IF you noticed the rows and rows of empty seats during the PBA season-opener on Sunday night, then your eyes aren't playing tricks on you.
There really are thousands of seats left vacant at the Smart Araneta Coliseum when Asia's first professional league opened its 43rd season - an unusual sight for one of the most anticipated events in the basketball calendar.
No official numbers were released at the end of the lone game between San Miguel and Phoenix, but league insiders bared that no more than 5,600 fans bought tickets to the season's first playdate.
The league has not been able to keep track of gate attendance for the season opener over the years, but some old-timers bared that Sunday's turnout was easily the lowest since the league's infancy years 'in the seventies.'
Ironically, the league set the record low just six weeks after the best-attended game in its history - Game Seven of the Governors Cup Finals between Ginebra and Meralco which drew 54,086 fans at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
But the good news is, league officials are not alarmed by the poor turnout, saying it was the uncertainty over the league opening amid the board impasse over Commissioner Chito Narvasa's tenure - more than lack of interest - that is to blame for the low number.
"Ang daming questions prior to the opening: matutuloy nga ba? Meron nga bang dalawang opening for the two rival groups (in the board)? 'Yan ang umiikot na tsismis prior to the opening so hindi alam ng tao kung alin ang totoo," said a league official who asked not to be named.
League officials said the setback is 'just temporary,' so they expect attendance to pick up over the coming days all the way to the anticipated Christmas Day game between longtime rivals Ginebra and Magnolia (formerly Star) at the Philippine Arena.