MANILA, December 23, 2003  (STAR) By Nelson Beltran And Abac Cordero - A timely change.

As the Philippine Basketball Association braces for its transition tournament next year, a new television coveror owned by a former PBA team owner will be tapped in what could form a new partnership between the league and a network committed to be highly competitive in the TV industry.

A reliable source told The STAR last night that the PBA board of governors is bent on awarding the rights of the league’s television coverage to ABC-5 for its 29th season starting in February.

"It’s almost 85 percent," said the source, referring to the chances of the network, now owned by former PBA franchise (Mobiline) team owner Tonyboy Cojuangco, one of the TV outfits which signified their intention to take over NBN-4.

This came about even as the PBA board has withheld decision on the issue following a two-hour emergency meeting at the posh New World Hotel in Makati City. Bobby Barrero represented ABC-5 in the meeting.

"No decision. We’ll meet again tomorrow," said the short text message from league chairman Jun Cabalan of Ginebra at the end of the emergency meeting.

Cabalan said the board will re-convene at 2 this afternoon at the PBA office in Pasig City to hopefully come up with the final decision on whether or not the PBA will have a new broadcast partner starting next year.

There are a handful of bidders for the costly television coverage which was awarded to the NBN 4-IBC 13 consortium early this year. A three-year contract worth P670 million was signed only to fold up barely a year into it.

But despite all their shortcomings, NBN 4 and IBC 13 are still among those being considered for the right to air the league’s 29th season.

The others vying for one of the country’s biggest broadcast-deals are Channel 23 and Jemah Television.

"We have not ruled out anybody right now," Cabalan later said over the telephone, adding that league commissioner Noli Eala was to hold a couple of meetings with the prospective coverors last night.

"We need some more information on their proposals. Pure formal letters at phone in lang kasi so far. Unlike before (when countless meetings are held regarding the proposals)," said Cabalan.

"But we’re close to deciding. Bukas (today) hopefully," added Cabalan, who will soon relinquish the chairmanship in favor of Buddy Encarnado, the equally-amiable Sta. Lucia board member.

Still, ABC-5 seems to have the inside track.

"So far, the problem is that the TV station could not promise the 6-6:30 p.m. slot since its thrust is to further improve its news program as part of its plan to restructure and be competitive against giants ABS-CBN-2 and GMA-7," said the source.

Barrera was reported to have suggested that the league goes back to its old format of airing the second game live with the first match to be telecast on a delayed basis.

Money will not be a problem, according to the source, adding that ABC-5 is willing to pay the PBA a P100 million franchise fee with the network agreeable to a 70-30 percent sharing scheme if it earns more than P250 million or 60-40 cut if its gross is below that range.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved