PBA awaits EASL’s formal invite

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - December 8, 2020 - 12:00am

Back in 2011 when the NBA was locked down for 161 days during collective bargaining negotiations, Nike came out with an inspiring campaign built around the slogan “Basketball Never Stops” if only to remind the world that the game isn’t just about playing hoops, it’s a way of life. Now, in this pandemic, the message remains relevant and for EASL (East Asia Super League), it couldn’t be more meaningful.

Although EASL isn’t scheduled to inaugurate its 8-team, 28-game “champions league” until October next year, CEO Matt Beyer is working day and night to make sure the road is clear for a successful launch. Pandemic or no pandemic, Beyer is laying the groundwork for the start of a yearly regional competition involving the Philippines, China, Japan and South Korea with a strong digital platform reaching out to a potential market of two billion. Once the train gets rolling, Beyer expects EASL to become one of the top three most-watched basketball leagues in the world.

Last Thursday, Beyer briefed the PBA Board of Governors on the progress of preparing for EASL’s launch during a video meeting. Beyer and CFO Henry Kerins spoke from their Hong Kong office. Also in the board meeting was Blackwater team owner and EASL Philippine business development head Dioceldo Sy. The PBA has participated in Beyer’s previous projects so they’re not strangers to each other. San Miguel Beer, TNT and Blackwater played in Beyer’s Terrific 12 tournament in Macau last year. Beyer has also made presentations on EASL to the Board in face-to-face meetings in Shenzhen and Macau. With 2020 coming to a close, Beyer found it timely to lay down the details of the PBA’s proposed participation at the board meeting.

Sy said the board welcomed EASL’s proposal as PBA chairman Ricky Vargas advised Beyer to submit a formal invitation for the PBA to join as a next step. “There will be eight teams, two from each of the four participating countries, in the first season from October next year to February 2022,” said Sy. “Teams will be split into two groups of four to play six home-and-away games. The top two teams from each group will advance to the Final Four then the winners meet for the title. The invitation is for the PBA champion and runner-up to participate. Brand equity is important so the identity of each team is critical. EASL will allow flexibility in the composition of the teams, meaning we could bring in players from Gilas or other teams with two imports and no limit for Fil-foreigners.  A team will play only three away games on a Wednesday in the regular season so the travel won’t be taxing. Fly out Monday, practice Tuesday, play Wednesday and back Thursday. EASL will provide a budget for the PBA to hold home games at Araneta or MOA. A team is guaranteed an appearance fee of $20,000 for every game and an additional $20,000 if it wins. The champion will receive a prize of $1 million.”

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial said he will study EASL’s schedule. If things normalize next year, the PBA will start in April and conclude its third conference early next year. That would mean a conflict with EASL’s calendar. But because EASL’s regular season entails only six games for each team in four months, it’s a workable arrangement.

The buzz surrounding EASL is creating widespread anticipation of its launch. When FIBA announced its 10-year agreement with EASL last August, it triggered news stories that reached 1.09 billion across all publications and three million across social media accounts within a week.  To fuel the momentum, EASL has produced several exciting programs in social media, including a cam vlog series featuring Ginebra’s Jared Dillinger talking about life in the PBA bubble and a weekly show called Full Court Press highlighting action in EASL’s four participating countries.

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