ABL in talks over league expansion

ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) chief executive officer Anthony Macri believes there could be as many as four new teams in the league next season.

Tan Binh Stadium
Marcus Chhan

By Marcus Chhan

Currently the ABL has six teams with the defending champions Indonesia Warriors, San Miguel Beermen from the Philippines, Westports Malaysia Dragons, Jobstreet.com Singapore Slingers, Chang Thailand Slammers and the Saigon Heat all participating in the 2013 season.

Four new teams next season would push the league up to 10 - a record high for the ABL.

"There are definitely expansion teams in the works. We have not signed any dotted lines yet," Macri told FOX Sports.

"We are in preliminary stages with a few different teams and I think you could see a situation where we could have as many as four new teams in the league next year. That may not happen, but we are bullish about it happening.

"We feel good about the conversations. The ownership groups seem interested and engaged in both countries that do not have a team and in countries that already have one where they could be a second team forming."

Macri would not comment further on which markets the four new expansion teams in question might come from as he felt it would be "unfair to put pressure on these ownership groups" at such an early stage of discussions.

Among the South East Asian markets which do not have an ABL team at the moment include Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Brunei.

As per Macri's comments, the yet to be named four interested parties include markets in which an ABL team already exists.

"The more the merrier," Malaysia Dragons coach Ariel Vanguardia said.

"I know the ABL are looking for owners that are committed like our owners [Ruben Gnanalingam, Dato' Wira Dani Daim and Dato' Robin Tan Yeong Ching]."

The ABL have enjoyed success with their most recent expansion team the Saigon Heat as the Vietnamese outfit is one of the most viewed teams on the ABL's internet live stream and regularly attracts good support to Tan Binh Stadium.

However, in recent years the league has also lost several clubs along the way including the AirAsia Philippine Patriots, the Bangkok Cobras and the Brunei Barracudas - one of the ABL's founding teams.

Among the sources FOX spoke to for this report were Heat coach Jason Rabedeaux. He remains a huge fan of the league's format which essentially has teams fighting for regional pride.

Rabedeaux was in favour of an expanded league - but only if the new owners were in it for the long haul.

Mirroring Rabedeaux's concerns, Singapore Slingers general manager Michael Johnson added it was his belief that it is more important for the ABL to make sure the current crop of organisations are all fully committed and on a solid footing before worrying about expansion.

"The ABL has been saying that there are several teams who have expressed interest to join the league for the past few season now but that has yet to happen," Johnson said.

"There is a big difference between talking about doing something and actually committing. I am not sure expansion for the sake of just getting bigger is a good thing. I think quality is just as important as quantity.

"If, however, the league is to add quality well organized teams that bring advantages to the league then that can only be a good thing."

He added: "This season with less teams - [six compared to eight in 2012] - the competition seems even closer than in past seasons which has meant for some exciting games in what is still the early part of the season."

Macri agrees on the point of ownership.

"You got to have folk who are willing to make the commitment and the investment and to understand that this is a long term project," he said.

"It's not a short term or even medium term project. It's a 10-15 year experiment. If they have that in mind, then a lot of markets make sense."

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