July 10 ------ ASEAN Basketball League (ABL) is on the verge of closing shop. Word has been buzzing on the future of the 10-year-old regional league after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the ABL to shelve its 2019-20 season - and possibly shut down for good. Spin.ph tried to contact the league's top officials, but chief operating officer Jericho Ilagan respectfully declined to comment on the matter for the time being. Sources, however, painted a more gruesome picture. The health crisis has forced the ABL's brass to cut costs as there remains no timeframe on when the action can return. The home-and-away league faces bigger challenges in the new normal than the PBA and other domestic leagues because of the restrictions on air travel.
Ilagan has earlier expressed hope of resuming the ongoing season by October, while opening the 11th season come November. Fast forward to now, and chances of that happening look bleak. Worse, the league's operations have been hit the hardest. AirAsia, which owns the biggest stake in the ABL through the Tune Group, reported a net loss of $187.91 million in the first quarter of 2020 - the Malaysian company's biggest first-quarter loss, which was no surprise considering declining air travel amid the pandemic. It was a far cry from its $22.53 million net profit from the same time frame in 2019. As was the case with most companies at this time, cost-cutting measures have been enforced in the ABL.
Insiders shared that the ABL staff's current contracts ended last May 30, with the top brass in Singapore giving assurances that it will honor those deals until their expiration. However, sources bared top officials reneged on the earlier agreement and in early April, announced that it will only pay staff their salaries until March 30. That should explain the inactivity of the usually active ABL social media pages, which were last updated on April 15. Another source added that it was Ilagan who shouldered the retrenchment and severance packages for the staff. For his part, Ilagan's contract as ABL's chief operating officer also elapsed on May 30. The pains aren't limited to the league as a whole. Thai club Mono Vampire has terminated the contracts of majority of its players, including Thai-American star Tyler Lamb, as it announced in late March that "the club will be suspending participation in all competitions domestically and internationally."
It also underwent a reorganization, with the Mono Group already distancing itself from the ownership of the team. Close followers hint that a new group, still led by Mono29 owner Pete Bodharamik, will take over. As for San Miguel Alab Pilipinas, team owner Charlie Dy said that the Philippine club is still in limbo awaiting the next moves of the ABL. "I can't confirm anything until the situation gets better. ABL is a regional league, so travelling will be very challenging now," he said in a text message to Spin.ph. Most of Alab's players including import Justin Brownlee have been sent back to the US, with Dy still unsure when they will be asked to return. For now, that's a big if rather than when.