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4 p.m., pro sports bardahan na!

Ginebra's recent game at a more compact arena raised more concerns from the fans in terms of the live attendance. PBA Images (file photo)
By Ivan Saldajeno

THE MPL Philippines' jump to a 4 p.m. start gives professional sports fans who prefer watching matches at primetime another option for their viewing pleasure around that time until 10 p.m.

What made the league's primetime move much more exciting was the catchy chant that came along with it: "4 p.m., MPL na!"

However, that also means MPL PH has to compete for at least a good online audience with the likes of the PBA and PVL, which both enjoy huge national free television mileage through Sports 5 channels RPTV and One Sports, PSL, being aired live on IBC 13, and the MPBL and PFL, which although are both aired on cable TV have online streams as well, leading to some sort of a "pro sports bardahan" that favors the fans more in terms of the choices they have.

But while the sports fans are indeed the biggest winners of the sports league "war", some fans raised concerns that some leagues are probably losing steam.

As we commemorate the 49th foundation anniversary of the Philippines' first-ever pro league, the PBA, let's look at what some fans think is the current situation in professional team sports.

The 'boring' era?

It is interesting to note that in recent days, an issue was raised about the MPL PH becoming more "boring".

It began when Ian Hohl was asked by a fan during a livestream about which MPL event he prefers more. The Gaimin Gladiators EXP laner, known by the in-game name FwydChickn, answered that he watches more MPL Indonesia matches than MPL PH games because he finds the Indonesian league more entertaining.

Hohl added that MPL PH "gets a little stale sometimes," but he clarified that MPL PH's gameplay remains better than MPL ID.

The "little stale" statement, though, eventually blew out of proportion, especially since it came at a time when many matches ended up as what fans already anticipated, leading to speculations that Hohl was calling MPL PH "boring".

In a statement on Sunday, Hohl maintained that he was only calling the production of the matches stale and not the gameplay and that he was taken out of context.

He then warned the fans of how the game producers "manipulated" his words to make their program more entertaining, although he added that he had no ill feelings about the commentators since they were only following what the script said.

While the issue regarding how MPL PH produces its show has just lingered for barely a week, another matter of concern is happening right at the mother of all Philippine pro leagues, and according to some fans, it has been on for years already, even before the previous pandemic struck.

PBA fans raised concerns about how they think live viewership is somehow declining particularly this season as how they interpreted the photos and videos of the situation during gameday.

What triggered the speculations more was the league's decision to hold more games inside smaller arenas like the Rizal Memorial Coliseum and the Ninoy Aquino Stadium, both situated within the same compound in Malate, Manila.

Even adding fuel to the fire is that Magnolia and Ginebra, arguably the two biggest fanbases in the PBA right now, only drew "good-sized" crowds in their recent games at the said arenas and that their Easter Sunday "Manila Clasico" at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, the league's main home, was not that well-attended as their previous meetings.

Fans may have probably started to believe more that the PBA is reaching a certain kind of "boredom", all the more that some of them also raised allegedly lopsided trades and free agency signings that only favor a few teams and that the recent PBA titles on the line only revolved around those clubs.

While I do think that many results have indeed been predicted correctly in both the MPL and the PBA, it does not mean that they have become boring to watch.

In fact, at least at the moment, seeing the likes of NLEX, NorthPort, Blackwater, and Terrafirma, teams that arguably don't have as much fanfare as Ginebra and Magnolia, competing for at least a Top 6 finish after the Philippine Cup eliminations is a good sight in terms of the parity, that is if you are looking for an example about.

You have to consider too that booking an arena for a PBA game is not that easy, especially since availability matters as well.

Don't get me wrong, though. I share some of your sentiments, especially in marketing the league. 

How the PBA was marketed back in 1975 and possibly its "golden era" in the 90s may not have great results today, so I believe it's time to recheck so it can attract fans again. 

Good thing for the PBA, they announced for their anniversary doubleheader on Wednesday night that they will be giving away 100 free tickets as long as you have an old PBA memorabilia to show at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium. That's a start. 

