After watching a couple of United Football League (UFL) games the past two weeks, I can’t help but marvel at how important this league is not just for Philippine football, but for Pinoy sports fans as well.
You see, countries with professional football leagues are usually the ones with world-ranked national teams, or at the very least,have very good developmental programs. And usually, the success of these leagues lies in the TV deals that they are able to arrange. I don’t think there is a professional sports league in the world that does not have a major network deal in place. Even mixed martial arts’ UFC, which used to be some kind of underground fight league a’la Bloodsport, is about to start airing their events at the US’ Fox Network late this year.
Now that the UFL is backed with a lot of moolah and TV time courtesy of Manny Pangilinan’s TV5 (which I think is doing a swell job so far), the usual complaint about football’s lack of exposure can be thrown out the window. Ask national sports leaders (except for basketball) if they would give up their only child for a chance to get a long-term primetime coverage deal with an aggressive, up-and-coming TV network loaded with cash, and I’m sure they’ll wrap their child in swaddling clothes and float them in a river the very next day. Getting your sport TV exposure in this country is the equivalent of trying to stuff a Messi penalty kick — it’s that hard. So with this current deal of the UFL with TV5 (as part of Pangilinan’s commitment to Philippine football), let us count some more of the blessings…
1. The UFL makes our Azkals (Phil. Men’s Football Team) better now, and in the future.
The scheduling of games gives members of the Azkals competing in theUFL the much-needed conditioning during breaks between their friendlies and other tournaments while getting paid substantially. That last part more or less keeps the Azkals safely on our shores, and potentially lures other Fil-foreigner-footballers, who may be mired in some D-III farm team cleaning Ronaldo’s boots in Europe, to PH football. Aside from attracting Fil-foreigners, the league also develops local players who can add more depth to our national training pool.
The latest FIFA world rankings has the Azkals at #158. As the UFL develops and produces more top-level players, expect that ranking to rise within the next year.
2. The UFL opens up more jobs and careers in football.
Before, parents would scold their kids for playing basketball when they should be studying. When the PBA revenue stream peaked during the 90’s (considered the golden years of the league) with P500K-a-month paychecks, parents started telling their kids to ditch the textbook and pick up a basketball. Now that UFL is starting strong, it won’t be long before parents start telling their kids (especially those who don’t really make the basketball height standard) to let go of the basketball and start practicing their corner kicks. It goes beyond that, mind you. Players aren’t the only ones salivating about making their football dreams come true. You have coaches, goalkeeper’s coaches, team managers, ballboys, referees, committee officials, and linesmen all having a shot at making a career out of the sport that they love.
Also, with this recent popularity surge, expect membership in football clinics along the lines of the Ateneo Football Center and Football Fanatics to shoot up in the next few months.
Even sporting businesses related to football are starting to thrive. Nike, for example, was never aggressive bringing in football products into the Philippines two years ago. Why bring in the complete football line with all limited, signature styles when they could just milk the hell out of surefire basketball products? All that has changed now ever since the rise of the Azkals, most of whom lead different teams in the UFL. Take a look at the big Nike and Adidas stores today and you’ll see an impressive array of football boots and products being sold.
3. The UFL is actually entertaining!
Who wouldn’t want to watch a team filled with certified talent testing the mettle of a team filled with models and celebrities? In the first game of last Saturday’s doubleheader, Loyola Meralco Sparks FC, which had two pairs of Fil-Brit brothers who also play for the Azkals, the Younghusbands and the Hartmanns, went up against Team Soccerroo FC– a team with an Australian sounding name boasting of celebrities and models. Could these celebs and models actually play football? That’s all everyone wanted to know because that’s entertainment! Never mind the result– a laughable 15-1 demolition job by Loyola which by the way, is entertainment in itself (after soaring to a 10-0 halftime lead, the real entertainment came in either imagining what other Loyola body parts were possible to score goals with, or making side bets on whether it was possible to have a 50-0 final score).
If the Loyola-Soccerroo match was about showbiz appeal and defense-free football, the second match was about compelling storylines and real drama on the pitch. Kaya Cignal FC, which is one of the UFL originals, faced Diliman Victory Liner FC, an unfancied squad made up of the UAAP championship core of the UP Maroons from 2-3 years ago. Here was a classic David and Goliath match-up between a traditional powerhouse (who had their own Azkals, Nate Burkey and Anton del Rosario) and a brash group of youngsters eager to prove their worth. And early on, Diliman, led by the fearless Gerardo Valmayor III and Ariel Zerrudo, Jr., looked like they were going to pull the upset rug from under Kaya as they led 2-1. But a lapse on defense late in the match led to a Burkey penalty kick that turned things around. Kaya FC proved steadier down the stretch with their veterans leading the way to a come-from-behind 3-2 victory, but Diliman gave the fans a real treat with their grit and balls-of-steel-style of football.
At a time when Pinoy sports fans are enjoying a lot of great Pinoy sporting events happening all around, the UFL provides another sport to watch, follow, and crazily cheer for. Boxing has these mega Pacquiao and Donaire fights coupled with the increasingly popular Pinoy Pride series. Basketball’s PBA is experiencing a renaissance of sorts with renewed energy, and now it even has a developmental league that gives hoops fans more basketball action after the UAAP and NCAA seasons. You see weekly running events, MMA events touring the countryside, shuttlecocks still being smashed at a frenetic pace, triathlons, golf events (I’m sure I’m missing more sports here), and now finally…
Work the samba, bend it like David, and do the bicycle– whatever it is, give me a cold one, because it’s time for some football.