CALASIAO, Pangasinan -- For several decades, the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) has been the premiere basketball league in the country. But with the emergence of different hoops competitions offering new faces and style, is the PBA starting to lose its fans?
With fewer people watching games live on the stands, especially during the elimination rounds, questions about the popularity of the pro-league have lingered for few years already.
For PBA Commissioner Willie Marcial and sports analyst Boyet Sison, the interest of the Filipinos, who are tested and proven to be basketball fanatics, in the league has not yet faded.
Marcial boasted the mammoth support that the PBA is getting from the provinces to stress that the league remains on top of the consciousness of the Filipino basketball fans.
“Sa probinsya talagang inaabangan nila tayo kahit saan tayo magpunta; barangay visit, malls, laging mainit ang pagtanggap sa atin,” Marcial told ABS-CBN News during the 2019 PBA All-Star Weekend in Pangasinan.
(Fans in the provinces are always raring to see us wherever we go, whether it is a barangay or mall visit. They always welcome PBA warmly.)
Sison supplemented Marcial’s statement, stating that the attraction to Filipinos is still there for the league despite admitting the number of fans going to the venues was not as much as it used to be.
“It is not that the product is bad. It is just the dynamics that one being able to watch the game has already become prohibited. How can you reinvent something which is also trying to reinvent for so many years?,” Sison explained.
So why is there a decline on the attendance inside the playing arena? Marcial and Sison both echoed the same reason -- bad traffic around Metro Manila where most of the games take place.
WATCH ON TV, AVOID BAD TRAFFIC
According to Sison, who also has a program on DZMM TeleRadyo, while the PBA has not yet lost its attraction to the people in Manila, the fans choose to avoid spending long hours along the road just to watch it live in the venue.
“It is not that the residents of Metro Manila have lost the love for the game. It’s how they are able physically and go and watch the game. The main problem is traffic in Metro Manila. If you are able to spent 6 hours for a PBA game day. Who has 6 hours now?” Sison asked.
Marcial, on the other hand, also shared the same sentiment, revealing that basketball fans cannot afford to spend 6-7 hours for a usual basketball double-header.
The worsening traffic being experienced by people around Metro Manila was far from the situation more than a decade ago, back when motor vehicle ownership was not as much as it is right now.
“Unlike before traveling to a PBA venue like Araneta was not as difficult then 15 years ago. If you are coming from QC, you can be easily at Ultra in 10-15 minutes and get out the same way,” Sison added.
To avoid bad traffic, the audience tends to stay at home and just watch the games live on television. The excitement may be a little less than witnessing the match unfold before their eyes, but it is hassle-free.
The television, for Sison, is more extensive, more far reaching and more in-depth.
“The hours physically spent to be there at the venue eats up person’s time. Kahit sabihin mong fan na fan siya diyan, unless it is a Finals, KO or the stakes are higher, then they want to be there,” Sison stressed.
Fans from provinces welcome PBA warmly
Situations in the provinces across the archipelago, however, have a different tune compare to Metro Manila. Basketball fans in different towns troop to the coliseums in their place whenever PBA holds their All-Star weekend or away games.
Marcial said the fans in the provinces are more willing to pay expensive tickets just watch a PBA game live. This is also the reason on why the All-Star events yearly take place in different parts of the Philippines.
“Ang All-Star natin halos laging probinsya para makita naman nila ‘yung mga players natin. Kahit saang probinsya tayo magpunta, mainit talaga ang pagtanggap satin,” Marcial admitted.
Sison also added that the travel time for provincial audience going to the basketball venue is faster. Hence, they can easily watch and return home after 2-4 hours of actions.
“The Metro Manila audience are so busy physically. Pero sa probinsya hindi e. Kaya nila doon mag-spent ng 2-3 hours watching the game. It is a novelty for them, it is a social event,” Sison said.
However, the sport analyst pointed out the logistical issue and financial capabilities of the league if the games, aside from the All-Star, will be held in provinces.
According to Sison, the idea of conducting more away games was already brought up during the leadership of Chito Salud. He further discussed why the away games worked for the NBA, citing differences in facilities.
Currently, the PBA holds few games in different towns.
“That is a logistical nightmare if you bring more than a 150 people for a province or city to play 2 games. Expenditure-wise to mount the games, to feed them, to house them, to transport them. Much as they really want, it is a very big production to bring that to provinces,” Sison explained.
“Comparative to an NBA setup where each venue in the NBA is broadcast-ready because that is the stipulation of the league. If you join the league your venue is made according to NBA specifications. Here it is not.”
'NO. 1 SPORTS PRODUCT'
Despite the limitations and dwindling number of fans present in the arena, the level of play in PBA is still topnotch. Sison believed an All-Star selection from the collegiate rank cannot beat the pro-league’s bests.
He also highlighted the importance of better economy in driving more viewership for the PBA as it has always been the benchmark.
“The game can only go as far. But the league will not survive for 44 years if the public does not love the product. It is still the no. 1 sports product,” Sison reiterated. “It is still the big ticket as far as sports viewership is concerned.”
Celebrating its 44th year, the PBA, which holds the distinction as Asia’s first pro-league, carried the best talents in the country to Calasiao, Pangasinan.
(For more sports coverage, visit the ABS-CBN Sports website).