Lessons from a league that tried
Twenty years ago in Pangasinan, a bold new league attempted to appeal to this basketball-crazy country with the concept of hometown rivalries.
Rather than being based on sponsoring manufacturing firms or utilities, the teams would represent key cities and provinces and stir loyalties based on roots or affinity.
The Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) looked like it was not threatening the status quo with the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and its commercial orientation. But the minute the MBA began luring PBA stars into its fold, the battle lines were drawn.
PBA member companies did not support the MBA with TV commercials and worked hard to protect its ranks. In time, the financial stability of the PBA teams stood strong against the MBA. The new league could not attract the TV revenue it had hoped for and did not have the large venues that could host crowds that would buy tickets, merchandise or venue refreshments.
In four years, the MBA declared bankruptcy as it could no longer sustain the travel, production and operational costs.
The best lesson to be culled from the MBA is that there is always room for competitive, high-profile basketball in the provinces. The PBA is the only league today that can sustain this given its network of provincial game producers and its access to appealing commercial airtime from its host broadcaster.
There are PBA days when even the most creative matchmaking or scheduling fail to attract a crowd in the Metro Manila area. Certain teams are simply more appealing to the basketball faithful. This is where games in other parts of Luzon or choice cities in the Visayas-Mindanao areas might draw a bigger crowd than in the regular metropolitan venues like Smart Araneta Coliseum or Mall of Asia Arena.
The new Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) has decided to remain Luzon-based to prevent any expensive costs by holding games in the Vis-Min area. Its city-based format is actually quite appealing and could work if it remains frugal and not be too eager to attract big name players to its fold.
The MBA tried its best to survive given its competition but the realities of our economy could not keep it going. It will remain in the chronicles of our sports history as a gallant attempt to be different with our undying basketball passion.
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