Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Philippine Basketball Assocation at Araneta Coliseum - Nov 18, 2012

In 1975, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought their third and final bout in Manila, Philippines. Known as the “Thrilla in Manila”, the match is now considered one of the greatest sporting events of the 20th century. Despite the magnitude of the bout, few fans in North America could actually name the venue that hosted these two great boxers that early October morning. Well never fear, that is why I do these sports road trips, to find out trivia like this and bring it to you. The answer: the Thrilla took place at the Araneta Coliseum, in the Cubao district of Quezon City, Manila. Unlike older stadiums in the U.S., which are torn down with alarming regularity, Araneta still stands and I visited there on my recent trip to the Philippines to see some Philippine Basketball Association action.

Araneta Coliseum 

The coliseum was opened in 1960 after a three-year construction period. Named after the influential Araneta family, it quickly gained the appropriate if unoriginal nickname “Big Dome”. It is clearly reminiscent of the ancient Roman coliseums and at the time of its inauguration, it received international recognition as the largest covered coliseum in the world. Even today, it remains the largest indoor facility in Southeast Asia with a dome diameter of 108 meters.

In July 1999, the coliseum underwent its first major renovation when the lower box and patron sections had their seats replaced while a four-sided scoreboard was hung above center court. This scoreboard was replaced in December 2010 with a large LED screen dubbed the "Big Cube" in keeping with the tradition of simple yet accurate nicknames.

Midway through 2011 it was announced that the Araneta family entered into a naming rights deal with Smart, the mobile subsidiary of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company. The resulting moniker, Smart Araneta Coliseum, can be confusing for those of us not familiar with telephony in the Philippines; in reality the coliseum is no more intelligent than any other venue. Still, with the new name bringing further renovations, the Araneta Coliseum has kept up with the times and is in surprisingly good shape for being 53 years old.

These days, the Philippine Basketball Association plays many of its games here with weekend doubleheaders the top draw. My friend Jun and I drove over on Sunday afternoon to catch some of the action and I left suitably impressed.

For one, food options are more than enough. There about a dozen restaurants that are part of the dome, but still outside the entrance. Try Mang Inasal if you want something truly local, the unlimited rice is what gets most Filipinos inside. Inside there are a few stalls including American stalwarts Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and Wendy’s, but I would recommend the Sio Pao at Snaxxs on the second level. For 45 pesos (about $1.30) you get a sweet chicken bun that I have not seen at another venue anywhere in the world. It was quite tasty and a better bet than that burrito you can always buy stateside.

The other thing that surprised me was the immediate area around the stadium. Araneta Center is a relatively nice part of Manila, which is a run-down city nearly everywhere else. The Coliseum is surrounded by shopping malls, including the Ali Mall, naturally named after Muhammad Ali. It was opened in 1976, just a year after the fight, and was the first major shopping mall in the nation. You can try exploring the various malls during the day but always be aware of your surroundings as Jun mentioned that the area is known for pickpockets and other shady characters, particularly in the evening hours. If you happen to visit during the holiday season, be sure to note the large Christmas tree at one corner of the coliseum grounds; it is famous throughout the Philippines for the lighting that happens every year.

The best way to get there is by taxi. There is an LRT stop right next to the arena if you wish to try public transportation, but it is not a particularly useful line with few stops near a hotel that you might be staying. Ask your concierge for details on how to get here, most likely he will recommend the taxi option, which is more convenient than the train, though it may not necessarily be faster given Manila's stop-and-go traffic.

The main entrance is behind a new glass atrium and this is where you will find the ticket windows and a few scalpers who can safely be ignored. If you have a few minutes, stroll around the neighbourhood and try to imagine what it was like when this place was the center of the sporting universe so many years ago.

The Games

These days, the PBA is the main tenant at Araneta and there are two games for every PBA event. There are several ticket options with the most expensive at 820 pesos, about $24. This might sound cheap until you realize that 820 pesos is a lot of money in the Philippines and could easily buy 3 or 4 nice dinners. Rather, try the 70 peso general admission option that I much prefer as you get to choose your seat in the upper deck, which is not that far away from the court anyways. Ticket prices are 20 pesos cheaper for weekday games.

Once inside, if you have the upper deck ticket you will immediately be shuttled upstairs (above), which is annoying if you want a full tour. The upper concourse is wide enough (below), although it did get slightly jammed up during the intermissions. 

The seating area is really interesting and smartly designed so that there are no problems walking around the entire dome once inside the bowl. With capacity around 60%, there was no problem finding a seat.

As mentioned, there were two games. I am not even going to bother with recapping them because I was really didn't follow them that closely. The first involved the Petron Blaze Boosters (in white below) taking on the worst team in the league, Globalport Batang Pier. The game was close for about five minutes before Petron went on something like a 10-0 run and they never looked back, cruising to a 110-81 win. 

The second game was more entertaining as it featured the most popular team, Barangay Ginebra taking on the Alaska Aces. The crowd was into the match from tip-off and both teams fed off this energy, playing a much more technically sound game than the opener. Neither team dominated though, and Alaska took a three-point lead into halftime. At this point, Jun and I left as we had to meet friends for dinner, but Barangay came back and won the game 96-93. 

All-in-all, a fun afternoon and heartily recommended if you are in Manila during the season. It is true that Araneta Coliseum will always be remembered for that bout nearly 50 years ago, but it is still a very good place to watch some local basketball action. See it if you can.



1 comment:

  1. should've visited the new MOA Arena also; whhich is way better and new compared to Smart Araneta. PBA games are played there more often now. check it out.