Where are the crowds for the CESAFI Finals?

I went to the New Cebu Coliseum an hour before Game 3 between the University of the Visayas (UV) Green Lancers and the University of San Carlos (USC) Warriors last Thursday, October 20, because I didn’t want to be caught up in the body traffic of people going inside the Coliseum. I made that mistake last year and despite a lesser number of people showing up for this year’s finals, I figured surely Game 3 would attract a bigger crowd as the Green Lancers could grab their 11th title. 

Also, I was banking on USC supporters to well support their team, given that they need that very much. The team after all is carrying the school name. Besides, this year’s finals are a rematch from last year, and who doesn’t love a rematch?

However, as I settled down in the area designated for covering reporters, I looked up in dismay at the bleachers. To say that there were more vacant seats than people is an understatement. People did start trickling in as the game progress but it still wasn’t able to fill the lower box, a few in the upper box mostly members of both teams’ drum corps and a handful in the general admission. 

As packed as the Coliseum was in last year’s finals between the same teams, it was comparitively sparse this year. I asked Jonas Panerio of Cebu Daily News, who has been covering this event for more than a decade, if this was the sparsest crowd he has ever witnessed at CESAFI basketball, and he said it was for a Finals. If it weren’t for UV and USC’s drum corps, there wouldn’t be any noise other than the squeaking of sneakers.

CESAFI official Rico Navarro, who is also the athletic director of the Sacred Heart School-Ateneo de Cebu, echoed the sentiments that many people have. He attributes the small crowd to the fans expectations of the more exciting matchup between bitter rivals UV Green Lancers and SWU-Phinma Cobras. Navarro also cited the lack of a star player for both teams.

At the start of the season, fans had been looking forward to the clash between the two teams, with their first meeting set for September 1. Despite it taking place on a weekday, the biggest crowd of the season was on hand. The Coliseum was nearly filled to the rafters, with few seats available in general admission. Their second and third meetings however were not nearly as filled, but still attracted more fans than the ongoing finals, which the Green Lancers lead two games to one.  

When that much-awaited face-off fizzled, the round robin format semifinals was made the culprit. All it took was one loss at the hands of UV and USC defeating UV for SWU to kiss their finals dream goodbye. 

I’d like to believe that there are a lot of factors involved which is resulting to the dwindling CESAFI basketball crowd. Aside from the disappointment of not having the much coveted UV vs SWU finals, it could also be because of the schedule, ticket prices or even the venue.

The Green Lancers and the Warriors have their own following too, I am sure. So why are they not filling up the Coliseum? Unfortunately, the CESAFI finals coincide with the end of the first semester wherein several activities need to be prioritized. There are the final exams, the scrambling to complete project requirements, thesis completion while some students have graduations to prepare for. Other schools are even on their semestral breaks already.

In small measure, the venue could be another factor. The lack of a decent playing venue is a perennial problem of Cebu sports. Save for school gyms, Cebu has just the New Cebu Coliseum, which is so old that it has become a Cebu landmark already. It is partly owned by the University of Cebu, which does its best in maintaining it which is why its court now boasts of a new hardwood floor. 

Ventilation is also a problem for the coliseum. Despite the big fans placed all over the place, it still gets too warm for comfort. The Coliseum was built back in the 60s, and the downtown area where it is located is no longer the peaceful place that it was before. Petty crimes happening in the area are isolated but one could never be too careful there especially for students. The place also is vulnerable to flooding in the worst of downpours. And since it is the wet season now, perhaps no students would risk wading in the flood waters just to watch their team play.

Ticket prices may also be another factor. At the start of the 2016 season, the basketball competition attracted more spectators than it did last year. Why? Because the league had the upper box section free for students and teaching or non-teaching staff of the CESAFI member schools. All they needed to do was present their Identification cards. Those supporters’ presence didn’t translate to fans filling up the other sections.

Tickets for the upper box normally cost P80. Aside from that, the other seat sections like the general admission (P40) and the lower box (P120) were offered to the same group for a 50 percent discount. Although the free offering ended when playoffs started on September 25, the 50 percent discount stayed the same.

Navarro offers hope, saying that there have been a couple of exciting finals games which have attracted huge crowds at the Cebu Coliseum in the past, even with final exams and semestral breaks taking place. Cebuanos after all are insistent on getting their money’s worth.

Here’s hoping that with the USC Warriors averting a sweep by winning Game 3 on Thursday will inspire fans to come out for Game 4 on Saturday, October 22 at 5:30 pm, and that a competitive finals will draw a crowd that both teams and the league can be proud of. – Rappler.com