08 June 2016

PBA Shelves Expansion Plans

Commissioner Chito Narvasa
Philstar Global, 19 May 2016

PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa said the other day that with expansion in the back burner, he will focus attention on the immediate goals of growing the operations, making the league more relevant and creating a lively game atmosphere of fan engagement.

Narvasa disclosed that at least four corporations are in line for new franchises but the Board of Governors appears inclined to hold off for at least two years. "Expansion is up to the Board," he said. "Right now, we’re trying to perfect our system so that every franchise gets maximum value with the available venues. My commitment to the team owners is to run the league efficiently and make sure every game is fair and square. At the end of every game, there should be no doubt that the better team won."

Now that the Board has struck out the position of CEO from the table of organization, Narvasa said his job is to establish a viable structure that will prepare the league for the long-term. "First of all, you can’t make a corporation out of the PBA," he said. "That will involve a major restructuring and going to the SEC. The PBA was conceived as non-stock, non-profit. What we want is to professionalize the league’s operations and you don’t need to make the PBA a corporation to achieve that objective."

A management expert with an extensive financial background, Narvasa said he has reorganized the league where designated department heads or directors report to him through assistant Pita Dobles, in charge of all administrative matters. Dobles is Narvasa's filter and also acts as the centralizing executive for functions such as purchasing.

"We're striving to be more efficient and transparent," said Narvasa. "In the past, purchasing was done on a decentralized basis. Now, we've centralized the function to take advantage of economies. Pita is our virtual Executive Vice President while the department heads or directors are the virtual Vice Presidents."

The department directors are Rickie Santos as head of basketball operations, Odessa Encarnacion as head of finance and accounting, Willie Marcial as head of communications and external relations, Rhose Montreal as head of marketing and business development (under probation) and lawyer Melvin Mendoza as head of legal affairs. Narvasa said there are vacancies for two department directors – one for social media and one for creative opportunities and special events.

"The potential to create new markets is boundless through social media and we want to explore that avenue by making it a distinct department," he said. "At the moment, Pita heads the creative group but we're on the lookout for a director to head this department. We’re putting a lot of importance in the creative group to think of ways to engage fans during games. We want every game to be a special experience for the fans. For instance, we put up a three-on-three women’s tournament in between games. We’re thinking of halftime attractions to excite fans even when the ball’s not in play. Our core business is basketball and we want to make watching every game a wholesome and entertaining experience."

Narvasa said the challenge in Santos' department is to develop and grow the league. "We’ve got the D-League to transition players from the collegiate to the pro ranks," he said. "We've adjusted the age limit in the D-League from 26 to 28 and now, 30. That means Fil-foreigners who want to apply for the PBA draft must go through the D-League unless they’re over 30. Going through the D-League means playing at least seven games in two conferences. We don't want any player to be out of the radar so we’re requiring potential draft picks to showcase their skills in the D-League for all to evaluate. Anyone who has played for the national team on the senior level, meaning the Southeast Asian Games, Asian Games, the World Cup and the Olympics, will be exempt from going through the D-League. We’ve got our Batang PBA program for 12-and-under and 16-and-under to establish a foundation for future players and future fans. In the past, we used to rely on LGUs for our development programs but now, we’re hands-on. We’re planning camps, clinics and seminars for kids, referees and coaches so we intend to be very active in relating with our markets."

Narvasa said working the league to a peak of efficiency is a team effort. "I try to involve the people concerned in decision-making because it's not all about me," he said. "In time, I'd like the departments head to be less dependent on the commissioner. When there's a trade on the table, I ask around for opinions before I decide if it’s a fair deal or it needs some revision. In improving the quality of officiating, Rickie is on top of that with Eric (Castro) supervising the officials. Two things we’ve introduced are working well – substituting referees during a game and calling the deliberate foul to prevent making a play on the man, not the ball."

The referee replacement innovation is unique to the PBA. Narvasa said it’s not only to change a referee for making a wrong call or missing a call but also to substitute a tired referee. As for the deliberate foul, Narvasa said it could solve the NBA’s problem of hacking a poor free throw shooter. The deliberate foul calls for two free throws and possession. Unlike a flagrant foul, it does not penalize a player with a sit-out.

"The deliberate foul puts a stop to this foolishness of hacking a poor foul shooter because of the rule to retain possession," he said. "After it’s called, referees can review to downgrade or upgrade or retain. It forces players to play the ball, not the man, and eliminates unnecessary contact that could lead to flare-ups."

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