PBA rides wave of breakthroughs
Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - March 3, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - With attendance and TV ratings going through the roof in the just-concluded Philippine Cup, the PBA is gearing for expansion as Asia’s first play-for-pay league embarks on a major drive to open its 40th season on a high note.

So far this season, the PBA has registered seven playdays with at least a 20,000 crowd, including two in the Philippine Cup finals, and there are two more conferences left. In three conferences last season, only four playdays posted at least a 20,000 attendance. TV ratings went sky-high in the Game 6 clincher of the recent Philippine Cup finals with a viewership peak of 5.4 million and a whopping audience share of 53.7 percent, clear indicators of a strong partnership with TV5.

The PBA will open its 40th season late this year after the national team plays at the FIBA World Cup in Spain on Aug. 30-Sept. 14 and the Asian Games in Incheon on Sept. 19-Oct. 4. The league opened shop in 1975 with nine franchises. The membership dropped to six in 1985, increased to eight in 1990 and nine in 1999 before starting the new millennium with a core of 10 teams.

On Thursday, the PBA Board of Governors will decide on the applications for two new franchises. If the applications are approved, the PBA will open its 40th season with a record 12 teams. Last Friday, Ever Bilena Cosmetics filed a letter of intent to join the PBA signed by chairman and chief executive officer Dioceldo Sy and chief operating officer Silliman Sy. Ever Bilena will use its Blackwater brand in the PBA if the application is approved. A week earlier, Columbian Autocar Corp. sent its own letter of intent signed by president Ginia Roxas Domingo. Columbian will use Kia as the brand of its PBA team if approved.

 Both Blackwater and Kia are known to be passionate supporters of basketball. Blackwater is the only team to win a PBA D-League championship other than NLex and Kia is the NBA’s exclusive automotive partner, sponsoring all its performance awards, including the All-Star Game MVP, the season MVP and the Rookie of the Year and the NBA Cares. One of Kia’s global spokesmen is Los Angeles Clippers center Blake Griffin who jumped over a Kia Optima to win the NBA 2011 slam dunk championship. Kia also has sponsorship agreements with the LPGA, Australian Open and FIFA.

Columbian Autocar Corp. distributes Kia, BMW, Peugeot and Daihatsu among others. Kia employs over 44,000 workers all over the world and produces over two million vehicles a year in 13 plants in eight countries. It has dealerships and distributorships in 172 countries with annual revenues of over $42 Billion. Kia was established in 1944 and is Korea’s oldest car company.

A source said Kia sold 6,000 units last year and is in line to sell 10,000 this year, 15,000 in 2015 and 20,000 in 2016. Kia’s involvement in the PBA will be a major marketing thrust. If Kia enters the PBA, it will mark the first entry of a car brand since Toyota in 1975-83.

PBA chairman Ramon Segismundo said the timing is right for expansion. “In my view, we have arrived as an Asian and global basketball power and nation,” he said. “We need an even more vibrant, dynamic and broader-based PBA.”

Segismundo hinted that a 13th franchise is in the works but declined to identify the prospective applicant. The scuttlebutt is even a 14th franchise was under negotiation but the buyer, a huge conglomerate, deferred its application for one to three years. Segismundo said the PBA Board will not be limited to keeping the membership to an even number. Applications will be considered based on quality and merit, not on how many teams are in the league. A team that’s certainly ripe to join the PBA is NLex, winner of five of six PBA D-League titles.

Segismundo confirmed that Columbian Autocar sent its letter of intent ahead of Blackwater. “Kia is a global brand and opens a link to the Asian market,” he said. “It will make for a stronger PBA. It relives Toyota’s passionate management. Blackwater is a consumer brand with a mass appeal. It has a rich basketball tradition through Mr. (Dioceldo) Sy and is an inspiring ascension from the PBA D-League. According to Blackwater, they are looking at three to four years to win a championship. Both Blackwater and Kia envision to be with the PBA for the long term. It’s a great time to be in the PBA, now and in the future. It’s very, very exciting.”

PBA commissioner Chito Salud echoed Segismundo’s optimism. “This is the perfect time to join the league,” he said. “The players are putting their hearts into the competition. There is no dearth of quality players. The fans are hot and raging. The games are exciting and played on a high level. Our live attendance and TV viewership are impressive. Any serious prospective applicant for membership will certainly partake of the benefits of the league’s resurgence.”

Sy said becoming a member of the PBA is the dream of every sportsman and businessman. “I can feel God’s hand that made Blackwater’s entry into the PBA smooth as silk,” he said. “Everything just fell in at the right place at the right time. We’re hoping the PBA Board approves our application during Thursday’s meeting. It will be my best birthday gift ever.”

In Ever Bilena’s letter of intent, Sy said “we will abide by the PBA rules just as we have always been a member of good standing in the PBA D-League (and) rest assured that we will give our full support to the PBA being the premier professional basketball league.”

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