By Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas
Top officials of the Philippine Football Federation announced last September 6 that starting March, 2017, the Philippines will have its own version of the Premier League of the UK or the Liga of Spain. The increasing number of football fans in the Philippines can now look forward to watching live their favorite football clubs in the various stadiums scattered all over the Philippines or on TV, just as basketball or volleyball aficionados have been doing for decades or years. This decision was made by the PFF after verifying the feasibility of a national league through a research conducted by prestigious international research firm Nielsen that undertook 5,600 face-to-face surveys and interviews nationwide. There were 14 cities and provinces surveyed as potential hosts for football clubs. The criteria for potential inclusion in the Philippines Football League (PFL) are: (1) acceptance of football by ordinary fans; (2) football infrastructure; (3) accessibility of football facilities; (4) fans’ capacity to pay for match tickets; (5) presence of business firms or other organizations willing to sponsor a club.
The research identified the following potential cities or provinces that can qualify to field clubs in the PFL: 8 in Luzon – Manila, Makati, Quezon City, Marikina, Sta. Maria (Bulacan), Bocaue (Bulacan), Pampanga and Laguna. There are 3 in the Visayas – Cebu, Bacolod, and Iloilo. In Mindanao, also 3 – Davao, Cagayan de Oro, and Zamboanga City. Potential clubs (some of them from the existing United Football League) are free to nominate other partner cities that meet club licensing requirements (e.g., Emperador Stadium of Megaworld in Taguig, if expanded to meet match requirements.) In addition to Megaworld, potential builders of football pitches that can meet FIFA requirements are the Ayala Land, the Villar Group, the SM Group, and the DMCI Homes. I hope that real estate companies in the regions outside the NCR will follow suit.
A minimum of six clubs are expected to qualify by the PFL. This is the number set by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for a professional national league with professional clubs and professional players. League matches will be organized as follows: home-and-away, modified league type (similar to Australian Hyundai A-League) with two round robins, then “Finals Series” playoffs among the top four teams. The Cup matches will involve knockout competition, with games interspersed between League matches. The PFL will begin with the first division. In subsequent years, a second division and promotion/relegation system will be implemented. To attract clubs to join, there will be roadshows in the coming months to be held in Cebu and Davao. The audiences will be individuals and institutions interested in establishing clubs or adopting a current UFL Club.
The PFF will put up a league operations company to be composed by participating clubs and the PFF. This company will handle league operations so that clubs will have a say in the direction of the league. The primary mission of this company is ensure the long-term sustainability of the clubs. Long-term club and league sustainability will generate extra revenue for the PFF. To guarantee financial sustainability, marketing will be centralized, so that all clubs can share from the proceeds. The PFF will retain exclusive broadcast rights, as well as rights to match statistics, and the websites of the league and of individual clubs. Once the number of participating clubs has been determined, the PFF will hold a tender for the broadcast rights of the League. Media networks can bid for the right to broadcast match highlights, delayed telecasts, and/or live telecasts. Gaming/betting rights will be developed and activated in the second or third year of the league’s operations, as gaming revenues are an important part of the income derived from football matches in Europe and East Asia. Marketing of merchandise will be centralized. Each club will receive a share of the revenues from sales of a PFL product. Match day revenues/game ticket receipts will be received by the home club.
As regards league sponsors, there will be only one naming rights sponsor for the entire league, similar to Australia’s Hyundai A-League or Barclays in the English Premier league. Down the line, there will be league partners with lower sponsorship amounts, as well as league suppliers. The PFF will come out with policy for competing firms from the same industry (e.g. Globe and Smart), determining whether one will be a league naming rights sponsor and the other just a league partner. In other leagues non-exclusivity is allowed and both can be sponsors. Whatever policy will be followed, potential sponsors will have to agree to it before implementation. The PFF will retain exclusive rights on 4 to 5 protected items. All clubs will receive a share of revenues from the naming rights sponsor.
The PFF has also fixed certain policies as regards club sponsors, intellectual property rights, grants to clubs and club revenues. It also will choose from two firms that have submitted proposals for league valuation. The club franchise value will vary, depending on whether there are 8 clubs instead of 6. The PFF will disclose valuation figures to interested clubs, e.g. potential revenue generated by naming rights, club sponsorships, etc. The valuation is expected to be completed before the end of the month of November, 2016.
The clubs participating in the Philippines Football League will become professional clubs, compared to all other clubs under the PFF which are amateur clubs. According to FIFA definition, a professional player is one whose monthly income from playing football alone is sufficient to cover comfortable living expenses for one month while an amateur player is defined as one whose income from playing football alone is less than what is needed for comfortable living for one month. The AFC is in the process of making a survey among all member Football Associations about how they define a “foreign player.” The PFF sent the UFL definition, with a caveat that it may change once the league is established. As regards coaching staff requirements, the head coach of the first team must have AFC A-license; assistant coaches must have B or C-licenses. Since the Philippines still lacks the number of required coaches, the clubs will be allowed to engage foreign coaches. Other challenges to be addressed are the match officials or FIFA-qualified referees; the number of stadia that meet minimum FIFA requirements. The officials of PFF are confident that there will be answers to these questions before March, 2017, when Philippine football fans can finally enjoy watching six to eight professional clubs vying for the PFL championship.
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