Shakey’s V-League Turning dormant sport to a sporting spectacle

(The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines – Women’s volleyball never had it so good. Left in the doldrums in the early 1990s, the sport now enjoys unrivalled popularity since Shakey’s revived it through the V-League in 2004.

It produced stars, poster girls and social media icons – some even became household names just like the superstars of basketball.

Through the years, the sport has become so popular that in one non-bearing game between collegiate rivals Ateneo and La Salle, close to 19,000 fans and supporters poured into the game venue, circling around the block and wriggling into various entrances of the arena in search of tickets until lack of seats forced the guards to shoo some of them away.

Sure, it was a UAAP match and critics would say that the sport had cashed in on the mystique of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry. But how many varsity events featured that rivalry and generated the same level of interest?

Until the Shakey’s V-League came along, UAAP games, supposed to be the biggest volley league in town, were attracting just a sprinkling of fans.

“Frankly, the results were more than we ever hoped for,” said Ricky Palou, one of the four basketball-oriented entrepreneurs who undertook a project that would revive the once dormant sport and take it to a level beyond collegiate league. The others are the late former PBA commissioner Jun Bernardino, former Asian Basketball Confederation sec-gen Moying Martelino and Qatar Basketball Federation players affairs supervisor Rhea Navarro,

The team, under the Sports Vision banner, and Shakey’s, through general manager Vic Gregorio, collaborated to put up the V-League which has stood the test of time and is on track for an unprecedented growth with three conferences of different formats and make-up offered the last few seasons.

In fact, the last two years saw the sport grow bigger and better with a new pro inter-club tournament, inspired by the V-League success, emerging and a pioneering men’s league coming into fore.

“We’d be frank to say that all our efforts helped resurrect volleyball. And the live coverage of the games the last few years has further spurred the interest of the public,” said Martelino.

Now, the sport has given way to young players dreaming to be the next Sorianos, Daquises, Maizos, Balses, Bautistas, Tabaqueros, Roceses, Bentings, Carolinos and Valdezes, named the top 10 players by the fans during the league’s milestone 10th year.

While they remain a force to reckon with in their respective teams up to this time, a slew of talented players in the Gonzagas, Moldes, Soltoneses, Marcianos, Mabbayads, Pablos, Dorogs, Bersolas has emerged, ensuring a smooth transition of talents and keeping interest in the sport at the highest level.

“Transition (of talents) is key to keeping the league’s popularity. Talents will come and go but the league will continue discovering and producing stars year-in and year-out,” said Palou.

Over the years, the league kept coming up with innovations to make it more interesting and at the same time compete for media attention in mainstream sports. Schools have calendared the V-League schedule into their respective programs. And with imports also beefing up the teams in Open conferences, competition has improved, thus further raising the quality of play.

It also helps that the league’s partnership with GMA News TV Channel 11 has given the sport added spike and push with its live coverage of the matches.

In fact, the third conference of Season 12 has set a new standard in terms of telecast with the matches aired live, keeping the fans glued to their screens in what Sports Vision’s described as the “weekend volley festival.”

But this is where the league is headed for – primetime marquee matches. It’s easy to see that the gamble Shakey’s took when it pushed all-in while holding the women’s volley card is paying off.

“Back then, we believed that V-League would make a lot of impact. We saw the potential but the results exceeded our expectations. We definitely thought that we’d be here but we thought it would take a lot longer,” said Gregorio.

“The sport embodied our family-oriented brand positioning. Despite being less physical, volleyball is as electric as any other sport – maybe even more. There are no dull moments once a rally kicks off. It was something that showcases pure fun and ability,” said Gregorio, who actually found Sports Vision’s project as a tool to reinvent the image of Shakey’s. He ended up helping alter the country’s women’s volley landscape.

The V-League did become an instant success right after its launch yet sustaining its gains wasn’t that easy. But Shakey’s has long committed itself to keep the league going, even doubling its sponsorship fees in the succeeding seasons.

“We never entertained the thought of giving up on this project. We, as a group, decided that we would see this dream through,” said Martelino. “We have experienced pain and hardship in making sure that this project will survive.”

But he stressed the V-League is just part of Sports Vision’s dream.

“Our real dream is to see our national women’s team be a force to reckon with in international competitions,” he said.

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