MANILA, MAY 29, 2008
(STAR) SPORTING CHANCE By Joaquin M. Henson - Now that Solar Sports has officially been awarded the telecast rights for the PBA up to three years starting next season, the story of how the bid was won can finally be told.

Solar vice president for sales and marketing Jude Turcuato said it was an uphill climb from the start.

Last February, the PBA opened discussions with ABS-CBN on the possibility of the Lopez network taking over the rights from ABC-5. ABS-CBN requested for an exclusive window to negotiate and the PBA gave in. Several meetings were held and from early indications, it appeared the PBA wouldn’t even consider an alternative.

Turcuato admitted he got nervous when word got around that the PBA was talking numbers with ABS-CBN. The same tack was taken by ABS-CBN in negotiating for the UAAP rights. ABS-CBN also got an exclusive window and after a series of meetings, the UAAP closed the door to a bidding process.

Then came the breakthrough.

ABS-CBN’s proposal was for Studio 23 to be the primary carrying station. Because Channel 2 was fully loaded with top-rating shows, it could only accommodate the PBA on a live Sunday morning timeslot and a Saturday evening replay.

When it became apparent the PBA had to adjust to ABS-CBN not the other way around, the PBA decided to look for other options. The PBA summoned ABC-5 and Solar to submit proposals on just a two-day notice last April. ABC-5 begged off because of a programming redirection, leaving only Solar to give it a shot.

“We didn’t sleep for two days,” recalled Turcuato. “But we were confident we could come across because of our experience in broadcasting sports on TV. We were committed to reinvent the PBA. We presented a very compelling re-positioning plan based on our experience and the current situation in the market. It was a complete make-over and change, the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that can give the league a boost in popularity.”

Turcuato, who has worked for the PBA and three of the top 10 corporations in the country, was inspired by his readings from the marketing best-sellers Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point” and Chris Anderson’s “The Long Tail.” He learned from Gladwell the importance of tapping “connector salesmen,” “mavens” and influential opinion-makers to trigger “social epidemics” and create public perception. From Anderson, Turcuato saw the urgency of mobilizing a wide variety of media platforms and schemes to widen the PBA’s audience base.

Turcuato said Solar’s presentation to the PBA took an entire morning. The PBA didn’t call on Solar again until last Friday to iron out some details

on its proposal. That same day, ABS-CBN withdrew from the race, realizing the PBA wouldn’t agree to its terms. Last Tuesday, the PBA made it official – Solar was it.

Did money make the difference?

“Bottom line, money still matters and Solar was willing to risk more than ABS-CBN,” said Turcuato. “ABS-CBN had several meetings after offering an amount that was totally below the Board’s expectations and even below the current amount ABC-5 was giving. Only after several negotiations did ABS-CBN concede on the higher amounts. Maybe, Solar just believes in the product more.”

Turcuato said ABS-CBN’s proposal to air live PBA games on Sunday mornings was a tough chew.

“ABS-CBN wanted to play games on Sunday mornings so they could show it on Channel 2,” he went on. “Although this might be something different and even worth trying, nobody will want to watch a regular PBA game live at the venue on a Sunday morning. If a big boxing event like the ‘Invasion’ promoted through the ABS media machinery could only draw 5,000, which is about the average attendance of the PBA, it will be considerably less for a regular PBA game. A Pacquiao fight is a two-three times a year event. Having PBA games on Sunday mornings on a regular basis will not get people to skip church and family lunches.

“Solar has a solid block-time agreement with RPN-9 which gives us the flexibility to air the PBA so all games can be given priority to ensure exposure for all teams. All games will also be replayed on Basketball TV. RPN being sequestered has nothing to do with its reach and clarity. Solar has already refurbished the transmitter and uses direct satellite transmission to cable providers to make RPN as clear as any channel out there.”

Turcuato said Solar has coughed up over $1 Million to purchase new equipment for the PBA coverage, including a digital system for as many as 12 cameras each with slo-mo capability, the inscriber graphic system used in the NBA and an LED system.

“The graphics, clarity and other capabilities will be the best in the country for the PBA,” said Turcuato. “The PBA deserves only the best and they will get it.”

In Sunday’s column, Turcuato will reveal the findings of AGB Nielsen and Mindshare – the media planning agency of Smart Communications and one of the world’s biggest media outfits with accounts like Ford, Gatorade and Nike – related to reach and ratings.

As a teaser, Turcuato said: “The most convincing statistic on ratings was how the PBL Finals did when shown on RPN and Studio 23. Ratings for the PBL Finals in 2007 on RPN-9 more than doubled that of the PBL Finals in 2006 on Studio 23. Same program, different channels, twice the ratings.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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