Why low attendance numbers aren’t worrying PBA commish Willie Marcial yet

Dominic Menor, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 26 2018 05:55 AM | Updated as of Jan 26 2018 09:29 AM

Willie Marcial is the 10th commissioner of the PBA, the oldest professional basketball league in Asia. PBA Media Bureau

Willie Marcial has received early favorable reviews for some of the developments that have occurred in the PBA since being named interim and subsequently full-time league commissioner. 

Marcial has gotten the thumbs up from many players, coaches and fans for relaxing referees’ control over physical play and allowing more contact in games.

His project characterized as a community meet-and-greet with players has been welcomed as a chance for barangays to mingle with their basketball idols, an initiative that Marcial said has never been done before. 

Under his term, the PBA board scrapped the “1 veteran, 1 cadet per team” rule for Gilas Pilipinas participation, opening up more options for the national team and, therefore, strengthening it.

With Marcial attracting positive vibes this early in his tenure, one aspect of the league that will require his magic touch is the sagging attendance at arenas.

ABS-CBN News doesn’t have the official numbers, but an eye test of the crowd at the venues in many games shows empty seats vastly outnumbering occupied ones.

Addressing the fan turnout in the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup, Marcial told ABS-CBN News it isn’t time to push the “panic button” yet, explaining that elimination-round games don’t tend to draw in spectators.

“Kapag playoffs at walang tao, doon ka mag-alala o kaya mga big games hindi ka pinapasok, mag-alala ka doon,” he said in a phone interview Thursday night.

Judging by reaction on social media and the Internet in general to the moves being made under Marcial, the tone of fans has shifted from trollish to encouraging, likely a step in the right direction if the league wants to grow its attendance numbers.

For now, Marcial wants the player-fan experience to be two-way.

As the league searches for ways to get people flocking back to arenas, Marcial has experimented reversing the formula — taking players to barangays unannounced and having them mingle with residents and especially kids.

“Kunwari may out of town kami, oras na may makita kaming basketball court na may naglalaro, buong team bababa (sa bus). Ganu’n ang gagawin ko,” Marcial said.

In the eyes of fans, it’s a meet-and-greet; for players, the project serves another purpose — to downgrade penalties incurred.

Belga of Rain Or Shine and Magnolia’s Rodney Brondial were chosen to participate in barangay visits in Quezon City and Marikina as a mea culpa following separate incidents of on-court misconduct. 

With the visits, dubbed PBA Homecourt, both parties involved receive tangible benefits.

“Sabi ko nga kay Beau Belga, ‘Beau, nu’ng araw nagba-basketball ka, biglang dumating si Jaworski, ano’ng mafi-feel mo? ‘Boss, matutuwa ako.’ ’Yan ang mafi-feel ng mga bata ngayon. Kasi bigla, hindi nila alam. Nag-click naman,” Marcial said.

Marcial has been associated with the PBA since the time of Leo Prieto, the league’s first commissioner, starting out as a statistician before working as part of Vintage Enterprises, the PBA’s broadcast partner in the 1980s and 1990s.

It wasn’t until the tenure of commissioner Jun Bernardino that Marcial became part of league management.

Marcial said each commissioner had his own distinct quality.

“Meron diyan magaling sa PR, meron ’yong disiplinado, merong napaka-galing sa marketing, merong strict sa rules,” Marcial said.

“Simula kay commissioner Bernardino hanggang kay commissioner (Chito) Narvasa nakita ko ’yong mga ganoong katangian. Pipilitin nating i-apply lahat ng mga magagandang katangian.”

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