RUMOR: The Star franchise is up for sale and its biggest star, James Yap, is in fact on the trading block.
FACTS: A piece of news that for a long while has been talked about only in whispers came out in the open when the Philippine Daily Inquirer, curiously, ran a blind item claiming a 'popular' PBA franchise has been put on sale while its star player is being offered to other teams in a trade.
It didn't take long for league watchers to put one and one together and zero in on Star, which, for more than a year now, has been the meat of online chatter and private talk among league executives, supposedly because the fabled PBA franchise has been put up for sale by mother company San Miguel Corp.
That rumor was further bolstered by talk that Hotshots superstar James Yap, a two-time PBA MVP who also happens to be the league's most popular player, has been offered in a trade to expansion franchise Blackwater which initially showed interest but ultimately balked at the huge price tag.
Naturally, a denial was in order and it came swiftly from Star governor Rene Pardo, who laughed off the report. But that hardly doused the fire, perhaps because Pardo was the same official who on July 11, 2015 denied that then Star coach Tim Cone was moving to Ginebra. Cone's transfer happened days later.
But while talk of the planned sale persisted, the dots have yet to connect.
People in the know who insist the report is accurate couldn't give one valid reason why San Miguel officials would want to part with a franchise that ranks high in terms of value and marketing potential, even before it was folded under the SMC umbrella after the Ayalas sold Purefoods in 2001.
The franchise has a long and proud history as well as an army of followers that remained loyal not only to the team but also to current and former stars like Alvin Patrimonio. Since joining the PBA in 1988, the ballclub has won 13 championships including a grand slam under Cone in 2014.
League-commissioned surveys, in fact, consistently rank Star as the second most popular team in the PBA after sister team Ginebra.
That's what Alfrancis Chua drove home when he brushed off claims of a plan to sell the franchise.
Chua, who as SMC sports director oversees the operations of the three pro teams under the firm’s umbrella, namely Ginebra, Star, and San Miguel, not to mention Super Liga side Petron, said no such plan has been discussed in any meeting involving the conglomerate’s top brass.
“Lagi kaming nagme-meeting and hindi na-brought up ‘yun. Hindi totoo e, so bakit namin pag-uusapan,” said Chua, breaking SMC’s silence on the issue.
Chua said San Miguel Purefoods Inc. president and team governor Butch Alejo had a good laugh when he mentioned the report the last time they sat down for a meeting.
And it was the same reaction he got from no less than SMC president and CEO Ramon S. Ang, Chua added.
“Pati siya natawa,” said Chua of the man known in the business community as RSA.
Ang, by the way, has his own storied rivalry with PLDT boss Manny V. Pangilinan, who like him controls three franchises in the pro league. Selling one PBA franchise means Ang will be losing foothold in a league where all crucial matters come down to a vote among team representatives.
“Selling the franchise would mean magiging minority na lang sila sa PBA because officially, dalawang teams na lang sila as compared to the three teams which the MVP group has,” said a league insider. “Do you think papayag si RSA ng ganun?”
Granting the Star franchise is really for sale, finding a buyer may not be easy. Base price for expansion franchises went for P100 million last season. A team with Star’s assets and market value can command upwards of a quarter of a billion pesos, league sources said, which rumored interested buyers may find prohibitive.
No wonder longtime SMC executive and PBA chairman Robert Non sounded so confident in his denial.
“Huwag n’yo na kasing patulan ‘yan,” Non said before excusing himself and walking out of the Smart Araneta Coliseum after one of the Beermen’s games.
At this point, talk of a move to trade longtime Star poster boy Yap holds more water than rumors of a sale of the franchise. While massive movements of top players signaled the sale of former PBA teams like Shell and Sta. Lucia, Chua said such is not always the case.
The former Ginebra coach, in fact, pointed out that Star is in the process of stacking its lineup with fresh talent like RR Garcia to Rodney Brondial – something a franchise that is up for sale wouldn’t do, Chua said.
“If you have an apartment na binebenta mo, hindi mo lalagyan ng magagandang gamit. Kasi pag binenta mo, sayang naman yung mga gamit na nilagay mo,” said the SMC official.
“Nag-trade kami to get RR and (Rodney) Brondial. Tapos nilagay namin si (Allein) Maliksi. So ibig sabihin ang daming laman, kaya bakit mo ibebenta?”
So is Star here to stay?
Chua answered with an emphatic yes.
From the circumstances surrounding this issue, it’s hard not to believe Chua at this point.