MANILA, July 27, 2006 (STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - At the start of this past season, Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) commissioner Noli Eala set three Ps–profitability, popularity and professionalism–as his objectives in crusading to bring the pro league back to its position of prominence as the country’s No. 1 sports entertainment vehicle.

With the season just ended, Eala can safely declare "mission accomplished."

There’s no question the PBA now stands on solid financial footing.

It’s liquid, profitable and stable.

"Our total and net revenues are up," said Eala. "For the first time in a long time, we’re prepared to give back dividends to our members.

The amount will depend on the final financial audit and the budget for next year. Our total net income is estimated to be at least P77 Million, more than double from last season’s P37 Million. Our total revenues increased by P26 Million from P157 Million to P183 Million."

In terms of popularity, Eala said the TV ratings, attendance figures, new marketing tie-ups and demand for out-of-town games indicate the league passed this test, too, with flying colors.

Live attendance in Metro Manila rose by 74.1 percent from 423,701 to 737,782 as gate receipts jumped by 14.3 percent. Crowds of over 10,000 were no longer a rarity and ABC-5, the covering TV station, reported consistent growth in viewership.

As for professionalism, Eala said several policies were implemented to make the league more efficient, responsive and proactive.

"We improved our fiscal position with new financial measures, reorganized our office to make functions more distinct, streamlined our organization to make it leaner without compromising our services and outsourced a lot, particularly in staging provincial games."

Eala said money isn’t the PBA’s only measure of success.

"It’s more of how the PBA is now perceived," he explained. "We lost a team last year and it should’ve meant fewer offerings. But because of the consolidation of players, the games became more interesting, more exciting and more intense. Our policy of strictly screening Fil-Am applicants has also borne fruit. Just look at our mythical five selection and you’ll notice there’s not a single Fil-Am, a good indication that the PBA is evolving and giving more local-bred players a chance to prove themselves on the court. It’s no surprise that our following is growing as a result."

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Yesterday, the PBA management committee composed of Eala, media bureau chief Willie Marcial, operations head Rickie Santos, technical manager Perry Martinez, finance and administration manager Jimmy Sunglao and marketing manager Jacques Ruby started a four-day planning session at Evercrest in Batulao.

Also in the conference, which ends Sunday, are ABC-5’s Bobby Barreiro, Sienna Olaso and Winston de la Cruz, PBA Properties’ Princess Galura and service provider PNG’s Patrick Gregorio and Andrew Teh.

The conference theme is "consolidating gains and building on momentum."

From the planning session will emerge the PBA’s 2006-07 budget which Eala will present to the Board of Governors, now headed by chairman Ricky Vargas of Talk ‘N’ Text, in a meeting in Macau on Aug. 12-14.

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The next season will welcome a new team, Welcoat, and a host of blue-chip rookies. Red Bull and Alaska will launch hostilities in Guam on Sept. 22 although the Manila opening of the 32nd season will be on Oct. 1 at the Araneta Coliseum. Games in Singapore, Dubai and Sydney are being planned.

The annual draft will be held on Aug. 20 at Market! Market! in The Fort with 56 hopefuls in the cast. First round shoo-ins include Arwind Santos, Joseph Yeo, Jay Sagad, Gabby Espinas, L. A. Tenorio and Mark Isip.

Eala said Fil-Am rookie applicants were given up to Monday to submit their eligibility documents. Kelly Williams, Joe Devance and Robbie Reyes are expected to beat the deadline. Williams of Oakland University and Devance of the University of Texas at El Paso are both US NCAA Division I products and Philippine Basketball League standouts. Their mothers are Filipinas. Reyes is a full-blooded Filipino whose uncle Eric is a PBA veteran.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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