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Sports

Round-the-clock sports

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Traditional cockfighting was in the news a few weeks ago, and the general public got a peek at the enormous sums of money earned from wagering on the fights. Sabong was already a way of life in the country in pre-colonial times. In fact, it was first written about by Ferdinand Magellan’s chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, when the Spanish conquistadors imposed Christianity upon the indios of Las Islas Filipinas. It was linked to the indigenous spirituality of the locals at the time.

In the 1970’s, then President Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree 449, the law to “govern the establishment, operation, maintenance and ownership of cockpits” which proliferated all over the nation. Initially, the Games and Amusements Board (GAB) was the country’s designated gamefowl commission. The conduct of matches themselves remained relatively unchanged. However, in recent years, the system changed in two significant ways. First, the internet provided a means if streaming this content to a global market. This meant that audiences anywhere could watch cockfighting on any digital device. (A side effect of the growth of e-sabong was the dramatic decline of horse racing, which lost big chunks of its market share to a competitor that could stage up to 300 fights a day, round the clock.)

The other change was the transfer of e-sabong – rightly or wrongly – to the Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR). In layman’s terms, GAB is in charge of games of skill, while PAGCOR covers games of chance. So far, the huge revenues redounding to the National Treasury from e-sabong are credited to the latter.

Given the successful business model and the mind-boggling amounts being bet on sports like this worldwide, some enterprising sports groups are trying to figure out how to tap into the viewing audience and or the betting market overseas. The first one is, naturally, a non-lethal variation of cockfighting itself. The challenges were how to have roughly the same number of fights in a 24-hour period, without killing any chickens. Apparently, the technology has already caught up, and made it possible. The concept is now being field-tested.

In the Philippines, the obstacles for other groups to do the same seem simple enough: find a game or sport whose matches are short (a few minutes each, to allow for more betting opportunities per day) and can be played 24 hours a day. The latter qualification eliminates most team games and virtually all outdoor sports. Since the games will ideally be broadcast overseas non-stop, no interference or disruption (like bad weather) can be allowed. Other than that, the games must be exciting and competitive, and a continuous stream of athletes / participants must be available. If not, people won’t watch.

There are already templates for at least three sports designed to fit this business model. They intend to provide livelihood for many athletes, trainers, technical officials and even broadcasters. If and when they come to fruition, they will make the country a global hub for sports development.

SABONG

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