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Sports

The next 20 years

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

Twenty years ago, several sports were not even on our radar as mainstream sports. Obviously, there was little online, as the internet viewership was not yet strong enough to supplant television as a sports viewing medium. This was similar to how television overtook radio in the US in the late 1950’s. Americans who had come home from World War II experienced a new kind of economic prosperity. Women had also learned how to work and earn their own money.

Just think about where certain sports were two decades ago. Mixed martial arts was still coming out of the underground. It was just earning the respect of sports media. E-sports were not organized. Even new standbys like women’s volleyball were still on the fringes, before jumping to prominence, thanks to consecutive finals between De La Salle and Ateneo. Chess was a staple, but not expanding the way it recently has thanks to lockdowns. Technology has expanded the way people consume and learn sports. Data suggests that, in urban areas in the Philippines, TV viewership on mobile devices breached the 50-percent mark in 2015. One of the side effects of horrendous traffic.

What will Philippine sports look like in the next 20 years? Firstly, there will be a greater outward migration of talent. As Japan, Taiwan and Korea attract top-tier basketball players, more Southeast Asian rivals will pull in second-tier hoopers. Inevitably, more players will go through the US college system to play professionally in North America. But we foresee that those players will eventually return to close out their careers in the Philippines. And in 20 years’ time, their children (most likely mixed-race offspring), will be making an impact on the national team and college basketball.

More barriers will come down, but now, they will be broken legally. In past decades, boxers have traveled overseas on tourist visas to fight illegally. Many get seriously hurt. We foresee the national government, through the Games and Amusements Board, strengthening ties with boxing promoters abroad, beginning with Japan, for mutual protection. The same will for other professional combat sports. The new challenge will be how to compete with foreign teams luring away the country’s best e-sports athletes. The pattern is becoming clear: it’s a career, and like any other pros, they will seek out the best possible deals.

Will this mean a dilution of Philippine sports? Yes and no.  Local basketball, volleyball and e-sports leagues (and to a lesser degree, other sports) will need to figure out how to be more competitive on an international scale. There’s no two ways about it. The migrant athlete, like the migrant coach, is a reality. The hope is that they bring their learnings back home.

There is also another alternative for a handful of sports. The boom of e-sabong has stimulated international demand for more sports that can be streamed 24 hours a day for online betting. It is a reality that we can no longer escape. We daresay that sports betting is a trillion-dollar enterprise worldwide, bigger than the economy of any country. All that is needed is to tweak a sport so that an entire match can be played in a few minutes, to allow for more chances to bet.  Cockfighting can have more than 300 matches in 24 hours. It is unlikely that any other sport will come close, but there are a few that can do more than 150 a day. The potential revenue is too big to ignore. We are starting to see manufactured leagues paying out well enough and continuously so that athletes will not leave the country to compete anymore.

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