The United Football League is my favorite Football League in the world. It's the only one I get to watch live every week. The only one with Pinoy players in it, and the only one where I get to personally interact with players and coaches.
Judging from the attendances in recent matches, interest has been picking up. But it's not enough.
The country's top flight league has to be sustainable and profitable for the long-term growth of the game. Here are some ideas to push it along that path.
Play matches in different venues – The league has a brand-spanking new venue with The Emp in McKinley Hill. But I believe that occasionally it should play games elsewhere to bring the excitement of the league all over Metro Manila. Ideally they should do this all over the country, but it just isn't economically feasible.
During the UFL Cup last year the league played a pair of games in Marikina. The pitch looked patchy but was in fact smooth and flat. I wish they would go back.
Another possible venue: Ateneo's re-done Erenchun Field, now known as the Moro Lorenzo Field. There are some teething problems with its bermuda but if they rest it, it could be viable.
For the next UAAP season FEU's Quezon City campus will have a new turf. And how about De La Salle Santiago Zobel's new field in Alabang?
There's also a one patch of green in Manila that could certainly host a game: The Luneta. For sure the league could carve out a 68m by 105m piece of it for a game?
Now that would be historic. Football near where Jose Rizal was executed.
Feature the goals on Youtube- The biggest draw of the league are its goals. Right now that is all that most new fans can appreciate about the game. And many of the scores are breathtaking. I think the UFL should send a professional crew to videotape every single game, even the ones not televised. Then every single goal should appear on the league's You Tube channel. (Currently it doesn't seem to have one. )
The league should share the highlights of every game, plus clips of the better individual goals on social media. It will be a simple and inexpensive way to drum up interest.
TV5 used to do this regularly on its youtube channel, but no longer it seems to. And I wasn't fond of the editing. There would oftentimes be a flash of light just as the ball would be kicked, which I found annoying and unnecessary.
AKTV's youtube channel is currently all Basketball.
I used to take video highlights and hang them up on my Youtube page but the league hasn't requested in ages so I stopped.
Currently the hero of Philippine Football videography is the mysterious “k0mbatsero” who records highlights (and even full games) and shares links on Twitter and on his Facebook page.
If I were the UFL I'd do what k0mbatsero does, only make it official.
Another idea: Goal of the Week competitions or promos. That could get people liking and sharing the clips of the goals in the hopes of winning something.
Tweak the Super Cup to make the Division 1 more compelling - I am told that there will be a Super Cup after the league that will involve all of the Division 1 clubs, as well a perhaps one foreign team and possibly Ceres, the champions of the Smart PFF Club Championship. I would do it a bit differently.
The problem with having a league system without playoffs is that if you aren't in a title race nor a relegation battle, then there really isn't that much to play for. You're in a grey zone playing games that don't mean all that much.
That's why we should rip a page from the UEFA Champions League, which gets the top four teams from the top nations in Europe for that competition. That makes midtable competition for that spot ever-so-more intense.
We can do the same in the UFL by limiting the Super Cup to eight teams and only getting the top four Division 1 clubs. That will make the jockeying for that fourth slot in the middle of the pack a competition in itself. This can create even more interest in the league.
The other four spots can be apportioned like this: top two Div 2 teams, one foreign club, and Ceres. Then have quarters and semis as two legged playoffs, and a bongga one-game final.
Have the U23 Azkals play in UFL cups – Malaysia and Singapore get their youth national teams to play in the upper leagues of their Football systems all season long. We should do something similar for the U23 SEA Games team.
PFF President Nonong Araneta says that the U23 team may play in the Independence Cup and perhaps the Peace Cup. That's good but I say the more the many-er. More competitive games will help the team gel and harden them for what promises to be a torrid campaign in Myanmar.
I think the Super Cup will be a great preparation for the team, as well as the UFL Cup as well.
Put a cap on the number of foreigners in every team. Foreigners are needed in the UFL. They tend to be very technically gifted players who raise the game for everyone.
But right now the league has no limit on foreign players. It will change soon and it should.
Filipinos like to see Filipino athletes succeed. If Pinoys want to watch foreigners play Football, they can just watch La Liga or the Premier league on TV.
And yet the issue is sensitive because Pinoy Football owes the expat community a lot for keeping the game alive here. It would be ungrateful to shut out those who kept the flame burning for so long. Case in point: the Nomads pitch was the home of the UFL for a long time before Umak came along.
At the very least I'd like to limit the number of foreigners to a maximum of five on the field at any time. I think any team can do that immediately.
Gue David has a swell idea: teams that go above the limit on foreigners pay a luxury tax, and the money goes to grassroots development in underprivileged Football hotbeds. That way everybody wins.
Have a Futsal mini cup during the rainy season – Futsal can be the gateway for kids, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to play the sport. Football pitches are rare in the Philippines, but not basketball courts where Futsal can be played.
The UFL can do a short mini-cup, a simple round-robin during the wet season and maybe televise highlights. The sight of young Azkals fans seeing their heroes playing indoors should inspire them.
When you grow Futsal you bring the game to Filipinos who would never consider playing it before.
Require a youth team for all Div 1 clubs. A youth team doesn't just get kids involved in the game. It also helps the club be sustainable in the long run. Plus I am told that this is a prerequisite for international club competitions.
Right now Kaya seems to be ahead of the curve on this one. They have a great youth system with a club called Kaya Elite that plays in competitions like the Weekend Futbol League. Nomads also has a youth team in the WFL, the Nomads Braves. I hear that Philippine Army has a dependent's team that is pretty good.
The youth/reserve teams do not need to be big operations. They can be simple and inexpensive. I can see Stallion or Air Force doing youth programs in Barotac Nuevo that involve 2 training sessions a week after school. That would be enough.
The next logical step: having a youth league for these squads.
PART TWO OF THIS BLOG POST COMING SOON.
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.