New Normal for Sports on TV
BLEACHER TALK - Rico S. Navarro (The Freeman) - May 17, 2020 - 12:00am

The sports world is itching for the day when their favorite teams and stars will see action again. NBA? PBA? Football in Europe? Baseball? What will it be like? Will spectators be allowed to fill up a venue? What kind of social distancing can be practiced? Will rapid testing be held at the venues? For now, we are looking at a scenario where there still is no vaccine against COVID-19. Neither is there a wonder drug that can kill this coronavirus. The funny thing is that someone was bold enough to do something. Whether or not they were right in doing so is still up for judgment, but you never know.

When UFC 249 was held last weekend in Miami, Florida, it was behind closed doors, without fans. Medical exams were required for everyone who took part of the event, from fighters to their coaching staff, UFC officials and members from the TV coverage team. When a fighter was found positive for COVID 19, his fight was canceled. And I guess he and his delegation were quickly sent off to quarantine themselves. By staging the event, the UFC was just being true to its brand. It is one the fastest growing sports in the world in terms of revenues, following and popularity, and is a maverick of beast in taking risks and going to places that traditional sports didn’t take. On deck are fights to be held on a “fight island.” Professional baseball in Taiwan and Korea have also resumed with a similar set-up: no spectators in the bleachers. Testing was also conducted among all those involved. In these three models, fans had to make do with watching the games on TV or the digital network through either pay-per-view schemes or Facebook Live. Welcome to what could be the new normal.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the doctors leading the United States in its fight against COVID-19, said that professional sports leagues can resume, but certain conditions would have to be followed very strictly. First, games would have to be played without fans. He then added to “put (athletes) in big hotels, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well-surveilled, but have them tested like every week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their families.” This is practically asking all teams to isolate themselves and limit their contact to the outside world. The chances of this set-up being successful depends on whether a league or team can actually do this: massive testing, quarantine and close monitoring for all team players, coaches and staff. With this is a guide, can we implement this in the Philippines? Can the the PBA, UAAP, NCAA, PSL and PVL follow these SOPs?

With a set-up like this, how will the fans watch the action? There are two basic options. The first is to watch games on free TV networks. TV5 covers the PBA games and PSL volleyball while ABS-CBN took care of the UAAP and NCAA. The second option, although not totally new, might just become the “go to” option for many. This is through the digital network. Online. Internet. The worldwide web. Facebook live.

When the NBA introduced subscription over NBA TV, they charged around P4,500.00 per subscriber for a whole season of daily games and this included the playoffs. Subscribers could access as many games as possible aside from the NBA-produced TV shows (news, documentaries and features). I availed of this service primarily because none of the local TV networks bagged a deal to air the NBA games. I now feel shortchanged since the season was suspended, but still hopeful that this will resume, albeit under different circumstances. Pay per view is also common in big boxing events, baseball and professional football. But today, this might even increase in number. There’s a harsh reality that we must all face. Leagues will now have to make up for the sudden loss of sales coming from ticket sales. As an example, if the MOA Arena can draw 15,000 spectators paying a mere P100.00 for a seat, that’s P1.5M in sales for one night. And we all know how expensive those tickets can get, especially at big games (La Salle-Ateneo, UAAP Finals).

We can now expect pro leagues to look into pay per view schemes as a means to tap new sources of income aside from sponsorships. Having said that, advertisers/sponsors may now take to the digital network for their TV commercials or special tie-ups. The digital network is more tangible for sponsors since you can literally count/see the reach and views of a game that is shown online on a real-time basis. When ABS-CBN was forced to air its TV Patrol through Facebook Live (after it had to stop broadcast operations), they reportedly hit record levels of reach/views. If an advertiser sees this, it won’t hesitate to come on board and exploit the situation.

Paying to watch sports on TV though will be a real challenge for us Pinoy fans who have been spoiled with free TV ever since we were born, and have never had to pay to watch games of the PBA, UAAP and the like. Will the Pinoy fan be willing to pay a fee to watch his/her favorite games in the new normal?

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