I LOVE YOU, THIS GAME: More money, more problems
Paul Lintag on Mar 15, 2018 04:27 PM
MBA's rise to success was so incredible it made its sudden demise almost too tragic.
The Metropolitan Basketball Association officially opened its doors to the public in 1998.
However, after a lot of fun, a lot of crazy, and a lot of everything in between, the ambitious league filled with potential closed its doors to the public in 2002.
A lot of people, both supporters and naysayers, have their own theories as to what contributed to the sudden rise and eventual fall of the MBA.
That's good and all, you believe what you believe.
But what we're saying is this is what actually happened. Straight from those who built the MBA all the way up, only to see it fall crashing down.
CONFUSION OVER THE DRAFT
Obviously, when the MBA started, there was no actual drafting of players.
Each team formed its own, ideally picking players locally. It was the point of the MBA's regional format.
It was a success the first time of course, but when the MBA returned to start its second season, moves were already proposed as to how the league can handle its inevitable expansion.
Ramon Fernandez, the MBA's first Commissioner, wanted to put a Draft in place, among other things.
"It was right after the first year's success, the Office of the Commissioner [suggested] to the Board, to the team owners, that we put in place the drafting system and the salary cap," Fernandez said.
"There was no need to reinvent the basketball league [concept]. All you had to do is look at the NBA in the States. That's how they do it. May salary caps and may drafting system. That's the lifeblood of the league, to be sustainable," he added.
Ramon Tuason, Chairman and CEO of MetroBall, Inc., the MBA's mother company, didn't exactly believe that a Draft would help the league at first.
Tuason was a firm believer in his league's regional format, obviously, and he thought that drafting players will ruin that element of the MBA.
And that regional element was what separated the MBA from others in the first place.
"If you go to a draft, then you would displace the regional flavor of it," Tuason argued.
"In other words, if Manila had a draft they could pick someone from Cebu. But we wanted Cebu to pick their own people first. Of course, unahan din yan. Manila could scout the junior leagues, the schools from the south and pick someone there. But obviously, the local lord, which is the family we chose, would have first dibs because kilala nila. [The Draft] was never considered as a viable option. We still wanted the local layers to go to that local team," he added.
MISSED OPPORTUNITY ON A SALARY CAP
While there are different opinions regarding if an MBA Draft would have worked, the discussions with a league salary cap is a different story.
All the personalities interviewed for this series agree, 20 years later, that a salary cap would have saved the MBA.
Even though 20 years ago, their approach for such system varied.
"On the second year of the MBA, ABS-CBN was already able to guarantee the team owners I think 10 million each on the second year. 12 million on the third year, and 14 million in the succeeding years para magkaroon nga ng salary cap ang players but hindi sinunod ng Board yun. Hindi nila sinunod yung recommendations namin, but the problem arose 3-5 years after, their budgets, nag runaway yung mga budget," Fernandez said.
"So that was one of the biggest problems, it was a business proposal for them [MBA owners]. Unlike the PBA na ang pang-gastos nila, advertising money nila yung ginagastos nila. In the case of the MBA, it was a business venture that's why we suggested to put in place a salary cap and a drafting system para di nag-aagawan ng players. Kasi there were players na makukuha ng isang team for P20,000, pa-pirate-in ng isa for P40,000, so nag-runaway talaga yung budget nila. They cannot recover anymore. Especially that the amounts that ABS-CBN was able to promise, guaranteed was only 10 (million), 12 (million), and 14 (million) in the second to the fourth year," he added.
Tuason mostly agrees that it was a missed opportunity with regards to the salary cap.
It was definitely a lesson that had to be learned the hard way, especially when the money became harder to control, leading to MBA's demise.
"The first year, we had not a direct salary cap but a recommended cap. Obviously when the team owners get excited, they ask us to let go of this cap so they can spend more money for players and then hopefully increase their revenues. So we let go of a salary cap. And that was a problem, one of our learning curves ano. We should have left the salary cap or the recommended cap in there," Tuason said.
"What we expanded too fast was the expenses. In hindsight, salary cap, and maybe after a draft after the third or fourth year [should have been implemented]. We expected the growth, the thing is, the expenses also grew and that was the problem. If we could have done it a different way we could have changed our rules on the salary cap," he added.
Expenses got so out of hand that ABS-CBN ended up giving subsidies to teams.
All of the money problems by the MBA can be traced by the fact that the league, and its owners, probably got way ahead of themselves and started going after a complete breakthrough.
And that includes actually challenging the PBA, which was never the original plan.
"There were so many milestones kasi and I think there was a time when we felt that konti na lang, we will be such a successful league already and some team owners said ‘Why don’t we get this star or Fil-Am from the PBA,'" ABS-CBN's Peter Musngi said.
"Since there was really no steady revenue for the teams in time, kasi we were not commercial, we said ‘Okay, pero pwede bang hati tayo’ sabi ng team owners. ‘ABS-CBN, pwede bang tulungan niyo kami? Hati tayo sa professional fee.’ Dun nagsimula yun, the fact that ABS-CBN wanted to help the teams also. Inevitably, one or two teams would be in distress already, kahit papaano tutulungan natin para matuloy yung liga."
"You want to make sure that it’s professionalized. Yes, getting the superstars then who commanded such a high professional fee may have been ill-advised, I’ll agree to that. The cap would have helped, but at the same time, baka it’s not really pushing the envelope at the time when we needed it most," he added.
Even with emerging money problems, the MBA's rapid road to success was more than enough for those in charge to continue giving the league a chance.
However, eventually, the league's collapse became inevitable and it was time to let it go.
"I think because of the cost on both ends, on the teams and on ABS-CBN itself. I particularly admire our chairman Gabby Lopez because he was the one who said ‘Give it another chance’. Unbelievable kasi yung reception, eh. When you’re in the provinces, you’ll be surprised na ang dami palang nanonood while in Metro Manila, obviously because of the PBA, we didn’t have the same sold-out venues, but still may mga nanonood sa TV," Musngi said.
"We felt that at a certain point, kapag medyo nararamdaman namin na yung team owners medyo tumatamlay na despite whatever subsidy was being given by ABS-CBN, dumating na dun sa medyo nawawala na yung commitment and passion ng team owners, I think it was a mutual decision to say ‘We need to stop and rethink this,'" he added.
With a lot of ambition, the Metropolitan Basketball Associtian officially opened shop on March 7, 1998.
It was a lot of fun, a lot of crazy, and a lot of everything else in between.
But after its rapid rise to success, the struggles soon became too much and the MBA officially ceased operations on July 26, 2002.
However, the memories of the MBA for those who went through the league's many ups and many downs remain... (to be continued)
*I Love You, This Game is a series celebrating the Metropolitan Basketball Association's 20th anniversary. Stay tuned for more!
READ PART 2: I LOVE YOU, THIS GAME: The Passion of the Nation
READ PART 3: I LOVE YOU, THIS GAME: Trouble from Lakerland
READ PART 5: I LOVE YOU, THIS GAME: The MBA vs. the PBA
Follow this writer on Twitter, @paullintag8