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The UAAP, the Philippine Azkals and Football on Local Television

Image credit:  captured from YouTube videos of ABS-CBN Sports + Action and Sports Nepal.

So yesterday, because the DLSU Green Archers were playing, I stayed through the DLSU versus National University UAAP football match on cable TV’s Sports + Action channel. If I was a neutral watching football for the first time, I probably would have immediately hopped off to another channel. Firstly, the pitch was an eyesore so desperately in need of sprinkling or an intervention from Zephyrus, the god of rain. Secondly, the hard pitch was bumpy and made good football difficult at best.

An advertisement for the game of football, it was not. If I was a youngster thinking of going into football, I would be thinking, “Why in hell would I want to be in that?” Visually, in a way it was even anti-football. Why do you think all UEFA Champions League pitches are lush green? These manicured pitches not only allow players to express themselves fully but are also pleasant to the eyes. There is a marketing element to it.

So then why, pray tell, is UAAP football even on television? Corporate management requires clarity in objectives before an undertaking is approved. In the case of UAAP football, it is apparent from the relative absence of advertising during the telecast of yesterday’s game that profit is not an immediate objective. Profit, however, has to be seen in the proper context. At the end of the day, the only statistic that matters is the corporate bottom line. Sports + Action’s mother network ultimately makes so much money that it can afford to operate at a loss for broadcasts such as UAAP football.

Is this done as a form of public service? Probably, although there is also truism to the maxim “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” There are probably those in network management who see potential in the broadcasts, so in a way these are something of an investment. After all, about a decade or so ago, UAAP women’s volleyball was played in drab school gymnasia with only the players and coaches of other schools watching.

But the games were televised, and look how far UAAP women’s volleyball has grown. Notwithstanding the fact that volleyball arguably even then had a bigger fan base than football – and is, as Filipinos generally prefer, a fast-scoring game – you will simply never know who and how many are watching unless you persevere with the experiment. Apart from catering to an already existing market, there is also business sense in building up a potential market, albeit with a bigger financial outlay and risk.

In other words, football has to be on television, period! But please, please include in the annual budget the watering of the Ateneo field.

To be perfectly fair, at least Sports + Action has a football coverage at all. Few things frustrate me more than to see, when channel-hopping, one or two cable channels covering some obscure little interscholastic or inter-barangay basketball league that nobody gives two hoots about.

And if these crummy little leagues can be on television, why was an AFC Asian Cup qualifier at the Rizal Memorial Stadium between the Philippine national team and Nepal totally ignored? I was supposed to watch the match live but the travelling party I was trying to organize within my club petered out because of work and school commitments; and an eight o’clock kickoff is just not kind to provincial commuters.

So I was consigned to the choppy live stream that was impossible to enjoy. I have a reasonably good fiber optic connection but still missed Phil Younghusband’s second goal along with Iain Ramsay’s. The feed was stop-start to begin with and went dead for long agonizing moments. I don’t believe the viewership counter ever exceeded eight thousand, so it was a real pity the feed could not have been made over Facebook Live, which is so much better equipped to handle heavy traffic. I watched the Miss Universe pre-pageant on Facebook Live, for instance, and it was just like watching television despite the substantially higher viewership.

In all honesty, I do not really know the behind the scenes why the match was not on television. If Sports + Action did not wish to broadcast the game, did the Philippine Football Federation exert any effort to cajole the other networks into picking up the game? Sometimes, things like this can be decided at the cost of no more than a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. But like I said, I do not really know that the PFF has a public relations arm capable of liaising at a personal level with the networks.

If even this is not possible, perhaps even crummy little cable stations that air cock derbies, horse racing and inter-barangay basketball. Football has to be on television, but the Philippine Azkals even more so. Having worked in upper management, I understand fully the business side of football. However, just as important as profit is the honor with which profit is made. There are few things more honorable than being at the service of your own national teams – in whatever the sport – and yes, even at a loss and especially if you make millions upon millions of profit, anyway, at the end of the fiscal year.

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