A Latvian team in LKL? A pretty strange question if you were asking a year ago, but now the northern neighbors are really looking to give a few surprises. Barons Riga owner Ivo Zonne confirmed that the club is looking for ways to get into the LKL.
Is it for real this time?
If information in the press is correct current Latvian champs Ventspils didn’t succeed in moving their team to Lithuania. Ivo Zonne and the Barons have their own idea – as the clubs from Latvia and Lithuania have both been touched by the crises, teams might be available for sale and the Latvian businessmen has already contacted some. If the Latvians are able to acquire a team, the name of it would be changed to Barons with a financial boost to the current status as well. The reasons for this according to Mr. Zonne are simple – there’s not much competition in Latvia as the league now consists of 5 teams. That is true, but I think there is a bigger one – the winner of LKL gets an automatic spot in Euroleague and considering the fact that budgets of top Lithuanian sides shrunk, it would be easier for Barons to make the top competition in the continent than having to play in the qualification rounds like Ventspils will. This can however be helpful to Lithuania and its basketball as both Lietuvos rytas and Žalgiris could finally find a worthy opponent – LKL would look a lot more attractive for fans and investors.
I have three versions of how could the Latvians enter LKL, the first being by purchasing a not-so-well-economically club like Sakalai, Neptūnas, Techasas, Alytus or Sūduva. All of them are having problems preserving their top players and it’s unclear what their roster will be for next season. Vilnius and Klaipėda with Sakalai and Neptunas playing there has the biggest markets, but I’d say Neptūnas is the most unlikely to be sold, while Techasas has a good arena in Panevėžys. The others club have almost nothing excluding their spots in LKL. The second version is that they’d buy Juventus Utena, the club wants to join LKL and would be welcomed by the league, but they can’t collect enough money for their entrance fee. There is a newly built arena in Utena as well; the city, as well as Panevėžys is geographically close to Latvia. The third option is really sweet – two clubs from Kaunas are merging, but what they can do is sell one team (the license of it). It’s a win-win situation as they would basically be selling nothing and would highly increase their chances of a high finish next year with the money gained. These are all just my imagination; it will be interesting to see how it pans out.