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Trying times for PBA

The Philippine Basketball Association, Asia’s first professional cage league, is in a prolonged crisis situation, beset by many factors affecting its very existence.

I would be among the first to say that I would not want the league to go down the drain as the PBA has certainly been a part of life of countless Filipino basketball fans, including me, when I was a very active sportswriter in the 80s and 90s.

Not that I have stopped writing about sports, it’s just that even prior to the pandemic, I had scaled down on my sportswriting, including going to live games of the PBA and always on the lookout for interesting stories.

The PBA then was a dream beat for young sportswriters, and by the 80s and 90s, I had already made it and accepted as a serious writer in the league.

But now, I find myself asking the question, can the PBA weather the storm it finds itself in?

The league is a business, and just like most businesses, it had been affected and still is affected by the pandemic, resulting in bubble type tournaments, sans fans, one last year, won by Ginebra, and another one this year, being contested by TNT and Magnolia, with both teams hungry to claim a share of glory.

And even as I thought San Miguel Beer would take out TNT in the semis, I now find myself looking at Tropang Giga to beat the Hotshots in 6 to 7 games.

But then this piece is not about the current title series between the two teams, same as a battle between the two rival conglomerates, the San Miguel Group of Ramon S. Ang, and the side of Manny V. Pangilinan, by itself one of the factors affecting the league.

This is on the predicament of the PBA as a viable business if conditions do not change. Good thing that health restrictions are being eased though not enough yet for the league to go back to a live game with fans in attendance.

But it is also a fact that there has been a considerable drop in live attendance even before the pandemic.

As I stay and work from the house most of the time now, I have been able to follow basketball fans on social media, and they sure have a lot to say about the PBA.

One of the most common is the perception that it has become a two-group league between the rival conglomerates, and with this, they cite the fact that a lot of new superstar players end up playing for these two groups.

But I also would like to remind fans that in the early years of the league, there were also the two teams of Crispa and Toyota that dominated the PBA, and the followers of these two teams maybe account for 80% of the country’s basketball fans.

That being said, presently, outside of Ginebra, the other teams do not enjoy this level of following. Then, fans were team fans first and individual players’ fans second, but both with organized fans clubs

Now, I do not see this type of fan base anymore. For one, someone pointed out, too, that sports fans now have more options in terms of entertainment, including the NBA in real time.

Unfortunately for the PBA, compounding its current woes is the Japan B. League, which has embarked on an aggressive campaign to lure Filipino players to its fold, plus the Australian National Basketball League, which has inked a contract with big man Kai Sotto.

Presently, there are nine Filipinos in Japan’s B. League, could have been more had established PBA superstars Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva accepted  earlier offers. But then with the likes of Kiefer Ravena, Kobe Paras, Ray Ray Parks, Thirdy Ravena and up-and-coming Dwight Ramos, brothers Juan and Javi Gomez de Liano  and a certain Kerman Carino opting to play there, it has sent a strong signal to other players to follow. Marlou Aquino’s son Matthew also plays there as a local, since his mother is a Japanese.

Being mentioned as targets are established PBA stars Japeth Aguilar, Robert Bolick and Christian Standhardinger and the lure of higher salaries and now, a more stable league, might just be too strong to refuse for them  and others, too.

And without superstars and new stars, that kind of blow may just be something the PBA cannot recover from.

I hope not.

Topics: Lito Cinco , Philippine Basketball Association , PBA ,
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