Economies of scale

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

The demand for Filipino basketball players overseas is increasing. Since highlights from all Philippine basketball leagues are readily available online, leagues in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and even Europe or Australia don’t even need to send scouts to the country to get a firsthand look at local players. Gone are the days when one had to shop a player around by compiling highlights on DVDs and send them out to schools and commercial teams abroad. Now, it’s just a matter to finding someone’s Facebook profile or e-mail address, and shooting them a message. There are no barriers to making contact and recruiting. And this is a good thing, because it will spur change, development.

The Philippine Basketball Association recognizes this, and is doing a lot of things right. The guest stint of the Bay Area Dragons is one major sign that the league is starting to measure itself against foreign competition. This is a beneficial move, given that live audiences in the Philippines, site of the world’s longest pandemic lockdowns, are still cautious about live entertainment. You see it in other live sporting matches, movies and entertainment events. This is the best time to try something dramatic. The PBA’s joining the East Asia Super League is likewise a first step in determining its place among the region’s basketball superpowers.

Inevitably, the PBA will decide which direction to take, as it did in the 1980’s when it was predominantly insular, then started contributing to the national team. When the country was defeated by China in the 1990 Asian Games, fans realized that there was a new world order. In the long run, it did not really hurt basketball fandom in the country, as Filipinos consume basketball regularly and passionately, almost indiscriminately. Though the sport’s popularity occasionally takes a hit when the national team suffers losses in FIBA events, no permanent damage is done. Besides, the only solution to that is winning.

One prime consideration is cost. As PBA member corporations and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas partners expand into foreign markets, it makes sense to similarly extend into nearby foreign markets with their teams outright. The only question is to what degree and at what cost. It is not cheap to advertise overseas. But as the PBA showed us, using a basketball team is like having a two-hour commercial every time they play; it’s easy to justify the cost. The players themselves are likewise great ambassadors for the game. And naturally, the overseas Filipino communities provide a formidable spark for interest in the games.

Basketball has been a global game for decades, and China’s joining the fray (after the Mao Zedong government shut down all sports) changed the face of basketball forever. Interest in Asia is at an all-time high, and the Philippines is right up there with the US and China as one of the most voracious and passionate markets in the world. Plus, it will be a great experience for our own basketball officials to share and absorb best practices from their counterparts. Exciting times lie ahead, and the game continues to evolve.

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