Future Sight: How the PBA will look like in five years

Shaquille O’Neal goes wild in mosh pit at Tomorrowland

A lot could happen in half a decade.

Promising careers can end with an injury. Dynasties rise and fall. Players and coaches gain a fresh start with new teams. Phenoms rise and take leagues by storm. Change is inevitable and these things could happen in a breeze in the Philippine Basketball Association.

Given that there are a lot of shifts in the macro level, it’s possible that the PBA will undergo a number of changes. These may happen in tournament formats, schedules, or player eligibility. While we can drum up several initiatives that can help the league, here’s what the crystal ball shows about the PBA come 2023.

Big men’s continuous domination

The NBA has shifted to a pace-and-space game wherein perimeter shooting matters. Thus, the likes of Stephen Curry can dominate a game even though he is not physically imposing. Yet, the PBA is not following that script. For the next five years, the June Mar Fajardo-Christian Standhardinger tandem will dominate the league barring any trade. As a PBA squad, you must find players that can match up in height and in strength.

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This doesn’t mean that the league lacks talented guards and small forwards. Rather, having an imposing presence inside is essential to give shooters clean looks since the defense will be pre-occupied in stopping the big man. If the outside attempts are not falling, you can still dump it inside and let the giants operate.

Adopt-a-city approach

To bring the games closer to the fans, each PBA team will adopt a host city wherein they will be required to play a certain number of games for one season. The league will target key cities in the Philippines to maximize their coverage and reach the most fans. Given that the travel is a challenge, especially to Visayas and Mindanao, they will get a commercial aircraft company to offer discounted fares in exchange for ad placements in game.

Smaller venues for weekday games

Rental fees for big gaming venues such as the Araneta Coliseum and the Mall of Asia Arena can sap more of the PBA’s finances rather than replenish it. Add to that the horrible Metro Manila traffic that discourages fans to watch the games live. Other than the games of the more popular teams, the stands portray a miserable sight as empty seats were glaring, which is not a fascinating sight be it on television or at the venue. This needs to be addressed immediately.

Luckily, there are several venues around the Metropolis that can host PBA games. Their dimensions comply with professional standards while the stands can pack up enough spectators to draw a livelier in-game atmosphere. This can also bring ticket prices lower, which makes it more appealing to budget-conscious fans. Here are eight venues that the PBA can consider for elimination round games.

Gilas cadets thrive as young superstars

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By this time, most of the Gilas 23 for 23 pool are now PBA players. It will be an exciting time for the league as the national team members bolster their respective teams. Story lines and rivalries can be drawn up. Kobe Paras versus Ricci Rivero. CJ Perez versus Juan Gomez De Liaño. Vince Tolentino versus Abu Tratter. Just imagine the publicity these match-ups will generate.

Two teams will be added

This brings the total number of teams to 14, right? Well, not quite. It seems that one of the squads will sell their franchise to a new owner to make the count at 12. Then, another company will signify their intention to join the league to make it a baker’s dozen. But once the league opens up its policy on direct competition, more companies will submit their proposals. After all, the PBA is still a viable option to advertise products.

A step towards transparency

Given the non-parity in terms of rosters, more fans will be curious regarding player salaries to ensure that teams honestly follow the salary cap. Conventional wisdom has it that franchises do not fully declare how much a player receives per month and they pass it off as bonuses. Thus, the league office will ask teams to divulge compensation to the public. With the PBA losing much fan interest by the day, showing that they operate within the rules they’ve drafted will bring boost its credibility.

The D-League as a real farm system

Right now, local PBA aspirants are required to play at least seven games in one conference to be eligible for the draft. As for Fil-foreign prospects, two conferences are needed. However, this does not guarantee that the player will make a roster spot even if he is drafted. Therefore, why not turn the D-League into a farm league like how they operate in Major League Baseball. PBA teams will have a D-League affiliate and can call anyone up who performs well. Likewise, a PBA player who is underperforming can be assigned to the minor league.

Not only will this boost the popularity of the D-League as the league of future PBA superstars but it gives every player the motivation that their PBA dream is realistically within reach. A string of great performances can elevate them into the big league. Likewise, the pros cannot rest in their laurels and must work hard even at practice. Otherwise, they will be relegated. Once this is implemented, the PBA must draft 10-day or two-way contracts to address legalities.

Ads on live streaming

It’s frustrating that as a trendsetter for the past 43 years, the PBA is not revving up its digital media campaigns. Perhaps they are leaving the responsibility to media partners, but they must do their part in generating buzz online by creating content that fans will love and share. Knowing that a large portion of the audience is contented in watching the games through computers or mobile devices, they can maximize live streaming to generate more revenue.

If you are a basketball purist, you will enjoy the live streaming for it is devoid of ads. However, the PBA will eventually open advertising on live streaming. The challenge though is to do it in a way that viewers won’t find it annoying. Online ads can also be cost-efficient with high returns given the captured audience of the league.

Language requirement on Fil-Foreign players

Then and now, the PBA is still a league for the masses. However, it lost some of its appeal when waves of Fil-Foreigners started to play. Talent-wise, they are worthy to be in the league. But as ambassadors for the PBA, the English language causes a divide between them and the fans. This could be the reason why Mark Caguioa, Alex Compton, and Jeffrey Cariaso have endeared themselves to basketball aficionados. Their ability to speak Tagalog makes them relatable and likeable.

So, the league’s front office must require Fil-Foreign PBA players to speak conversational Filipino within their first season. Otherwise, sanctions will be given. This is in no way a discrimination against the players who came overseas. Rather, it is a measure to keep the league’s identity intact. Besides, don’t we find it cute whenever they express themselves in the vernacular. Case in point: Norman Black giving instructions to his players in Tagalog: “Pare, hindi pupuwede yan”, Compton yelling at the referees, “Ref, kanina pa yun” or Tim Cone telling sharing coloquial tagalog like, tsamba, swerte and malas.

That’s a sideshow that keeps fans interested

Stricter testing for substance abuse

The Kiefer Ravena incident is a big blow to the league. With one of its marketable players gone, measures to address this long term were thoroughly discussed during the latest PBA Board of Governor’s meeting. Aside from The Phenom being the face of an information campaign to prevent this from happening again, the PBA will re-assess its policy on substance abuse. This could lead the front office to impose Olympic-style testing to ensure that players are not taking banned or illegal substances.

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Players will be randomly selected for urine and blood samples that will be examined by a World Anti-Doping Agency-accredited firm. The PBA will initiate this multiple times in a year to ensure that no player is getting an unfair advantage. Once proven guilty, a player will be suspended for a year without appeal. A repeat offense will merit a lifetime ban. D-League players will not be spared.

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