By Bernardo M. Villegas
What are the chances of getting the national and local governments, private sector and civil society to aggressively promote football in the coming 20 years? As usual, the initiative will have to come from the private sector in an industry that does not involve a basic need of society. As I have written in the past, football can be a major industry in the Philippines in the same way that it is a multi-billion dollar/euro industry in the US or Europe. Put together television and social networking rights, advertising, gate receipts, endorsements, sportswear and other accessories, etc. This potential for growth of the football industry was recently illustrated dramatically when Manchester United in the UK Premier League, the richest football league in the world paid 100 million Euros to re-sign the French International football player Paul Pogba from the Italian club Juventus. Clubs in the Premier League had paid close to one billion euros in transfer fees during this summer. They are able to spend so lavishly because of a 5.1 billion pounds deal for broadcast rights with TV company Sky and BT, the telecoms group. All 20 Premier League clubs are guaranteed 100 million pounds under the deal. The clubs will further benefit from deals for overseas screening rights worth up to 3 billion pounds. Comparative figures can be cited for the Spanish League which actually includes the two richest football clubs in the world, Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, which also pay hundreds of millions of euros for transfer of the best players from other clubs, especially from Latin America.
According to a study of the Deloitte’s Sports Business Group, two other factors explain the spending spree. The first was the surprising performances of historically less-successful Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur last season, who finished first and third in the league. This has pushed rivals to spend more to be able to obtain a top four place that guarantees entry to the Champions League. The second factor is that some leading English clubs have hired new managers who want to spend more in order to reshape the squads in their respective images. Management changes include such famous coaches as Pep Guardiola joining Manchester City, Jose Mourinho to Manchester United and Antonio Conte at Chelsea. Of course, it may take decades before the Philippine football industry will reach such magnitudes. It is worthwhile considering, however, that the middle class is expanding in the Philippines as its GDP grows on the basis of consumer spending. In the next 20 years, the Philippine population will reach some 150 million, of which more than 100 million will belong to the middle class (average income of $10,000 per capita per annum). We will have the making of a robust industry based on football. Consumer-oriented firms, national or multinational, should be ahead of the curve in this very predictable trend.
Within that economic environment, there will be more Philippine firms that will follow the examples of consumer-oriented enterprises like Alaska Milk, Nestle, Max Restaurant, Coca Cola, Prudential Life Insurance, Nike, LBC, Meralco, CERES, Megaworld, Ayala Land, and some others that are already giving financial support to the spread of the football culture among the Filipino youth. There will also be NGOs of civil society that will invest in the training of football players among both street children and those that come from the gated subdivisions. Among them are the Henry Moran Foundation, the Smart Foundation, One Meralco Foundation, PinoySports Foundation working in tandem with Real Madrid Foundation and the Roxas Foundation in Batangas City. Over the last five to ten years, we have seen how the embassies of countries with strong football traditions, such as Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, the UK, South Africa, and Germany, have promoted initiatives in the football training of Filipino children, especially in the distressed areas. Some famous foreign clubs as FC Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, and FC Sevilla have also been active in teaming up with local groups to organize football clinics. Slowly but surely, LGUs are starting to give their support to the promotion of football. I have already mentioned the example of Biñan, Laguna. Under the Local Government Code, LGUs can partner with private groups in constructing football pitches and football stadia, indispensable in the long-term development of the sport and especially in giving a big push to the Philippines Football League. The most recent examples of second-tier municipalities joining the football bandwagon are Dipolog City, Guinoog, Misamis Oriental and Dumaguete, Negros Oriental that hosted the traveling grassroots football development program Football for A Better Life (FFABL) supported by British life insurer Pru Life UK.
I hope there are enough people advising President Duterte who will make him see the potentials of the Philippines as a leading football nation in Asia. Continuing dialogue between President Duterte and President Xi Jinping of China should include in their agenda what we can call “football diplomacy.” Instead of too much emphasis on the territorial dispute in the South China Seas, I suggest that the two Presidents discuss how China and the Philippines can address their common goal of rising to the top of world football in the next 20 years. We should promote a lot of friendly matches among football clubs from the two countries. There should be Chinese-Philippine cooperation in the training, not only of players, but of coaches and referees. Chinese football players can come to the Philippines for extended periods of time not only to train in the sport but also to perfect their English, following the example of South Koreans who use the Philippines as a training ground for English. This “football diplomacy” can also be applied to our foreign relations with Middle Eastern countries like Dubai, Qatar and Saudi Arabia that are also aspiring to reach the top in the World Cup. I am sure football can accomplish a great deal in establishing peaceful and harmonious relations among nations. Let us make sure that we do our part in applying tenacity, perseverance, diligence, detailed planning and absolute solidarity in our ranks. By doing so, we can follow the footsteps of Leicester City and Atletico de Madrid: Defy the great odds against us.
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