YESTERDAY’S Times editorial (“National passion, national embarrassment”) made some rather stinging—and completely deserved—criticisms of the Philippines’ failed bid to host the 2019 FIBA World Cup of Basketball, a tournament that was awarded to China.
Although China offered formidable resources to support its bid, including no fewer than eight cities with appropriate venues and a record of experience in hosting large-scale sporting competitions (including the 2008 Olympic Games), the award was not a foregone conclusion. Or at least it wasn’t, until the Philippine delegation led by Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas president Manny V. Pangilinan made its clueless, sentimental pitch.
Backed up by actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who brought “being available for the event” to the table, and boxer/itinerant Congressman Manny Pacquiao, who is to basketball what Michael Jordan was to minor-league baseball, MVP’s team went all-in on the “heartware” pitch, essentially trying to convince the FIBA board that the Philippines deserved to host the world tournament because Filipinos really, really, really like basketball, and would help to promote the sport on a global scale because they are among the world’s most active social media users.
As yesterday’s editorial pointed out, “love of basketball” is probably taken for granted; countries that love a different sport, like football or buz kashi, would not be interested in competing to host the FIBA tournament in the first place. To base an entire bid on sentiment was not only lazy, it was mildly insulting to other countries—the Philippine delegation was essentially trying to convince FIBA that Filipino basketball fandom is somehow superior to everyone else’s, which is a weird and ultimately ineffectual argument to make.
Of course, MVP and his team (with special guest star Lou Diamond Phillips) likely felt that they would lose if it came down to a comparison of available facilities, and so sought another angle. Unfortunately, those hard resources —arenas to hold games, roads, rails, and airports to move fans around, and hotel rooms for them to sleep in—are really the only basis for selection. And while China does have more of everything, the FIBA tournament is something the Philippines could easily manage, given the amount of time to prepare for it.
As of now, the country has at least three arenas (the INC-owned Philippine Arena in Bulacan, the Araneta Coliseum, and the Mall of Asia Arena) suitable for FIBA tournament games. By sometime next year, the KJC Kingdome being built by Apollo Quiboloy’s religious sect in Davao and designed to hold about 50,000 people will be completed; an arena at SM Seaside City in Cebu should be ready the following year; and although their future is now in doubt due to the loss of the 2019 FIBA bid, additional arenas in Bacolod and at the Solaire Complex in Parañaque would have also been available.
If the Philippine delegation had focused less on just “puso” and more on how the country is translating its puso into appropriate venues, improved transport infrastructure, and additional lodging—in other words, if it had approached the FIBA bid in a business-minded way rather than appealing to emotion—it would have had a strong chance to win. The fact that China has hosted numerous international sporting events is not a complete advantage; decision-makers who have experienced the atrocious air pollution in Chinese cities, who have been frustrated by Chinese restrictions on the internet, or who may be wary of political fallout might be inclined to give an alternative country a chance, if that alternative could clearly demonstrate its capacity.
The financial windfall that MVP’s team lost by choosing to make a bid presentation that couldn’t have been any more useless had it been presented in the form of an interpretive dance is astounding. According to FIBA statistics, the 2014 tournament hosted by Spain directly contributed 265 million euros (about P13.26 billion) to the Spanish economy. With 672,000 spectators attending 76 games—and all the while eating, drinking, booking hotel rooms, visiting shops and other entertainment, and using local transportation—ticket sales reached 83 million euros (P4.15 billion), while corporate sponsorships, which over the year-and-a-half marketing run-up to the start of the tournament had an estimated reach of 40 million people, generated a further 212 million euros.
The VAT on P4.15 billion in ticket sales alone would be P498 million; a rough estimate of the overall lost tax opportunity for the government is about P1.91 billion.
Those kinds of numbers are not earned with puso, and likewise, losing out on a financial opportunity of that magnitude is not absolved with “sorry, we did our best,” when clearly that is not the case. Certainly, the Philippine team could have done everything right and still lost the bid, and if that were the outcome, they wouldn’t deserve such harsh criticism. But they didn’t do everything right; they carried an obnoxious sort of presumption of the rest of the world’s appreciation for “Filipino spirit” into an investment pitch, and got the result that sort of approach deserved.