By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Reporter

Volleyball is no longer an emerging sport.Beach-1

For the past decade, it has become one of the Philippines’ mainstream sports, attracting not only players and fans but businesses as well.

Thanks to its popularity, companies have capitalized on volleyball’s viability as a platform for sponsorships and promoting market awareness.

“Volleyball has moved beyond being an emerging sport and is now very popular and things are looking up as everybody is on board. From the schools, suppliers, sponsors and other stakeholders, everybody wants to be part of it,” said Jose A. Romasanta, president of the Larong Volleyball sa Pilipinas, Inc. (LVPI), the national sports association in charge of volleyball.

Local volleyball gets global recognition

With local volleyball in the “pink of health,” the LVPI official said that international volleyball governing bodies have recognized the efforts of the local association of the sport.

PSL-1“One key result of volleyball’s resurgence in the country is the recognition that we are getting from the Asian Volleyball Confederation (AVC) and the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB or the Fédération Internationale de Volleyball). Prior to this we did not have such kind of support,” said Mr. Romasanta, also the first vice-president of the Philippine Olympic Committee.

“The organizations have recognized the organizational structure that the country has with volleyball and the tremendous activity presently happening here and they want us on board as they see us an asset. Which is why we have been granted hosting duties for events and we have been given good feedback,” he added.

Later this year, the Philippines will host the Asian Women’s Club Volleyball Championship in September and FIVB Volleyball Women’s Club World Championship in October, which are opportunities, Mr. Romasanta said, to further boost the sport’s popularity as well as showcase the phenomenal drawing power it has built in the last several years.

V-League started by basketball stakeholders

Talking about the growth of local volleyball will not be complete without the mention of the Shakey’s V-League, whose establishment was instrumental in further boosting the sport’s awareness.

Established in 2004 by a group of people who, interestingly enough, were more associated with basketball, the V-League has done more than its fair share in promoting the sport.

“We are now on our 13th season. The V-League was actually formed by basketball people. The late Jun Bernardino, Moying Martilino, Ricky Palou, Chito Loyzaga, Sonny Barrios and Norman Black, they were the founding members,” said Shakey’s V-League long-time Commissioner Tony Boy Liao, recounting how the league began.

“They started a basketball league, the inter-high school league, but it did not do well because we already have so many basketball leagues. Ricky Palou then suggested to the group why not go into volleyball so they asked me to join and be a commissioner,” he added.

The V-League began as a women’s collegiate league with teams coming from the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP), National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the Cebu Schools Athletic Foundation (CESAFI).

Corporations welcome

In 2011, it began to welcome corporate and non-collegiate teams which furthered its fan base while also giving participating teams exposure to whatever products they want to promote.

Among the corporations that played or still playing in the league include Kia, PLDT, Maynilad, Smart Communications, Sandugo, and Fourbees.

Club teams include the cities of Davao, Laoag and Baguio, the provinces of Iriga and Cagayan Valley, Philippine Army, Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine National Police.

Among those who recently competed in the Shakey’s V-League Open Conference were University of the Philippines, National University, Baguio, Iriga, Laoag, Philippine Air Force, Bali Pure, and Pocari Sweat.

League officials said the Shakey’s brand, too, has become synonymous to volleyball and its success.

Mr. Liao did not provide figures on how the league has grown in 13 years but he did mention that it can be gauged at least in two ways — demand for tournaments that they put up, number of teams which want to join, and the extensive television coverage they have been getting.Beach-3

“When we started, we only had one conference then two conferences and now three, so that’s one way it has grown. Before we were being covered by two channels now we are with ABS-CBN and being covered live and on prime time, and that is success for us,” the V-League commissioner said.

Mr. Liao also added that the league has also become a venue where collegiate players, both female and male, can go after and continue playing while earning a decent living.

Following in the footsteps of the Shakey’s V-League in helping grow the sport of volleyball is the Philippine Super Liga (PSL) which was formed in 2013.

A semi-professional corporate club volleyball league, its team members include Cignal TV, Inc., F2 Global Logistics, Inc., United Asia Automotive Group (Foton), Petron Corp. and ARC Refreshments Corp. (RC Cola), among others.

Much like the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA), the PSL provides its teams an advertising platform.

Philippine Super Liga games are being broadcast by Sports5.

Ticket sales, TV ratings go up

Interest in volleyball has also increased in the collegiate level where it has been one of the marquee events, particularly in the UAAP.

