From San Miguel Beer to Petron? Why?

Last Friday, on board Cebu Pacific and flying to Manila, there was turbulence in the air. My head shook. My face frowned. My mind trembled. It was hard to believe. No, the sky was clear and the wind did not howl–the jolt came from the Philippine Daily Inquirer article I was reading.

Ronnie Nathanielsz wrote a stellar column last Friday entitled, “Big risk – why the name change?” Born in Sri Lanka, Nathanielsz has since resided in Manila for many decades now. He’s an icon in sports media: in print, in boxing, in TV, in tennis, basketball…

“While we recognize the inherent right of San Miguel Corp. to change the name of its San Miguel Beer team in the Philippine Basketball Association to Petron, we are certainly baffled over the name change,” wrote Nathanielsz in the very first paragraph.

Starting next season, the SMB franchise has requested the PBA Board of Governors to change its name to Petron. There’ll no longer be San Miguel in the PBA. Why this perplexing move when the words “San Miguel Beermen” are not only the most famous but also the most historical?–leaves SMB loyalists baffled.

“To millions across the nation who love the sport of basketball with a passion,” Nathanielsz continued, “San Miguel Beer was—and will always remain—a team they could identify with through the years as the flagship representative of San Miguel Corp. It was inherently Filipino and carried the San Miguel Beer name with remarkable distinction. To change the name to Petron and to expect the same dedicated following is a tremendous risk that the corporation is taking.”
Ronnie has a point. Although SMB has a losing record in today’s PBA second conference (one win/four losses), this short-term negativity has nothing to do with its positive, winning name. San Miguel to Petron?

“Simply put, there is absolutely no synergy between beer and gasoline,” added Nathanielsz. (Well, Ron, there are indeed similarities: Gasoline fuels the Toyotas, Hyundais and Mazdas; Beer fuels the body.)

Studying further this issue in a few more websites, I noticed that this appears to be a purely business-driven decision. Phoenix Fuel, a Petron competitor, has purchased the Barako Bull franchise and wants to enter the PBA. This move by SMB (which owns a major stake in Petron) to change its PBA name to the oil giant will disallow Phoenix from joining the oldest professional basketball league in Asia. Why? Because the PBA rules, if I understood them well, state that no direct competitor of an existing team be allowed to join the league.

But Ronnie counters this analogy. “Surely Petron cannot consider Phoenix a competitor in the accepted sense of the word because it is basically a small player in the Visayas and Mindanao regions,” he said. “What is even more perplexing is the effort to keep out Phoenix when the firm, to its credit, has invested in the PBA by sponsoring the out-of-town games which serve as one of the major boosts to the acceptance of the pro league in the provinces.”

Truly, this is an unusual move by Danding Cojuangco, Jr., Ramon Ang and San Miguel Brewery, Inc. Digging further into history (thanks to Wikipedia), the SMB franchise has been in existence since 1975. This was when the Philippine Basketball Association started. This was 36 years ago. In all, SMB holds the record for the most number of league titles at 18. To delete “San Miguel” from the pro league is bewildering. It’s like saying the L.A. Lakers will quit the NBA or the Celtics will change its name to the Boston Green Horns. It’s implausible. San Miguel is Pinoy basketball.

“We believe that with San Miguel Corp.’s right to rename its team, it comes with the need to exercise responsibility in relation to the millions of fans of the San Miguel Beer basketball team,” said Nathanielsz. “The Beermen have a storied history and San Miguel Beer epitomizes a Filipino product of unmatched quality. We will grieve to see it removed from our cherished PBA memories.”

I’ll drink to that.

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