Is Coca-Cola bowing out of the PBA?

AKTV/Paul Ryan Tan

In February, amid the controversy surrounding the status of the Powerade franchise, team official Ronnie Asuncion assured fans that the Tigers are staying in the PBA.

“We intend to stay in the PBA. There’s no specific time as to how long we’re going to stay, but we will stay as long as it takes for us to win the championship,” said Asuncion, who also serves as procurement director of Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc., which owns the franchise.

Fans could be forgiven, however, if they don’t take Asuncion’s words at face value.

Just a couple of weeks ago, after closing the deal on a trade that sent star rookie Marcio Lassiter along with Celino Cruz to the Petron Blaze Boosters, Asuncion declared that the Tigers would not pursue any more transactions.

“No more trades,” he wrote in a text message to InterAKTV shortly after the Lassiter deal.

It then came as a surprise to many fans when the PBA announced on Tuesday that it had vetoed a proposed trade that involved another key player for Powerade. The team traded its starting center, Doug Kramer, in exchange for Barako Bull backup power forward Jondan Salvador in a deal that was vetoed by the league, which found it imbalanced.

The rush to trade key players who helped the team on its Cinderella run in the Philippine Cup has fans wondering whether the Coca-Cola franchise will stay true to its promise to stay in the PBA.

Offered for sale

The team’s intent to stay in the league has been the subject of much speculation in the past months. Last February, InterAKTV unearthed a document showing that CCBPI had offered to sell the Tigers to San Miguel Corporation in November for P100 million. The document was signed by CCBPI chairman William Schultz and addressed to SMC president Ramon Ang.

Officials from both CCBPI and SMC said that no sale had transpired between the two companies, but admitted that there had indeed been talks about a transaction.

The offer for sale came amid reports that a Mexico-based Coke bottler, Coca-Cola FEMSA, was working on a deal to buy its Philippine counterpart from The Coca-Cola Company. Officials of CCBPI denied that moves to sell the PBA franchise had anything to do with the business transaction.

Still, companies that are on the verge of being sold often make an effort to improve their bottom line, with the hopes of commanding a higher price from their buyers. One way to improve that for CCBPI would be to sell its PBA team — whether it be to SMC or any other company.

Red flags

The moves to trade Lassiter and Kramer certainly raises red flags, as does the abrupt departure from the team last February of former official JB Baylon, who is credited for overseeing the team’s turnaround in the Philippine Cup. It calls into question Asuncion’s earlier commitment about Powerade remaining in the league.

Fans are no strangers to teams trading away their best players before bowing out of the PBA, the most recent case being the Sta. Lucia franchise.

The Realtors were coming off back-to-back Philippine Cup semifinals appearances, and were regarded as among the best teams in the league. But in the 2009-10 season, Sta. Lucia steadily dismantled its team. Key players Denok Miranda and Joseph Yeo were traded to San Miguel, while franchise center Dennis Espino was shipped to Coca-Cola. Then, before the end of the season, Kelly Williams and Ryan Reyes were traded to Talk ‘N Text in a deal that remains controversial today.

Time would tell if Powerade would go Sta. Lucia’s way and leave the PBA. Curiously, after Lassiter trade, InterAKTV once again asked Asuncion whether the team would stay beyond this season.

Instead of answering, Asuncion sidestepped the question, saying instead: “We intend to compete well in the third conference.”

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