Taking big hits | Inquirer Sports


(First of a series)

Reality is slowly making its bite felt across sports leagues forced to a standstill by the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

And these leagues will have to flaunt the same degree of resilience as their athletes as they try to find ways to mitigate the financial and logistical impact of the shutdown forced on them by the virus. It’s not going to be easy.

The NCAA has started surveying the damage in its own domain and sees its schools getting hit hard by the suspension of its season.

“If you think about it, even this late in the season, the biggest losers would be the schools,” said Arellano University vice president Peter Cayco, who is also chair of this year’s management committee. Cayco said the NCAA’s member schools spend at least P10 million each for their varsity programs, including board and lodging of student athletes, tuition and allowances, and stipend for coaches and trainers.

Arellano, for example, has more than 320 student athletes competing this season.

The NCAA had hoped to cut its losses by asking its policy board to cancel its 95th season with still three events—volleyball, track and field and cheerleading— left unfinished. Six of the 10 schools have already agreed to taking that direction, but terminating a season will need all 10 member schools signing on. And it’s not going to be an easy decision.

“Like the cheerleading team, they train for the whole year but performs for just five minutes,” Cayco said. “Now even those five minutes will be gone.” Ticket sales have suffered because of the disruption, he added. The volleyball competitions could ring in P3 million per game day during the finals.

The tournament was halted just before the Final Four, with Perpetual and St. Benilde running unbeaten streaks in the men’s and women’s divisions, respectively.

A lot of the financial hits will be shouldered by television station ABSCBN, which airs both the NCAA and UAAP volleyball tournaments.

“They (ABSCBN) could lose millions per game day that is not played,” a sports official told the Inquirer on the condition of anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak on the issue.

The NCAA isn’t worried about its share of the television money because, as Cayco put it, “the amount is almost paid in full anyway because it’s already late in the season.” For the UAAP, it is a bigger problem.

The volleyball tournament is one of three major profitbringing events of the prestigious collegiate league—the other two being basketball and cheerdance.

Thus, the UAAP board was noncommittal on a complete termination of the tournament.

Over the weekend, the UAAP announced the cancellation of all high school competitions but was only terminating the current formats of collegiate events in the hope that after the one-month quarantine imposed by the national government on Metro Manila in an attempt to control the spread of COVID19, it could resume with its volleyball tournaments.

No UAAP school has played more than two games so far this season.

The usual format is for teams to play 14 games each. But even if the UAAP gets to resume its season, it is unlikely that teams will play their full schedule after the board announced that it will reformat the league if ever it gets the green light to resume. The PBA, meanwhile,

had managed to play just a single game in its season-opening Philippine Cup when it announced its own indefinite suspension.

And like the UAAP and NCAA, its television partner will shoulder a lot of the financial impact.

“You’re talking of millions,” an Inquirer source said.

Like the UAAP and the NCAA, too, the PBA will suffer at the gates, although the impact can be softened by the fact that the league has never had a “hard” schedule because of its support to the national team. Meaning, it can make up for losses at the gates by rescheduling lost games sometime in the future.

PBA commissioner Willie Marcial confirmed this much when he told the Inquirer that the 45th season could end by March or April next year because of the current situation.

The UAAP and the NCAA won’t have that luxury to recoup losses at the gates.

Right now, the PBA isn’t worried much about its venues because it doesn’t pay for bookings.

“We just share the revenue with them (venue partners),” Marcial said, adding that Smart Araneta Coliseum and Mall of Asia Arena take 30 percent off the gate receipts per game day as part of the deal.

The players won’t have to worry because, as reported by the Inquirer earlier, teams will still pay their salaries regardless of the suspension of the season. It is a practice different from the NBA, where players will lose a fraction of their salary for every game not played.

Marcial admitted that like any other league, the PBA stands to lose a lot financially from the current standstill. He refused to say exactly how much but said the league will be without any revenue for the next month at least.

“It’s going to happen everywhere,” he said.

And there’s the trickle-down effect. Everyone whose income is dependent on games being played—venue ushers, security personnel, food vendors—will face a constricting economic situation.

Right now, that will pale in comparison to the bigger problem the pandemic has caused.

“It’s a small price to pay for the league as the country deals with the COVID-19,” Marcial said. “The health, safety and welfare of our players and fans are very important to the league.”

But somewhere in the hopefully near future, when the games resume again, there will be some reckoning that the leagues will face as they try to rebound from the effects of a global catastrophe. INQ

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