Around a year ago, the Philippine Basketball Association formally made Willie Marcial its 10th commissioner. It was a tumultuous time for the league, to say the least, as battle lines were drawn within the Board of Governors. The feud led to Chito Narvasa's resignation and Marcial was initially named officer-in-charge, a de facto shopkeeper if you will, as the league tried to sort out the deep division within its ranks and figure out its next step.
They didn't have to look long, as the most logical replacement for Narvasa was right in front of them all along. On January 25, 2018, Marcial, a PBA lifer who started his career as a statistician for the league in the 1980s, was formally appointed commissioner, and he began the difficult process of repairing the damage, earning the moniker "the healing commissioner" in the process.
A year into his job, Marcial sat down with ESPN5's Sid Ventura and Lyn Olavario to talk about his performance and what he has planned for Asia's first play-for-pay league.
On his accomplishments for the past year
We put up Homecourt (where PBA stars pay surprise visits to community courts in the metropolis). In the three conferences, a different team was champion. We invited media from Mindanao and Visayas to cover the games for three days so they can experience what it's like. We put up the DFA Passport on Wheels. Our Batang PBA had a record 1,000 participants. But the most important was the trade committee which made trades better. The trade committee is a big thing. I don't meddle in their business, only if there's a tie.
I never planned on being commissioner. There were four previous commissioners who all asked me if I wanted to be commissioner, and I said no each time. I was caught off-guard, but I think my one advantage is I've been with the PBA for a long time and I'm friends with almost everyone: media, ball boys, governors, team owners.
On what he has learned about being commissioner
No. 1, it's really hard to be commissioner. You think it's easy. The time is very demanding. Your decision-making. Your relationships, one day someone might be angry at you and the next day he's your friend. I never thought there would be stuff like that. Simply put, it's really hard.
On his being the healing commissioner
It was one of the factors that made me decide to take on the job. I don't worry about legacy and achievements. It's the people and the media who will decide on that, if I accomplished something good for the league.
On his immediate goals
To bring the league closer to the fans, and to improve attendance. There are factors that are beyond the control of the league, such as the economy and traffic. We have a marketing arm now, and ticket promos and gimmicks at the venue like entertainers.
On what he likes about his job
When the fans recognize you. I use that as a chance to talk to them and get their feedback. Just seeing them smile and appreciate you makes it worth the while.
On supporting Gilas
All-out support. For example, when Coach Yeng (Guiao) requested for twice a week practices, I told the board. Go. "Give me 8-10 days (of no PBA games)", I gave it. "I want so and so players", I gave it. We will continue to support Gilas. Nothing will change. They also want a 3x3 tournament. I will also bring it up with the board.
On his biggest challenge
Attendance. Awareness, social media presence, we are okay. (Television) ratings are okay. It's going to the venue and watching live that's the biggest challenge for me. Sometimes I go up to the upper box to talk to the fans and ask them why they watch live. One fan told me he used to watch live twice a week but now it's down to just once a week. Another one told me, "It takes 1.5 hours to get to the venue. Another four hours to watch both games. Another 1.5 hours to go home. So it takes up seven hours of my day."
On wearing a suit to all the games
I'm used to it now (laughs).
On positive developments
The awareness has improved. We've become closer to the fans.