Halftime Thoughts: Does online live streaming affect the UAAP’s venue accessibility?

The UAAP offered fans improved live streaming but still limited sports broadcasts, affecting the growth of collegiate sports in the Philippines.

Following the denial of the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise, the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) has decided to move to another broadcast network to continue the live streaming of several collegiate games in the country. This sudden shift happened at the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when almost everyone—from the board, teams, and production staff—had no clear idea of when collegiate sporting events would eventually return. 

However, after extensive planning and preparation, the UAAP made its highly-awaited comeback in 2022 for Season 84—on Cignal TV. This paved the way for an entirely new viewing experience as fans and casual viewers alike were introduced to the efficiency of live streaming that did not rely on a cable television channel. 

Through this newly-introduced channel, fans could watch games anytime and anywhere in the country, even through their mobile devices. The league entered a new post-pandemic era with a channel that also offered games from previous seasons and a dedicated app that featured exclusive footage, including pregame preparations and behind-the-scenes content of the athletes. Although these did give fans a renewed viewing experience, these platforms are not as accessible to a broader reach of viewers due to the limited availability of UAAP broadcasts and accessibility to the said livestreams. 

UAAP fans and dedicated viewers are forced explore various ways to watch their favorite sports and games whether online or live.

Scarce availability 

Despite having streaming applications like Cignal Play and Pilipinas Live, there are still limitations in terms of the availability of sports broadcasts and streams. Take, for example, the UAAP Season 86 Swimming Tournament, where only the event results were posted at the end of each day. Some teams got creative and would hold a Facebook live stream of their respective swimmers for a short period of time.  

In some cases, however, only the Final Four or the Finals are streamed online, which was the case for the Softball and Baseball tournaments. The scarcity of live streams made it even more difficult to access games and follow a team’s journey during the season. The lack of readily available live streams for many sports means game highlights are often missed by fans. This limited access hinders the growth of these sports in our country. A thriving collegiate sports culture, especially in the UAAP, depends on passionate communities and supporters, and this sense of passion is ignited by witnessing the action and excitement of the match itself.  

By making the games readily available to viewers, networks can significantly increase interest in the sport. Instead of solely focusing on already-established popular UAAP sporting events, networks should consider strategically broadcasting these games to cultivate a wider fanbase. Exposure to less famous sports can be the catalyst that propels them toward possible mainstream popularity in the country. We know this to be true because this was the story of how UAAP Women’s Volleyball became more popular in the country. When the tournament’s games were officially televised in the late 2010s, many people were immediately drawn to watching the sport; now, more people continue to tune in, and the top players of the sport have become household names. 

Creativity in streaming 

Fans still do crowd around a screen to watch games—but now, instead of a television broadcast, they now look for live streaming services. It is a running question if it really is the best option. Cable subscriptions are not a given for every fan; However, these new avenues come with their own challenges, as many fans have been creative in staying updated with the action.  

Some UAAP fans follow private social media accounts that live stream the games for them to support their teams, with the risk of being copyrighted in the middle of a crucial moment in the game. Other fans rely on live tweets from news outlets and fan accounts online. This also gives way to community-driven watch parties within university campuses or communities, usually done only during popular games as well.

These challenges pose a larger gap in following the journey of a team during the league. Given that current viable options are paid live-streaming services, this is not readily available to everyone, especially if it is only offered locally. Even if it is offered nationwide, not all fans can commit to a monthly subscription over the seven-month duration of the UAAP. The fans’ creativity only shows the challenges surrounding streaming availability and occasional issues surrounding applications where these live streams are available and how this can be an avenue to look at what can be improved on to give UAAP fans a better viewing experience in the upcoming UAAP season. 

Access to success 

Developing a broader audience would mean that there would be more ways to tune in to a tournament and follow their journey to working for a championship. Broadcast networks have the opportunity to enrich sporting communities in the country by making diverse sports available for every Filipino to watch, not only settling on volleyball and basketball to be included in television time slots. Current UAAP stars can become role models for young, aspiring athletes, motivating them to strive for excellence and eventually join the league themselves. This creates a continuous cycle of inspiration, ensuring a pipeline of eager athletes for generations to come. 

Fans contribute a lot to the league as they fill up venues to showcase their school’s passion and pride. Even in virtual spaces, they occupy a space to express their love for the team. This amplifies the energy which the athletes can draw extra motivation from to win the game, as well as the chance to see their supporters up close and personal. 

There is nothing quite like experiencing a game live: in the physical venue, fans on the edge of their seats, the vibration of the arena from the loud cheers, and the sheer adrenaline of seeing it all face-to-face; those tuned in online, meanwhile, cannot take their eyes off the screen while the players on the court are all determined to win. An experience like this can be a new casual viewer’s first experience that eventually draws them into the sport either to become a fan or to gain enough interest that they’d learn it for themselves. 

By giving access to collegiate leagues such as the UAAP to a wide range of fans—local and international ones—sporting teams can gain the support and traction that they need to display their talents that may inspire the next generation of athletes.

Mikaela Vallesteros

By Mikaela Vallesteros

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