One For the Road: Should the PBA go out-of-town more often?

On November 17, 2013, the PBA did something unprecedented. It opened its season with three games happening in three different venues – the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, the USEP Gymnasium in Davao City and the Cebu Coliseum.

The main stage was Araneta. That was where all the performances were made. But with the three venues in sync, with a TV coverage that showed what was happening in all three places, Cebu and Davao were just as involved as Manila. It was one big program. And it was a pretty damn good show.

The very next season, the league held its opening ceremonies at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan. With two new teams – Kia and Blackwater – debuting in the first game and the always-awaited Manila Clasico happening in the second, the arena was filled with a jaw-dropping record of 52,612 attendees. Much like the year before, it was a spectacle. And it was a success.

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I remember working both those days as part of the TV production group. It was tense. Anytime you’re out of the norm, away from the Araneta or MOA layout that our directors and producers have already memorized, a lot of unexpected things happen.

Going out of town is always a challenge. And that’s especially true for the league. Just imagine the amount of planning that needs to be done in order to stage one game away from Manila.

Not every provincial game is successful. Some do not get the reception that is expected. Some run into difficulties like logistics or uncontrollable crowds. But all of it, of course, is done with the intention of brining the action closer to the fans, particularly those who rarely get the opportunity to see their idols in person.

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Last week, the PBA decided to do something that had not been done in while – hold semifinals games out of town. That in itself was challenge. What made it tougher? Those were three semifinals games played in a span of four days.

Game one between Meralco and Star was played in Biñan last Sunday. Game two was held Tuesday at the Sta. Rosa Multi-purpose Complex. Then Wednesday, for game two of the Ginebra-TNT series, the league went all the way to Batangas City.

I really thought it was great idea – offer the fans an experience they had not been through before. Playoffs basketball is very far from the level of the eliminations. It was new for the fans and it was good for them.

However, I do understand that the situation can be difficult for the teams.

In the semis, they play every other day. When they don’t have a game, they usually hold practice. Games are held at 7 p.m. They go on for two hours, at the very least. That means they get to leave the venue at maybe 9:30 or 10 p.m.

Take the Batangas game for example. The Coliseum is a good two-hour drive to and from Manila. Ginebra and TNT probably got back to Manila close to midnight. They probably had practice yesterday and they play again tonight.

These, however, are sacrifices that players know they have to make as professionals. These are also things they are willing to do for the supporters. It’s an opportunity for them to connect with the distant fans.

Sure, it’s not the most ideal of situations. But how often do these happen anyway?

Overall, I think out of town games ultimately do good for the league, the players and for the fans. Which makes me think: should these happen more often? Should the PBA tap more venues outside the usual arenas that it goes to?

The PBA used the success of the out of town games and converted it to a twist on their usual All-Star event. Instead of just a weekend, the PBA held their festivities across a week in three different venues. They had Gilas vs. Hometown Players in three different venues in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. The venues were filled and fans were excited.

Just letting my mind go crazy, I’m thinking of less games in the usual venues and more on the road. It doesn’t even have to be in the far provinces.

There are arenas around the metro that would fill up if the PBA visits. The PBA on the road is a twist on the usual way the league holds it’s games. Instead of the fans heading to big arenas, the games go to the fans (provided that the arena is fit to hold a PBA game). This would be a solid way to kickstart interest in the league. The PBA can charge lower costs in smaller arenas and entice fans to bring family and friends to the games.

By giving the fans the PBA experience at a lower cost (ticket and travel cost), wouldn’t it entice fans to try it all over again? Because they were able to watch a PBA game live, fans will want to repeat that experience, making watching games live an option for them where ever games may be.

I understand the complications of it – logistics, costs and all that. I’m just thinking: wouldn’t that be another new experience for PBA fans across the nation?

Photos from Inquirer Sports

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