarily changes. Information follows the public and rides the wave of the moment. But the ranking after football still sees basketball stable on the podium of team sports.

Since you have been president of the LBA, what is the technical aspect of Italian basketball that has impressed you the most due to the evolution and raising of the average level?

Tactical preparation and the desire to compete and excel often overcome differences in budget and roster depth and the consequent possibilities of technical choices. This is certainly the aspect that most characterizes the current moment of our championship.

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