LONG lines started to form early in the afternoon outside the Smart Araneta Coliseum's main gate, hours before the first meeting of the PBA season between Ginebra and Purefoods.
The queues and big crowd are understandable: Ginebra and Purefoods happen to have the biggest following in the pro league - and their rivalry is the most bankable in terms of gate attendance.
No wonder officials and fans anticipate a Ginebra-Purefoods match happening soon at the Philippine Arena, insisting that if there's one game that can attract enough fans to fill up the 55,000-capacity stadium in Bulacan, it is this.
“Mapupuno 'yan," said Michael Jerome Bajacan, a diehard Ginebra fan who also maintains an Instagram account for the team with more than 23,000 followers.
Bajacan has no doubt in his mind that the power of social media can harness enough fans from both sides, and especially Ginebra, to watch a showdown in what is billed as the biggest domed arena in the world.
"Kasi sa social media, kalat na kalat na iyan (information). Di papatalo ang Ginebra fans pagdating sa pagpunta dun (sa Philippine Arena), pupunuin namin 'yan,” said Bajacan.
Opening day of the league's 40th season drew a crowd of more than 52,000 fans to the Philippine Arena, a number which now stands as the biggest crowd ever to watch a game in Philippine basketball history.
PBA media bureau chief Willie Marcial said the success of the league opening has prompted the league to entertain holding another playdate at the arena, ideally a playoff doubleheader.
“Meron namang possibility iyan. Puwede rin naman sa playoffs, basta di puwede ang venue ng Araneta Coliseum or Mall of Asia (Arena), puwedeng i-consider ng liga ang Philippine Arena,” Marcial said.
Now fans of Ginebra and Purefoods better start praying the two teams cross paths in the playoffs.
According to the league, the last 11 meetings between the two teams have lured an average of 17,597 fans, not counting the 18,576 who watched Ginebra beat Purefoods in their first meeting of the season, 89-66, on Sunday.
Those numbers could easily grow in the event of a Philippine Arena game, officials said, since demand usually far exceeds the availability of tickets in Ginebra-Purefoods matches held at the Big Dome or the MOA Arena.
Their recent playoff showdown also proved a blockbuster.
No less than 24,883 fans watched Game Seven of the San Mig-Ginebra semifinal series in the Philippine Cup last February, which stood as an all-time high until it was broken by the attendance on PBA opening day.
This early, there's already a debate on which between the two popular teams can bring in more fans in the event of a PH Arena showdown.
Although Purefoods has had more success under Tim Cone the past two seasons, Bajacan believes that Ginebra’s legion of supporters could still outnumber Purefoods’ fans, percentage-wise.
“Siguro lamang pa rin kami (Ginebra fans) kahit paano, 70-30 yan eh marami pa nga naghihintay (sa pila last Sunday), kita niyo naman maraming nakapila kahit ngayon (Sunday),” he added.
Michael Punzal, another diehard Ginebra fan, said he brought his entire family of nine to Sunday's Ginebra-Purefoods game and vowed to do the same if a match takes place at the Philippine Arena.
“Ngayon, nine kami (na bumili ng tickets). Nandito kami last season, nung mag-history ng (gate) attendance,” he said.