PBA News: the PBA must transform into a regional league: Tommy Manotoc


TAKE it from Tommy Matotoc.

Grand Slam coach and once deputy league commissioner, Manotoc offered only one solution when asked how the PBA – in gradual decline over the past decade – can survive threats from foreign leagues, regain the confidence of the fans and regain its shine as Asia’s Premier Basketball League.

Go regional.

“The PBA has to bite the bullet, and they have to bite the bullet now,” said Manotoc, 68. SPIN.ph in a large-scale interview. He added that becoming a regional league is the only way for the 46-year-old professional league to “take it to the next level” and, hopefully, survive a critical moment in its history.

Manotoc spoke as a professional league that has just restarted in the midst of a pandemic is already shaken by the exodus of its future stars to foreign leagues as well as by the mistrust and disenchantment of its fan base caused by questionable exchanges, a glaring imbalance of its member baseball clubs, and the perceived connivance between sister teams.

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Crispa grand slam

Manotoc, 68, is a legendary figure in the heyday of the PBA, winning six championships with San Miguel, U-Tex and Crispa which he led to his second Grand Slam in 1983. As assistant commissioner to the late Mariano Yenko, he oversaw the success of the league transition from the glory days of the Crispa-Toyota era.

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Now all Manotoc sees is a league that he says has remained largely ‘stagnant’ while the fledgling basketball leagues of neighboring Japan, Korea and Taiwan have flourished to become more lucrative destinations for young Filipino players.

The multi-title golfer and coach admitted it would be difficult for the league to stop the decline in its current form. Not with two big blocks controlling half of the 12 member baseball clubs and independent teams either colluding with the giants to survive or, if not, struggling to keep pace.

“Now where are we going? We are not going anywhere,” he said. “He has to evolve. He has to do it to level up.”

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When asked what would happen if it didn’t, he warned: “[The PBA] will die a slow death. “

Manotoc stressed that the most successful leagues in the world, whether in football, basketball or any other sport, are regional in nature. Even new leagues like the B.League in Japan were able to develop a loyal fan base in such a short time due to its regional format, he added.

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Unlike in the past, he stressed that the infrastructure for a regional campaign based league is in place. Almost all the major provinces have impressive stadiums and hotels. Even TV coverage of the games will be much more manageable and cheaper, Manotoc added.

Regional leagues are no longer new to the Philippine basketball landscape, starting with the MBA in the ’90s. At least two others – Senator Manny Pacquiao’s MPBL and the VisMin Cup – are expected to resume their seasons during the pandemic.

Is it feasible?

However, Manotoc stressed that the PBA still has the best players and the financial strength of the biggest companies in the country.

The tricky part, he said, is convincing these big companies to turn their teams into sports clubs representing key regions of the country. These clubs can evolve into private businesses that can eventually be supported through ticket and merchandise sales and sponsorships, primarily businesses in their home region.

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“The infrastructure is already there. Everywhere you go you see big gyms and hotels,” Manotoc said. “And these baseball clubs can eventually become self-sufficient because they can have the support of the regions where they are based.”

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Manotoc also admitted that compromises will have to be made. These baseball clubs will need the support of local leaders who have control of the infrastructure; deciding which ball club gets which region is also difficult, he added.

But is it doable?

“Yes” was Manotoc’s firm response. “You will develop more fans if the games are held in the provinces. You will have more viewers, more mass participation, at home and away, which will ultimately increase the value of the product.”

“Long-term, [these companies] will be the ones to gain [transition],” he added.

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