During game days, gate receipts of volleyball have, at times, beaten those of basketball and even those of the PBA, insiders said.

Moreover, television ratings of volleyball games have been “phenomenal,” proving that volleyball indeed is now a mainstream sport.

UAAP-1ABS-CBN Sports, the sports division of media conglomerate ABS-CBN Corp., has benefited from the reception that its UAAP broadcast portfolio – including basketball and volleyball – has been receiving from the audience.

“The UAAP is a prime broadcasting property for ABS-CBN Sports because it allows us to draw new audiences. That’s valuable to a broadcaster. Every new audience that you able to draw into your network is in the long run will help in the total balance of viewership,” said Dino Laurena, ABS-CBN Integrated Sports head.

No figures were provided but in the financial statement submitted by ABS-CBN to the Securities and Exchange Commission for the first six months ending June 30, 2015, “Total revenues of narrowcast and sports was up by 25.7%,” which it describes as a significant increase.

Over at the NCAA, owing to the sport’s popularity, volleyball has been made a mandatory sport along with basketball, swimming, and athletics.

“The NCAA’s goal is to increase participation not just in a few sports but all and the NCAA plans to make it all mandatory sports in the future. It started with volleyball first because all schools are already active when it comes to volleyball,” said Season 92 Mancom member Peter Cayco of Arellano University of the league’s decision.

Beach volleyball also on the rise

Volleyball’s ascent as a sport of choice for Filipinos is not only confined to the indoor variant as it has already spilled over to beach volleyball which is also on the rise.

A number of organized beach volleyball leagues have been established in the last couple of years, including by the PSL, which counts among its competing teams Sporteum Philippines (Accel), Benguet Eletric Cooperative, Cignal TV, United Asia Automotive Group, Inc. (Foton), Gilligan’s Restaurant, Manila Electric Co., Petron, Federated Distributors, Inc. (Philips Gold), F2 Global Logistics, Inc. and ARC Refreshments Corp. (RC Cola).

The latest entrant to the burgeoning beach volleyball scene is Beach Volleyball Republic (BVR), an organization formed last year by former Ateneo female volleyball players. Among BVR’s mission is to further the development and growth of beach volleyball in the country.

And in just short a time the group is happy of the inroads that it has made with the tournaments it has set up done in partnership with the likes of ABS-CBN, PLDT, and the SM Group.

This is apart from the tie-ups it has made with local sponsors in places it is staging its events like Boracay, La Union, Negros Occidental, and Cagayan.

“We are happy to partner with BVR and other volleyball leagues. We are always interested in showing emerging sports. It’s a natural progression that we go to beach volleyball,” said Jojo Neri-Estacio, ABS-CBN Sports+Action channel head, of their decision to add BVR in their portfolio of sports.

“Indoor is already organized and we want beach volleyball to also grow. It also complements our portfolio of sports and we also believe it will also help others outside of Metro Manila,” she added.

Bullish under Duterte

With the popularity of volleyball growing by leaps and bounds, the challenge now is how to sustain it and grow it in turn.

“Volleyball’s financial sustainability is not a problem [moving forward] as everybody is interested in it,” said Mr. Romasanta.

What is important now, according to the LVPI president, is how the growth of the sport is being “nourished,” including getting new talents which, at the end of the day, are its prime commodities.

“The PSL and V-League have complemented the growth of the sport by exposing it to more people. But new talents should be cultivated so as to make player turnover more seamless,” Mr. Romasanta said.

“Exposure should also move outside of Metro Manila and Luzon to areas in the Visayas and Mindanao. Grassroots development of the sport also has to be promoted in a far-ranging scale,” he added.

Mr. Romasanta also expressed bullishness that volleyball’s growth and popularity would be sustained under the administration of President Rodrigo R. Duterte.

“Sports in general should get further support under Duterte as he is a sportsman and recognizes the importance of sports in the development of the well-being of people as attested by what he has done in Davao,” he said.

For its part, the Shakey’s V-League remains committed to continue what they have started – promote volleyball and bring competition that that every stakeholder, from the fans, sponsors and teams, will appreciate and enjoy.

“This is where it all started. Before volleyball was not given much attention but now it is almost at par as far as following and interest go with basketball. Volleyball is here to stay,” Mr. Liao said.

Michael Angelo S. Murillo (@bakel3210 on Twitter) is a BusinessWorld reporter who also writes a column about sports. He also covers lifestyle and motoring events every now and then.