MANILA – To the acquainted, FIBA 3x3 events are usually held in historical landmarks or open-air venues such as parks.
But the Philippines, home to two of the world’s 10 biggest malls, takes exception to this norm.
Spacious shopping malls have become the default spots for such basketball events – a unique combination that many consider a win for all.
“I think it’s outstanding, because you have people who are willing to fill the seats who may not have had 3x3 on their schedule or calendar on that day, but when you put in on the center of a very busy traffic area in the middle of a mall, you’re always going to have people pay attention,” FIBA 3x3 resident commentator Kyle Montgomery said.
The prestigious FIBA 3x3 World Tour Manila Masters 2023 held inside Glorietta in Makati is just the latest in a long list of high-caliber 3x3 events being conducted inside malls in the metro.
“It’s unique. I’ve been all over the world, including from where I come – the United States – but the way the fans here in the Philippines embrace basketball in general, especially 3x3, it’s a different level,” Montgomery said.
In his many years as the voice of 3x3’s broadcast booth, Montgomery has been to the Philippines several times. Save for the 3x3 World Cup in 2018 which was held at the Philippine Arena, all the major 3x3 competitions held locally have been inside malls.
“Some do not even come to watch the game. These are just shoppers. But they stop what they’re doing and would spend half of their day checking out the 3x3 action because it’s like basketball is a magnet; they can’t stay away from it,” Montgomery said.
“The energy is incredible. The Filipino fans are outstanding, and this is one of my favorite places to be.”
In February, the Manila Hustle 3x3 event for women was held at Robinsons Magnolia. Later, the NBA 3X Philippines and Asia Tour 3x3 were both staged at Mall of Asia in March and April, respectively.
The PBA already holds its annual Rookie Draft and 3x3 competitions inside malls. There are more events to come, as Chooks will also organize the Cebu Masters in September while local tournaments are in the works.
“It’s brilliant from a marketing standpoint, it obviously increases the energy at our tournaments, and we earn more fans this way,” Montgomery added.
It’s not to say that venues with cultural relevance weren’t being considered for tournaments of such magnitudes.
In fact, Chooks looked at the Bonifacio and Katipunan Monument in Ermita, Manila last year as the original venue of the Manila Masters 2022.
However, logistical constraints made it difficult for the FIBA 3x3 partner to choose the site as its venue, and settled for Ayala Malls Manila Bay in Paranaque.
The Philippines’ tropical climate also makes it risky to hold bigtime 3x3 competitions outdoors.
From a marketing perspective, basketball being the country’s top sport makes it easy for malls’ managements to partner with organizers and have events staged in the middle of some of the largest shopping centers.
“It’s extra help. With Glorietta, for instance, it’s our flagship. Usually, on a weekend, we have a lot of foot traffic kahit walang events. But having this event here, it’s international, it gives us more,” Ayala Malls corporate marketing officer Iyah Generoso said.
During the weekend, the sport easily drew an enormous flock of people. All levels of the mall were filled, as the crowd hoped to get an ideal view of the action.
“There’s perhaps more foot traffic, revenue, through merchandise, food, so it’s a good mix of help for us, and having sister hotels nearby, it’s also a good thing for business.”
Political science academic Richard Heydarian also previously wrote about the harnessing power malls have in urbanized settings.
“Shopping malls dominate -- both physically and cognitively -- the urban landscape in the Philippines. All key public transport systems cluster around major shopping centers, which provide unrivaled comfort, the right temperature (in a humid, tropical country), and breathless access to a wide range of brands that cater to all social classes,” Heydarian wrote on the Huffington Post in 2015.
FIBA 3x3’s international players themselves think that playing inside air-conditioned venues while a knowledgeable fanbase looks on creates a better overall atmosphere.
“They like to play here because a lot of people come to watch and we know Filipinos like basketball for sure. Because of that, we enjoy it when they come here,” Serbian coach and former 3x3 pro Marko Zdero said.
“I always say, every time we’re here, we love to play, because Filipinos love basketball so much, and I enjoy playing here. I hope to see here one more time,” Manila Masters MVP Strahinja Stojacic added.
According to Generoso, the basketball-inside-malls setup creates a ripple effect which benefits all parties involved. The trend is seen to continue thriving, especially since it is difficult to argue with results.
“This is the highest stage of 3x3 basketball, as we all know. It’s a win-win situation for us and for them. Having national players coming here to play basketball and also experiencing the support and love of the Filipinos, that’s pretty good,” Generoso said.
As 3x3 continues to grow further globally, Montgomery said it is beneficial to have more fans understand the rules, gameplay, and intricacies of the sport.
And by putting 3x3 inside malls in buzzing cities where there is massive foot traffic, it becomes easier to achieve those targets.
“Some people who probably don’t know 3x3, if they’re at the mall buying something for their families, they’re going to know 3x3 once they leave the mall. It’s a unique part of the game, and I think it’s something we should continue,” he said.