The new PBA

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - August 14, 2015 - 10:00am

The Philippine Basketball Association’s new corporate structure now ushers in the stability and long-term infrastructure to do a lot of things and expand into new areas for growth. In its first 40 years, the league grew into a staple form of entertainment for tens of millions of Filipinos, a habit many could not – and still cannot – do without. Now, taking the long view, the league will become not just a symbol of professional basketball, but the entire sport itself, leading the way for sustainable growth, high ratings, and new forms of excitement for an increasingly diverse market of local and foreign patrons.

In discussions in Tokyo, the league’s incoming board, new president and CEO Chito Salud and new commissioner Chito Narvasa outlined the broad strokes for a new master plan to further polish the league’s image and eliminate any lingering perceptions of subjective judgment in the league, beginning with the officiating.

“You make a call or not. No judgment call. Judgment call is whether you make a call or not. It’s a lot easier to see later on, allow me some time,” said Narvasa, who played for the Philippine team in the 1970’s, qualifying his future decisions. “It will still be physical but not a wrestling match. If we agree on something to help each other, (complaining) will be much less. You’ll see the effort on my part. If you see that effort is not enough, just let me know. Let’s help each other. You help me and I will help you. Eventually that will be addressed.”

Narvasa has been on the other end of the discussion, as head coach of Shell and Purefoods, and as protector of local referees’ interests during his presidency of the Basketball Coaches Association of the Philippines. This gives him a broad understanding of everyone’s interests on both sides of the argument.

“There has to be some order restored,” he declared. “All the coaches are my friends and they know me. They know I will do it. I guess all the teams know my responsibility is to take care of the PBA. That’s the first priority, then later on the teams. Right now I want to see Kia and Blackwater get better (to improve the competitive balance of the league).”

Meanwhile, Salud revealed the plan for a new retired players’ welfare fund, to alleviate the health challenges of previous generations of players. Some retired PBA legends have expressed their hurt feelings at not being shown any concern by the league. Now in a more permanent capacity, Salud has taken this challenge on.

“The proposal is to help them subsidize their health care needs. So we have to find sources for the seed money,” the former commissioner said.

In the next five years, the PBA plans to build a sports academy centered around a training facility, rehab center, commercial and residential structures, not to mention an expanded Developmental League that may soon include a women’s side. All of these plans are welcome new developments, and will allow smaller companies that cannot afford the large expense of a PBA franchise to be affiliated with the PBA brand in some way. Naturally, these projects will also include their own media exposure, such as television coverage and stories in print.

What does all of this mean?

First, it means the professionalism of decision-making in the PBA, institutionalizing “league-first” thinking, as Narvasa has said with regards to his responsibilities. Decisions will be made with the long-range impact in mind, and this will naturally filter down to smaller decisions and the day-to-day operations of the league itself. 

Secondly, the PBA will have a stronger base on which to stand, instead of managers who, though they may be experienced and professional, are limited to short contracts. The fact that these plans are announced to be completed within five years gives everyone a sense of purpose, a goal to aim for, instead of trying to get as much done within the term of a contract. Third, the league can now likewise offer long-term deals to partners and sponsors, since management will not change and no foreseeable problems in continuity will happen. Investors in the league now have a more comfortable platform to stand on, which will be strengthened even more over time.

Lastly, the PBA can now diversify more deeply into new arenas of competition, and become a premier sports brand not just in basketball and the Philippines, but beyond. Maybe some day, the league will even have its own television production team. A new realm of possibilities has now opened up.

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