PBA commissioner Chito Salud believes that with how Manny Pacquiao has been drawing fans to KIA Sorento games, he will not be surprised if the new franchise will eventually become one of the most popular teams in the league.
Salud recently bared results of league-commissioned surveys showing Ginebra, Purefoods and Rain or Shine as the top three teams, in that order, with the biggest following in Asia's first professional cage league.
The league chief said he expects KIA to be up there in future surveys, owing to Pacquiao's proven drawing power and the impressive turnouts in the games he has played for the expansion franchise.
“Sports hero naman natin si Manny, so I wouldn’t be surprised kung makaka-draw talaga ng additional fans (ang KIA at si Pacquiao) sa PBA,” he said. “Malakas talaga ang hatak nun, malakas 'yun.”
Pacquiao and KIA were among the top attractions on opening day, which drew more than 52,000 fans to the Philippine Arena in Bulacan. Ticket demand for a KIA-Purefoods game at the Ynares Sports Center in faraway Antipolo City also suddenly picked up after news leaked out that Pacquiao was showing up.
“Malaking bagay ang kumbinasyon ni many Pacquiao at ng Purefoods. Parehong may following. Si Manny national hero natin sa boxing, tinitingala siya. Tapos Purefoods Top 2 sa most popular team,” PBA media bureau chief Willie Marcial said.
“Halos mag-sold out 'yun. Maganda benta ng tickets dun, pero mas gumanda nung na-announce na (lalaro si Pacquiao) kasi talagang mas dumami ang nag-demand ng ticket,” added the amiable league official.
Salud, meanwhile, debunked fears that Purefoods and Rain or Shine are closing in on Ginebra in terms of popularity because the Gin Kings - without a championship in seven seasons - are losing fans, and fast.
Purefoods and Rain or Shine's followers are simply increasing because of the success they've had the past few years, Salud added.
“Hindi dahil sa dumidikit ang Purefoods sa paramihan ng fans eh ibig sabihin nababawasan ang sa Ginebra. (It's) because (Purefoods) has been performing. Purefoods four straight championships at grand slam pa,” he said.
“Yung Rain or Shine always at the top. Nadagdagan ang fans ng Purefoods at nadadagdagan ang sa Rain or Shine," Salud added.
"Our goal here is to make all the teams popular. And I think those two teams are benefiting from the competition in the PBA."
Former Basketball Association of the Philippines secretary general Moying Martelino said the huge turnouts during games and the high TV ratings are proof that the PBA has regained its footing as the biggest sports event in the land.
“Palagay ko, bumabalik na ang tao sa PBA. Mahusay ang marketing ng PBA ngayon. Maganda rin ang pag-handle ni Kume Salud, palagay ko maraming natutunan si Chito sa tatay niya (former PBA commissioner Rudy Salud),” he said.
“I-maintain lang nila ang ginagawa sa PBA, as well as yung support sa national team, malaking bagay 'yan sa pagsikad ng popularity ng liga. Kasi may mga ibang games na na makikita mo yung dating passion ng tao. Nuong araw sold out kada games ng PBA, and it seems to happen ngayon,” he added.