ABL looking to expand to eight teams
ABL could be expanded to eight teams, with two Hong Kong teams and a Taiwanese outfit showing interest
Following a rip-roaring end to a thrilling season that saw the Westports Malaysia Dragons edge out Singapore Slingers 3-2 in the Finals for their first title on Saturday, the Asean Basketball League (ABL) has set its sights on expansion from six to eight teams.
ABL co-owner Wee Siew Kim, who also co-owns the Slingers, told The New Paper that there is strong interest from teams in Hong Kong - HK Eastern and HK Royals - and Taiwan to join the ABL next season.
The 55-year-old former Member of Parliament said: "This would provide great impetus for the league as we grow to become a pan-Asean league.
"We are working very hard to grow the league for the next season because if the ABL does well, everyone within the league does well too.
"We hope to attract other countries to come in and also more teams from countries that are already involved.
"We know we can do better in certain areas. For example, the schedule currently differs from year to year and sometimes the fixtures are out quite late.
"This is because we have to factor in international tournaments such as the South-east Asia Basketball Association Championship and the South-east Asia (SEA) Games.
"Now, we want to plan two to three seasons ahead and try to maintain a October-to-March season like this season. This would allow a better build-up for teams to make their pre-season arrangements."
The ABL was launched in 2009 with six teams, with the Slingers and the Dragons among the pioneers.
It was expanded to eight in 2012 before reverting to six from 2013.
The quality and competitiveness of the league have steadily increased with matches more evenly contested than before.
The relaxation of the Asean heritage criteria - imports recruited under this category need only to prove their Asean lineage and are not required to hold a passport from an Asean country - have also helped to attract better players.
More fans are starting to pay attention to the ABL too.
This year's showdown between the Dragons and the Slingers was the first Finals series to go beyond three games and set multiple records for the fledgling league.
The ABL's "live" YouTube streaming of the series recorded an average of 10,000 views per Finals game, compared to 7,000 last season and 3,500 the season before.
Also, this season has yielded the most number of likes on their Facebook page, the most activity on Twitter handle and the most views on the ABL website.
MORE CAN BE DONE
For example, at the start of the season, the ABL had 50,000 hits on a single day on its website when it averaged just 45,000 hits per month previously.
But ABL chief operating officer (COO) Jericho Ilagan feels that more can be done to build on this success and improve the league further.
Despite this being his first season in his current capacity, the 37-year-old Filipino knows what he is talking about because he was there from the start.
Actually, he was a consultant for the Slingers in their debut season, before becoming their assistant coach in the next three seasons. Last term, he was the ABL's technical director before being appointed COO.
"I like to see the cup as half empty because then we can always improve," he said.
"We would like to see more fan interaction from the Philippines, where basketball is big.
"We understand that there is the Philippine Basketball Association, the D-League and other leagues going on there, but we need to make up ground in the stronger basketball countries in order to grow the ABL.
"When the ABL is accepted as a premium basketball brand in these countries, that's when we can consider it a success.
"You can define success anywhere in sport by the synergy between the team and their community. This is why I would like to see more people attend the ABL games in every country."
While Ilagan congratulated the Dragons for winning their first ABL title, he lauded the Slingers programme, which places a strong emphasis on developing local talents, as an example for the other teams to follow.
"We recognise that we are not the NBA. But the ABL is a good foundation for every participating country to develop the sport within the region," he said.
"A great example would be Singapore. The Slingers programme is really good in developing their local talents from within and you have seen results at the SEA Games and in the Seaba Championships.
"We would like to see more of that in the other participating countries too. One day, when one of the other Asean countries beat the Philippines at a major tournament, I will be sad as a Filipino.
"But that will be a sign that the ABL has made its mark in developing the sport in the region."
BY THE NUMBERS
At the start of the season, the ABL had 50,000 hits on a single day on its website when it averaged just 45,000 hits per month previously.