Making EASL happen
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 11, 2020 - 12:00am

Matt Beyer is the driving force behind the East Asia Super League (EASL), set to be launched in October next year with eight clubs, two each from China, South Korea, Japan and the Philippines. He got his feet wet organizing basketball tournaments on a pre-season basis, starting in 2017 with a five-day competition called Super 8, featuring only local players, in Macau. Then, Beyer staged another meet called Terrific 12, also in Macau, the next year, this time with imports. A second edition of the Super 8 was held in 2018. Last year, the Terrific 12 had a repeat performance with PBA teams San Miguel Beer, TNT and Blackwater participating in Macau.

Beyer, 35, is now taking his basketball involvement several notches higher.  From a pre-season setting, he’s making the big leap to form an actual season with EASL. The format will split eight squads into two groups of four with each team playing three home and three away games within its bracket. Then, the top two placers of each group advance to the Final Four to be held in Macau with the championship game slated in February 2022 for the $1 million first prize.

Even as there’s no certainty when the pandemic will be over, Beyer is preparing for EASL’s takeoff right now. He’s optimistic that by October next year, the way will be clear for the launch. Last June, EASL inaugurated two content series on its digital platform – Ballerific and Fresh In Macau – to get the ball rolling. In the first two months of exposure, both series pulled in a reach of 18.2 million.

Beyer said the potential for EASL to grow into the world’s most-watched basketball season is incredible, considering the total population of the four participating countries is two billion. In last year’s Terrific 12, the media impact was reflected in a staggering 117 million views.

Beyer lives in Hong Kong with his Chinese wife and his fascination with Asia started when his parents adopted two Chinese children into their family in Wisconsin. He traveled to China when he was 17 and took up Chinese studies and journalism at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Beyer was also obsessed with basketball and in high school, his coach was Jon McGlocklin who was on the Milwaukee Bucks NBA title team in 1971 with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson.

Beyer, who is fluent in Mandarin, has lived in China since 2003 and during the 2007-08 NBA season, was Chinese star Yi Jianlian’s interpreter as a Bucks rookie. At the time, Milwaukee’s coach was Larry Krystkowiak, known to Filipino fans as a member of the US Golden Eagles team to whom the Philippines lost an 81-73 decision at the 1985 FIBA World Clubs Championships in Spain. Krystkowiak’s teammates included Steph Curry’s father Dell, Chuck Person and David Robinson. “It was quite an experience,” recalled Beyer. “I was with Yi the whole time, flying from city to city, visiting doctors, all things off the court. I learned how an NBA team operates and it prepared me for what I’m doing now in basketball.” Yi played in 66 of 82 regular season games that campaign and in his first NBA encounter against Houston’s Yao Ming, the game was viewed by 200 million fans on TV in China.

Today, the NBA is no longer aired on regular TV in China and a reduced number of games is accessible on digital streaming. No Houston Rockets games are shown. Beyer said it’s an opportunity for EASL to pick up the slack of high-level basketball competition on Chinese TV. He said the timing is right for EASL to be in synch with the shift in focus of major sports towards East Asia from the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China to the 2020 Olympics in Japan to the 2023 FIBA World Cup in the Philippines, Japan and Indonesia.

Beyer, the only foreigner licensed to act as a player agent in China with 30 to 40 percent of imports under his wing, said EASL will be patterned after FIBA’s Champions League which has branched out to Europe, the Americas and Africa. “The feeling has always been that this can be something positive for fans, for teams, for players,” said Beyer, quoted by Steve Deveney in “Maybe, that takes on a new meaning when things can get back to normal and maybe, people will be more ready than ever to do business and to watch basketball.”  Getting the PBA on board the EASL bandwagon is critical and Beyer said he hopes Blackwater team owner Dioceldo Sy’s participation as business development consultant for the Philippines will be a big boost to making it happen.

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