In the MPL PH, seeing Minana EVOS pushing Blacklist to the limit and even nearly pulling at least a one-game upset against no less than the reigning world champion AP Bren is a sign that at least in the gameplay side of things, the league remains entertaining.

At the end of the day, the MPL (for esports) and PBA (for traditional sports) remain the meta.

Shift of power?

One argument fans keep on saying regarding how they see the PBA's current state is that the PVL and MPBL may have probably overtaken the league in terms of popularity.

While debating about it could be too heated enough, I can agree that both the PVL and MPBL are indeed on the rise, especially since they finally got under the Games and Amusements Board's sanction.

During the pandemic, the then Baham Mitra-led GAB asked the club leagues to turn "legally pro" if they wanted to push through with their tournaments despite the restrictions.

PVL and MPBL adhered to the call, and three years after returning into action in 2021, it turned out that they made the right move.

The PVL has become more competitive, all the more that it sparked a movement of seeing underclassmen, athletes who still have a lot of eligible years left in the collegiate ranks, quickly turning pro.

The PVL's recent playdate at the City of Sta. Rosa Multi-Purpose Sports Complex drew a sold-out crowd, a testament that the league's fandom in general has indeed increased drastically.

On the other hand, while they have been drawing good-sized crowds way before the GAB sanction, the MPBL saw its popularity blossoming further since they let GAB intervene in running the league.

While a good bunch of concerns remain like the allegations of game-fixing, the MPBL has indeed become a delight to the pro basketball fans who want an alternative to the PBA, all the more that it is a regional league and that admission to the games is for free almost all the time. 

Despite arguments from fans about which is more watchable at the moment, MPBL founder Manny Pacquiao and commissioner Kenneth Duremdes, both former PBA first-round picks (Surprise! Pacquiao was really drafted in the first round), still don't see their league as a competitor to the PBA and that there is no reason to compare both leagues.

Duremdes, though, agreed that the MPBL's decision to be under GAB's sanction helped a lot in how they became more popular than before.

While I said above that the PBA remains the alpha dog for professional traditional sports, they should be aware at this point that both the PVL and MPBL are giving them a run for their money.

The most exciting PFL ever?

And finally, the PFL.

For the first time ever, more than 10 teams (15 to be exact) are disputing for the right to be called the Philippines' number one football club.

Considering that the PFL's partnership with Qatar Airways already came to an end, it's exciting to see that the league still drew a huge number of competing clubs, owing to revisions on how they can join.

Even some of the expansion sides showed their seriousness by having some high-profile signings.

United City, which is making a return to the league after begging off during the second half of the previous season, showed that it can still compete by holding Kaya Iloilo to only two goals despite the defeat.

The season opener was arguably an instant classic as Manila Digger survived Army's comeback to score a 3-2 win.

Well, you can raise comments about Mendiola and Stallion Laguna's blowout wins, but those are for another day.

The good thing is that the PFL drew a good-sized crowd at the Rizal Memorial Stadium on a Sunday night even if a Ginebra game was ongoing at the Ninoy Aquino Stadium just beside it, proof that football has a good following as well.

Davao Aguilas, which made a surprise run to the Copa Paulino Alcantara final last year, took a Week 1 bye but will begin its PFL return at its current home, the University of Makati Athletic Oval, in Week 2.

With a lot at stake like a spot in the AFC Champions League 2 and the new Shopee Cup, expect more competitive action in the PFL especially since it will just be a short season.

Needless to say, brace yourselves for what could be the most exciting PFL season yet.

In conclusion...

Four months in, the year 2024 in Philippine professional sports already has compelling storylines that have piqued the interest of fans.

With still a long way to go, expect some more drama in and out of the football fields and indoor arenas as the pro leagues' seasons continue.

As the clock strikes four (or two if you want to watch the PVL or three if you want some early PFL dose), it's game time!

The views and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of Dugout Philippines.

Follow him on X: @IvanSaldajeno

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