05 August 2010

SLR-Meralco Deal Sealed

Meralco's PBA Entry
By Joaquin Henson
the Philippine Star, 28 July 2010

A deed of sale was signed on 23 July 2010 to formalize the purchase of Sta. Lucia Realty's PBA franchise by Meralco but the finalization of the deal is pending the payment of the third and final tranche, possibly within the week.

According to Sta. Lucia team manager and PBA governor Buddy Encarnado, the payment of the "small" balance is only a formality as the deal is as good as done.

"As soon as the final payment is received, I will submit the letter of sale and transfer of the franchise to the PBA Board," said Encarnado.

No PBA Board meeting is scheduled this week but a league insider said a special session may be convened anytime, depending on the availability of the Governors. A PBA Board resolution is required to affirm the transfer of any franchise.

Encarnado invoked confidentiality in declining to reveal the terms of the sale. But a source said the Meralco books will reflect a cost of less than P50 million. From Sta. Lucia’s end, the payment will be more than P60 million to include consideration in the sale of assets to other sources.

For Meralco, the purchase is considered a bargain with the cost of a PBA franchise at least P65 million. The sale isn't just for a basketball team but an enabling vehicle to launch the power company's sports advocacy program.

Encarnado said the payment was to be made initially in two instalments. The first tranche was delivered over a month ago. The second was split into two with only the last instalment pending payment.

"I've talked to the Board about the progress of negotiations and I've made the assurance that I will seek endorsement and approval of the transfer of franchise only when there is complete payment," said Encarnado. "I expect the full payment to be made very soon."

Encarnado said the decision on whom to retain from Sta. Lucia’s lineup will depend on the Meralco coach – whoever he is. Live contracts will be honored and among the players with unexpired pacts are Bitoy Omolon, Josh Urbiztondo, Dennis Daa, Chris Pacana, Yousif Aljamal and Pong Escobal. Those with expiring contracts include Marlou Aquino, Ali Peek, Nic Belasco, Ogie Menor and Jason Misolas.

"I've asked the Meralco group to seriously consider retaining Boyet (Fernandez) as coach," said Encarnado. "It's not easy to win a championship in the PBA and it's even harder to win an All-Filipino title. Boyet has done that (in 2007-08). He may not be as flamboyant as other PBA coaches but he gets the job done silently and effectively."

With his Sta. Lucia job in limbo, Fernandez recently took over as UP seniors coach in the UAAP.

It is rumored that a PBA coach, now involved in the Fiesta Conference semifinals, will be offered the Meralco position along with a corporate officership.

Encarnado said he suggested for Meralco to rehire Aquino. "I think Marlou is good for at least one more season," he said. "His contract is under negotiation, maybe for a conference. With his experience, Marlou can help. Besides, there is a dearth of legitimate local centers in the PBA. Not even the Fil-Ams are able to fill the void."

"My focus is to dispense the final act of the franchise," he said. "In fairness to my bosses at Sta. Lucia, that's my only concentration. What I've experienced in basketball is beyond my wildest expectations. I never imagined that from my passion and love for basketball, I would be so involved with the game. It started in 1983 when I was team manager of ESQ Marketing in the PABL. I'm the only surviving team manager from that era."

When Encarnado served as PBA chairman in 2004-05, he left an indelible imprint in the league's history books.

"I'd like to think that during my chairmanship, I contributed in paving the way for a more stable PBA," he said. "I had little influence coming from a small company compared to the giants in the PBA Board. But I did what I had to do for the love of the game and the league. I took the bull by the horns. I faced up to issues and presided with transparency, nothing more, nothing less. I pushed for the institutionalization of the salary cap and put a limit to the number of Fil-Ams in a team. I felt it was wrong for homegrown players to be in the minority and bringing in more Fil-Ams was a disservice to the aspiring young players from the UAAP and NCAA. I went against Fil-Shams. And I fought to preserve the integrity of the league."

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