'The PBA is healthy': League sees increase in online viewership

The PBA is looking at making a stronger push towards digital platforms in its 45th season after some trends in 2019 revealed a shift in fan viewership.

The decision stemmed from the data the PBA had gathered from last year, when a slight dip in gate attendance gave way to a huge rise in online following.

"Our attendance in venues declined by four percent, but our social media viewership increased by 20 to 25 percent," league commissioner Willie Marcial revealed on Tuesday at a press conference. "All of the people are on their gadgets. They're all on mobile, on their laptops. They're on their way there, and we're headed there too."

Other numbers revealed some staggering patterns that prompted a plan to shift more of the league's resources to its online extensions. The 2019 PBA Governors' Cup finals alone brought in a total of over 11 million video views online.

"I think it's a key platform for the PBA to push our programs. Live streaming is the future for the PBA and I think we should push that," said Meralco Bolts governor and Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) president Al Panlilio.

Marcial added that the PBA is in conversations with Facebook and YouTube to further boost its monetizing potential.

"It's changing. In 2020, we will see better revenues in those areas," league chairman Ricky Vargas said.

Marcial, though, said the shift won't keep them from also focusing on improving gate attendance -- which, aside from the marginal dip, hasn't really been a problem since gate receipts in 2019 (197,000) went up by 4,000 from the previous year.

"We're also talking to the fans. They said the prices of the tickets were too high, now we provide promos up to 45 percent on selected sections of venues," he said. "My problem is traffic. That's what we can't solve. But we're doing everything we can."

This just means there will be a more concerted effort to increase production on its online platforms, which could be further boosted by the upcoming debut of the PBA's 3x3 league and possible plans of expanding to other regions like China.

"The PBA is healthy," Vargas proclaimed. "We look at 2020 as a turnaround. We look at 2020 as a turnaround. It might not be in the gates, but it will probably be in other areas."

League officials did admit that attendance might be a problem come opening day on March 8 due to concerns about the coronavirus.

"I think Filipinos won't flock the opening because they'll be careful. But I'm sure they're going to be watching us on TV and on social media," said Marcial.

The threat of the virus had already delayed the PBA opening by a week -- which means this season's calendar could extend to next year again -- but Marcial said this won't keep out-of-town games on Mar. 14 (Blackwater vs. Ginebra in Balanga, Bataan), Apr. 25 (San Miguel vs. NLEX in Dipolog) and May 2 (TNT vs. Magnolia in Cagayan De Oro) from pushing through.

"We might reach February. That one week was huge. But I suggested to the Board of Governors during our trip to Milan to delay it," he said.