MANILA, November 3, 2005 
(STAR) By Joaquin Henson - Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner Noli Eala said the other day he’s open to meet with Harbour Centre owner Mikee Romero and discuss options to pave the way for the country’s largest non-containerized port terminal to own a franchise in the pro league.

Eala said expansion is in the offing and he expects at least one team to be added in the 2006-07 season. He declined to identify the corporation supporting the team.

"It is my understanding that the new team will be owned by a multinational company," said Eala. "I am told it will buy a new franchise. The group is now studying what product the team will project and when is the best timing for the launch. A budget has already been prepared so it’s just a matter of time."

Eala said the company was not involved in talks to enter the league during the offseason. The Gokongwei group and Welcoat Paints were reportedly looking into joining the league along with Harbour Centre before the current season started.

Eala said Shell, officially on a leave of absence, has up to the end of February next year to sell its franchise or else it will be dissolved. He noted that a buyer could purchase the franchise and apply for a holding period in the Second Conference before beginning play in the 2006-07 season.

While buying an existing franchise may cost less, Eala said there are advantages to purchasing a new franchise even if it is more expensive.

For one, the PBA offers terms to pay for a new franchise. If the value of a franchise is P60 Million, the league is willing to give the buyer a period of five years within which to settle the amount. Buying an existing franchise may not allow terms and will likely be on a cash basis.

For another, a new franchise may be given concessions or incentives like elevating a maximum of three players from the amateur ranks without going through the draft and choosing veteran players in an expansion draft. Another concession will be to use a salary floor equivalent to P18 Million a year when a team is required a payroll of at least 75 percent of the P30 Million cap or P22.5 Million.

Eala said bringing up three amateur players will be a big boost considering the presence of Kelly Williams, Joe Devance, L. A. Tenorio, Arwind Santos, Mark Isip and Joseph Yeo in the coming draft pool. Red Bull enjoyed this concession when it entered the PBA in 2000.

Eala said bringing down the salary floor for a new franchise is another concession to allow the investing group a chance to consolidate its resources without coughing up a huge amount for overhead in the first year.

Romero said Harbour Centre has no immediate plans to join the PBA but will study the options available.

Romero said adjusting the team salary floor will be a welcome concession and even thought of proposing a player salary cap of P250,000 a month from P350,000. He also said the concession of bringing up amateur players will be a bonus although his wish list has five players, not just three.

"We’ll seriously look into it," said Romero whose basketball staff includes Derick and Dindo Pumaren and Tonichi Yturri. "Our initial plan was to establish our organization in the PBL (Philippine Basketball League) for two years then jump to the PBA. We only had two weeks to decide whether or not to buy the Shell franchise before the new season started and we didn’t want to rush things."

Romero said he hopes to confer with Eala soon and seek clarification on the options available. One option is to buy the Shell franchise before the deadline lapses and sit out the Second Conference before playing in the 2006-07 season. Another option is to buy a new franchise and avail of the league’s concessions and incentives.

Romero, 35, is an astute businessman who since starting Harbour Centre five years ago, has transformed the port terminal into the country’s largest handler of non-containerized cargo. Harbour Centre processes 150 to 200 vessels a month in its dock facilities. He played for the La Salle Zobel juniors and the 1990-91 season for the La Salle seniors before cutting short a budding basketball career because of an injury.

Eala said the target is to eventually expand the league to 12 teams.

With attendance and TV ratings soaring this season, Eala said the timing is right to spread the word that the league is open to expansion.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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