PBA should allow direct competition to build more intriguing rivalries

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RIVALRIES in sports put an intriguing backdrop to every duel both by individual athletes or team sports and it’s not surprising why some of the greatest rivalries through the years had made sports not just an avenue of entertainment but also a source of creating heroes.

These rivalries also made the sports section of publications and different media entities not just a mere toy section, but also becoming a mainstream department for those people looking for identity: Shall I root for Magic and the Lakers? Or Bird and the Celtics? Shall I cheer for Muhammad Ali or would I go for Smokin’ Joe Friazier?

Should I bet on Crispa or would I be more identified with Toyota? Will it be blue or green, Ateneo or La Salle? The glamour boys of Purefoods or the rugged Ginebra squad?

There’s no grey area when it comes to sports and for many years, rivalries had become a solid foundation of major sporting leagues, including the PBA.

Fueled by a legacy of intense contests and endless banter, real or imagined rivalries always get marquee billing. That is why the best player debate between Lebron James and Michael Jordan will rage forever. That’s why any Ateneo-La Salle clash is still at the forefront of college basketball. Likewise, the Crispa-Toyota match-up is still hotly discussed even though it ended more than three decades ago.

At present times, the Manila Clasico rivalry can trace its roots to the cold war between Ramon Fernandez who was then with Purefoods and Robert Jaworski of Ginebra.

Without these rivalries, fans would miss the drama that unfold every game. Would you care to watch a Manila Clasico encounter even though you know that the two teams belong to only one owner?

Consumer would be more picky choosing between Magnolia Chicken and Bounty Fresh and basketball fans would love to see that inside the court if Chooks-To-Go, Ang Manok Ng Bayan, would be pitted against the Magnolia Chicken Hotshots, Ang Pambansang Manok.

San Miguel Beer is one of the world’s best beers, and perhaps fans would tell otherwise inside the court if another beverage brand would come in and beat the Beermen.

Drastic measures need to be tested in order to salvage the dwindling gate attendance and dropping interest. Creating more rivalries can spark fan interest. The most logical way to make this happen is to allow direct competitors to own franchises in the PBA.

A brief history of direct competition

Textile companies Crispa and U-Tex were two of the nine pioneer teams of the PBA. However, they can be considered direct competitors when the former changed its name to Walk Tall Jeansmakers before the 1979 season.

While they did not meet in the Finals, Walk Tall finished second to Toyota in the 1979 Invitational Conference.

Meanwhile, U-Tex outlasted the Tamaraws in the 1980 Open Conference. The Danny Floro-owned franchise reverted to its Crispa name by the 1980 All-Filipino Conference and too bad by the time the fabled team met in the finals twice — the 1977 Open Conference and the 1981 Reinforced Filipino — the team was carrying Crispa. Nevertheless, both were textile companies.

In 1984, the Toyota franchise disbanded and was sold to Basic Holdings, Incorporated which is the mother company of Asia Brewery. Seven holdovers including Fernandez were absorbed by the Beer Hausen Brewmasters. However, former Toyota player Abe King joined the San Miguel team, which was renamed as the Gold Eagle Beermen.

The Lucio Tan-owned squad proved to be the better club by finishing second in that year’s Second All-Filipino Cup and third in the Invitational Conference. As for Gold Eagle, they went as far as finishing fifth in the Invitational Conference.

Two years later, Tanduay defeated corporate rival Ginebra for the All-Filipino Title to keep its grand slam hopes alive. But the door was shut when the Gin Kings bagged the Open Conference crown against Manila Beer to give Jaworski his first title as coach.

The rivalry was fueled not only because the two squads were carrying liquor brands, but it was the first time Jaworski and Fernandez, two former allies, who became rivals, met for the championship.

In 1987, the Alaska franchise changed its name to Hills. Bros. With a pressing situation in the company brought about by workers’ strike, Alaska decided to use its coffee brand.

Under coach Nat Canson, the Coffee Kings barged their way to the  finals in the All-Filipino Conference, but were swept in three games by the Great Taste Coffee Makers.

In the early 90s, Tivoli changed its name to Great Taste Milk, which is a direct competitor to the Alaska Milkmen. The Purefoods Tender Juicy Hotdogs and the Swift Mighty Meaty Hotdogs also shared the PBA limelight from 1991-1994 until the latter changed its name to Sunkist Orange Juicers. A few times, Purefoods would change its name to Coney Island and Purefoods Oodles, but there instances the two hotdog brands would go side by side inside the hard court.

Why is it not allowed in the league?

There is no formal ruling that prohibit teams with competing brands to participate in the league, but within the ranks of the team owners and the distinguished gentlemen in the PBA board, all of them were looking at their teams’ interest.

Several years ago, a lockout agreement was also implemented in the pro league, which means brands within one company would advertise in the league on the condition that direct competitors will not be allowed to come in.

Existing squads have used it to their advantage by using affiliate names as long the company has at least a 33-percent stake.

In 2011, San Miguel changed its name to Petron Blaze Boosters to put a dampener on the impending acquisition of Barako Bull by Phoenix Petroleum. The Fuel Masters did get in 2016, but that was two years after the Blaze Boosters reverted to using San Miguel Beer.

Recently, the Purefoods club became known as the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok when Chooks-to-Go expressed interest of putting up a team.

So, given that there’s no existing provision that blocks direct competition, any change in team ownership still need a two-thirds vote (eight out of 12) from the PBA Board of Governors to be ratified.

Direct competition will be healthy for the league

Rivalries cannot be fabricated. That’s why the PBA is in a dire crisis to have legitimate ones. San Miguel is dominating the opposition by clinching its fourth straight Philippine Cup title. Four of the current teams are less than 10 years old and are not having much postseason success.

Sure, the Manila Clasico is a rivalry ,but both teams have only met twice in the finals, winning one apiece, not to mention the fact that the rivalry is between teams belonging to one company.

Rivalries are needed to be drummed up. Bad blood between two companies, two teams which really hated each other are story lines fans would await.

Crispa players didn’t drive Toyota cars in the same way that Toyota players didn’t wear Crispa shirts. How they hated each other can be traced back in the early years of the PBA, a full-blown riot happened on opening day of the 1977 season.

Players from both squads were detained right after the incident.

Jaworski and Fernandez would have a cold war that developed in a five-year stretch and the tension had to be quelled by The Maestro Baby Dalupan.

If the PBA cannot conjure match ups that promote competitive balance, it’s time to let corporate competition flow. Board room personnel will do anything within their powers to ensure that they have a better brand than their counterparts. Even something as petty as winning a non-bearing game over their direct competitor can be a morale booster for the team and for everyone involved in the company.

Just imagine the level of publicity generated every time these two clubs face-off. Even non-rabid basketball fans will pay attention for what’s at stake is not just a title, but rather an edge in consumer preference.

Sporting events are a perfect platform for marketing for it indirectly sells to the buying public. The thought process isn’t the same with television ads that immediately condition viewers to buy the products. Rather, spectators subconsciously select the best brands depending on who’s winning or who has the best players. So, when teams carrying two competing products battle for a championship, the winner is associated as the better brand and consumers will likely pick them out of store shelves.

Beyond the court, corporations must also devise marketing strategies and digital media initiatives to maximize exposure. They will not be contented in merely having a mascot and a booth at the main entrance for their rival will come up with something better. For starters, they can give free or discounted tickets if fans can present a pre-determined number of bottle caps or labels at a specified booth. Not only will this build brand loyalty but it will boost in-game fan experience because they have more to look forward to than just the game, the halftime entertainment, and free T-shirts of slingshots.

Without question, the Philippine Basketball Association is experiencing a crisis on relevance. A lot of things can eat up one’s attention nowadays and even PBA games themselves can be viewed online which waters down the necessity to watch live. Perhaps, the squads are taking it easy because of their exclusivity on this turf. But they will be kept on their toes once the lockout agreement is tossed away and direct competition is fully allowed.

Up to now, the tagline “wala pa ring tatalo sa Alaska” rings true. But by allowing their rival brands to enter the league, that can be debunked and a debate on who’s better commences. It’s a discussion that can last until the wee hours. Yet through the endless chatter, the PBA lives on.

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