Making the Case for Women’s Sports Part 5: Women’s Sports in the Philippines

Health in the Philippines

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), women are much more likely to be physically inactive and at higher risk of diabetes and other health related issues than men in the Philippines. The percentage of men that are inactive in the Philippines is 11.5%. The percentage of women that are physically inactive is 17.3%, a significant difference in part due to differing levels of participation in sports that starts at the youth level. Unsurprisingly due to this difference, women are more likely to be overweight (24.7% vs 19.9%), more likely to be obese (6.1% vs 3.4%), and more likely to have diabetes (6.1% vs 5.5%) than men in the Philippines. Diabetes in particular is a problem on the rise in the Philippines. WHO estimates that over 7,000,000 Filipinos will have diabetes by 2030, placing the Philippines in the top 10 countries for number of diabetes cases. An increase in sports participation can help lower the number of diabetes cases, because exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of staving off diabetes. This is particularly important for women and girls in the Philippines, based on the higher levels of obesity and level of physical inactivity.

Fandom in the Philippines

The Philippines has a very unique sporting environment. Men’s basketball is by far the most popular sport, but women’s volleyball is arguably the 2nd most popular sport depending on how you rank boxing. Women’s volleyball is growing quickly in popularity and in some ways is already rivaling the popularity of the PBA. The Philippines has a very monolithic popular culture, meaning that if you achieve fame in the Philippines it is likely to be nationwide fame rather than just regional fame. Philippine athletes have the ability to rapidly become household names in the Philippines, particularly if they compete at a high level internationally. This is true for both men and women athletes. Success as an athlete in the Philippines provides those athletes with a number of opportunities, particularly for women athletes, due to their recent emergence and high demand for women idols in Philippine pop culture. Individual women athletes have found quite a bit of success in the Philippines in recent years, and will find more success in the future. Hidilyn Diaz, who won a silver medal in weightlifting at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, has become a national celebrity, her face appearing in newspapers and advertisements everywhere. Rachel Anne Daquis, Alyssa Valdez, Mika Reyes and a number of other volleyball players have become household names with the rise of women’s volleyball. Their success in the sport translates into opportunities for them in other aspects of pop culture, such as modeling, hosting, advertising, and other business opportunities.

Finances in the Philippines

The Philippines market is particularly adaptable when it comes to how to spend advertising money. Social media has exceptionally strong outreach potential in the Philippines, and businesses are experimenting with how they market their products through women athletes. As an example, GlutaMAX has a partnership with the De La Salle University – College of Saint Benilde women’s volleyball team, with each player occasionally making Instagram posts to their thousands of followers about how they use the product. Fashion, clothing, shoe, makeup, travel companies in the Philippines all have various sponsorships and partnerships with various volleyball players, teams, and leagues which the players then advertise in various capacities on social media networks. The price for sponsorships such as this can be quite low depending on the athlete and league. Furthermore, this type of advertising and sponsorship is quite new, and the market is not saturated. Many teams and athletes and leagues have yet to take on sponsors for social media posts and would likely welcome having financial support. There are plenty of opportunities in this growing field, especially for teams outside of the PBA, PSL, and Shakey’s V-League. Brand awareness can increase quickly nationwide in the Philippines on the coattails of athletes that are rising in popularity.

Media in the Philippines

It was only in recent years that volleyball has become the popular viewing sport that it is now in the Philippines. National TV coverage played a huge part in this, with the Shakey’s V-League. Prior to national TV coverage, volleyball was a fairly common sport to play, but volleyball players received very little financial support and received very little media coverage. Currently, men’s basketball and women’s volleyball receive very excellent media coverage. Sports outside of men’s basketball and women’s volleyball however struggle to receive any media attention. Outside of these top 2 sports, there is a lot of room for improvement for the quality of sports media coverage. And it will be difficult for any sport to gain popularity without a strong increase in media attention, similar to how women’s volleyball gained a massive boost in popularity in just a few short years.

The idol culture of the Philippines, the tendency for young Filipinos to become huge fans of a celebrity they like, particularly girls, allows for athletes in the Philippines to garner a lot of media attention. The coverage of men’s and women’s sports are not equal, but when a women athlete starts to gain popularity, the rise in media attention is exponential, and can often surpass the attention given to male athletes in the Philippines. It is difficult for women’s sports to gain the media’s eye in the Philippines, but women’s volleyball has shown that that women’s sports can become extremely popular in the Philippines very quickly, rivaling and surpassing many men’s sports along the way. The idol culture creates a high demand for role models and successful women to attain celebrity status. Sports are an excellent source of hard-working, determined, and physically attractive women that Philippine culture seeks to place in idol status. While traditionally beautiful women athletes attract the most followers, idol culture isn’t limited to traditionally beautiful women. And each of the most successful local women’s volleyball players have large groups of core fans, regardless of their appearances.

Future in the Philippines

Men’s basketball only appears to be growing in popularity in the Philippines, especially now that the Philippine national basketball team has enough talent to qualify for international competitions regularly. Similarly, volleyball still appears on the rise, with the talent of local players increasing every year. Alyssa Valdez is making the jump to competing internationally at a professional level with a move to the Thai professional volleyball league, and is likely to be joined there by other local players from the PSL. International success always bodes well for the popularity and financial success of Philippine athletes and the sport they compete in. A couple of sports that seem most likely to break out into more popularity in the Philippines include: women’s basketball, due to the growing interest of girls to play the sport and popularity of men’s basketball, however they will likely need international success before any following starts building; and men’s soccer, due to the international popularity of the sport, making it an easy sport to start following. Martial arts is another set of potential sports that can start receiving more attention if a Philippine athlete finds international success at the SEA games or Olympics. Media coverage and social media networks will play a huge role in what maintains popularity in the Philippines and what becomes popularity in the future. Any sport can break out in popularity in the Philippines if an individual athlete becomes more popular, such as the brief bump in interest in men’s soccer whenever one of the Azkals starts dating an actress. For a women’s sport to receive a similar type of boost in popularity might be dependent on an athlete with beauty queen style looks to catch the eye of media publications. That seems to be the pinnacle of female popularity in the Philippines, because of the beauty queen and idol celebrity culture, which in part explains the success of Rachel Anne Daquis and Alyssa Valdez. But to become a mainstay in popularity, there must be success at the international level or a steady and massive increase in media coverage of the sport.

More and more colleges are expanding their athletic programs and fielding more teams in more sports. This indicates that more students are requesting to have school teams in more sports as a service. More interest in sports will improve the overall health of students, which will hopefully be an attitude towards health they carry on into their adult lives and share to others. Participation in varsity team sports is seen as extremely positive by employers in the Philippines, because of the life and business skills that can be learned in team sports environments.

The Philippines is growing as a sporting culture. Youth sports participation is on the rise. There seems to still be a lot of resistance towards girls participating in sports, particularly in the provinces where attitudes are more traditional and conservative. But those attitudes are slowly changing, especially with better access to the internet, the rise of women’s volleyball, the increase of popularity and idolization of women athletes, and the growing availability of organized girls sports in schools. There is still a long way to go, and change can be very slow at times, but there are already many successes that have occurred in recent years, and there is a lot of potential for the future of women’s sports in the Philippines.

This is part 5 of a 6 part articles series. You can view the rest of the series “Making the Case for Women’s Sports” here:
Part 1: The value of girls and women playing sports
Part 2: Being a fan of women’s sports
Part 3: Financing women’s sports
Part 4: Media coverage of women’s sports
Part 5: Women’s sports in the Philippines
Part 6: Personal note “It’s just a game”

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