Friday, April 7, 2017

The Philippine Basketball Association is an Advertising Gimmick

Basketball is so popular and important to the national consciousness of the Philippines that in 2014 special legislation was passed making NBA player Andray Blatche a Philippine citizen just so he could play on the national team during the FIBA World Cup because having a tall black American on the team would surely guarantee winning the championship.

The Philippines did not win the FIBA World Cup.

Nevertheless basketball remains an integral part of Filipino culture. But there is one crucial difference between basketball in the Philippines and basketball in the USA: there are no city-name teams!

In fact all the teams in the Philippines are corporate owned entities that represent a brand.  They are a part of the marketing and advertising arm of each corporation.  Check out these brands, I mean teams:

Rain or Shine Elastometric Waterproofing Paint

Pure Foods Hot Dogs

Batangas International Port

Alaska Powdered Milk

San Miguel Brewery

It's a genius move for any advertiser. Filipinos are consumed with basketball and by watching these teams the brands are constantly in their heads. The sheer cost of running a team are made up by the returns in sales and reduction in advertising overhead. Don't take my word for it.
“It’s an advertising vehicle first and foremost,” PBA Operations Director Rickie Santos told BusinessWorld in an interview, wherein he discussed the intricacies of owning a PBA franchise.
“In the PBA [companies] have advertising mileage. We have the television coverage. We have the radio coverage and the newspapers. On game day itself there are already stories, which we call ‘advancers.’ Then the game stories,” Mr. Santos said. 
He said that while it takes no small amount of money to maintain a PBA franchise -- P100 million alone for a franchise fee apart from the operational costs -- companies however are not left short-changed. 
“What teams spend on their operations are already part of their advertising costs,” Mr. Santos said. 

An outsider would laugh and scoff at the team names and the whole set up but not Filipinos. In the Philippines the marriage of basketball and advertising is normal.
What do fans think of team names in the PBA? Do they cringe, or at least chuckle, when an announcer introduces the Burger King Whoppers? Hardly: These are just the names of companies and products that pop up in everyday life. Bartholomew, who was introduced to the PBA when doing a Fulbright in the Philippines, says that he found the names to be distractingly amusing at first, but that they have come to seem normal enough. 

Exposure to any situation long enough will lend a semblance of normalcy. While there are pluses about having corporate sports (would there even be professional basketball teams in the Philippines if they weren't owned by corporations?) there is also a big minus.

The marriage of basketball and advertising reduces the relationship between the teams and the fans to one that is purely economic. Each corporation has converted the athletes into its paid wage labourers. Each player becomes a salesman when he wears his branded jersey.  Athletic ability is cultivated not for its own sake but because winning games translates into sales.  The need to be selling its constantly expanding product lines causes each team to frequently change its name with the advent of a new product to sell. With corporate teams there is no rooting for the home team or hometown pride for having a winning team. Rather, the corporations have torn away from basketball its sentimental veil, and have reduced the team-fan relation to a mere money relation.

Is this how Filipinos want to be thought of?  As degraded entities whose essential value lies in their function as consumers? To have the game of basketball falsified into a means of consumption? Must everything in this country be a lie? 

Filipinos may not care or have even given it much thought but the current PBA system is dehumanising and can only be called sport in the most peripheral way. To quote the PBA Operations Director once more:

“It’s an advertising vehicle first and foremost.”

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