UAAP Women’s Volleyball: 19,638


According to sources, the number of paying patrons that witnessed the second round matchup between league-leading De La Salle University (DLSU) and second running Ateneo de Manila University (AdMU) and its curtain-raiser last Saturday at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Pasay City is ranked fourth all-time in the history of Philippine sports for the biggest attendance in an indoor venue. Unless official numbers surface from Game 5 of the 1981 Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Open Conference finals between the Crispa Redmanizers and the Toyota Super Corollas and the 1982 Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) Youth championship game between the Philippines and China, the figures I’ve dug up are binding—for now.

The other three?

1. 2012 PBA Governors Cup Finals—Game 7 (Araneta Coliseum), September 5, 2012: The Rain or Shine Elasto Painters cop their first ever PBA championship by going the full route against the B-Meg Llamados.

Total Attendance: 21,853

2. 2012 PBA Commissioners Cup Finals—Game 7 (Araneta Coliseum), May 6, 2012: The Llamados also went the distance a few months prior, but successfully conquered the highly-favored Talk n’ Text Tropang Texters behind an epic performance from import Denzel Bowles (29 pts., 21 rebs.).

Total Attendance: 21,046

3. 2012 UAAP Men’s Basketball Finals—Game 2 (Araneta Coliseum), October 11, 2012: Ateneo wins its historic fifth consecutive men’s basketball championship under Head Coach Norman Black at the expense of the tough University of Santo Tomas (UST) via a squeaker of a final score, 65-62. The Blue Eagles swept the series.

Total Attendance: 20,186

Note that the indoor sports venues in the country have evolved in size and comfort-level since the old days and due to television exposures, the sports events that draw a live crowd has risen considerably than in recent years. What is the common denominator between the three above-mentioned cage attractions? They were all games which decided the champion. They were all finals matches, and rightfully should command the attendance it generated.

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What was at stake last Saturday at the MOA Arena? Besides a better win-loss card, absolutely nothing.

Yet 19,638 people crammed into one of the most state-of-the-art indoor venues in the country. For what?

“The Mall of Asia Arena, with its massive all-glass façade, can accommodate a seating capacity of 15,000, with a full-house capacity of 20,000,” the arena’s official website describes. This means that they almost tested the limits of their published claims. This means that if there was any untoward incident, the casualties would have been astronomical. This means a regular season women’s volleyball game that has no championship implications can now rival a basketball finals series; a sport where a multitude of sponsors prefer to pour in their marketing funds over any other sport in the archipelago.

It may be time for a new Focused-Group-Discussion (FGD) and advertising market research because apparently volleyball is now going heads-up against basketball and may actually split the market.

Last Saturday, volleyball won…by a full lap, apparently.

I have been privileged to be associated with women’s volleyball for the last five years as a broadcaster for the Shakey’s V-League. I boarded the ship at the midway point of its voyage. I’ve seen how these young ladies spill their guts before a collective audience of about four hundred, sometimes. I’ve learned to appreciate their efforts in a new respect because not only are they exceptional athletes, but also highly marketable individuals. When I was tasked to join the Sports Vision Marketing Team in 2009, almost all the potential sponsors we approached turned us down.

One advertising executive even told me once, “You guys can only bring in a good crowd during the finals. The day one of your regular season games can outdo a PBA game in terms of attendance is the day the advertising world freezes over.”

The attendance numbers from last Saturday’s double-header at Araneta was never released and all efforts to find them on my part have been fruitless. But looking at the crowd on TV during the Ginebra-Air21 tiff, I can surmise that it was more than a few audience members off from that UAAP women’s volleyball twin-bill at the MOA Arena. Is the advertising industry now in need of thawing?

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Women’s volleyball has now levelled-up. If Ateneo and La Salle do go on to clash for the title again, the MOA Arena may not be able to accommodate the influx of people. Maybe not even Araneta (official published seating capacity is 16,500, which has been exceeded many times). We may even experience what Jerry Jones did for the NBA’s 2010 All-Star game where it was held at the Cowboys Stadium—an American Football stadium—and a grand total of 108,713 people easily set a league record for the mid-season classic.

But imagine a bunch of college girls commanding that much of a following for such a move to even be envisioned. That is a testament on the popularity of the sport that started as a minor attraction.

Facts-wise last Saturday (February 8th), UST (7-5) defeated the National University Lady Bulldogs (6-6) in four sets: 25-21, 25-21, 23-25. 25-17 while DLSU (12-1) swept Ateneo (9-4) 25-19, 25-23, 25-21. The results were expected heading into match day. The Lady Spikers’ thrashing of the Lady Eagles was surprising. The UST-NU game carried an anticipated outcome in terms of it being a closely contested encounter. It was just another pair of matches in the ongoing 75th UAAP season.

Yet, 19,638 paid to enter the venue, watch, cheer and become part of history. Phenomenal.

“As a guy who learned to play volleyball before basketball and tennis, I was giddy with the news that the venue was sold out,” ABS-CBN sports broadcaster Boom Gonzales confided to me after the game. “But to actually see, here and experience it, I was truly, sincerely overwhelmed. I've been around huge crowds before but this was truly different. It was special. And it's not just the number, but the electricity that it actually generated. (It was) a momentous and historic moment not only for the Philippine sport but for Philippine sports in general.”

I can relate. I’ve had the opportunity to cover some big sporting events where the venue was close to overflowing, but I will never know what Boom and the rest of the people experienced last Saturday. It must have been a magical moment for all.

Looks like another banner season for the volleybelles of the UAAP. However it turns out at the end of it all, women’s volleyball has now taken the country (and the social media world) in its grasp and the compelling story of its budding rivalry against basketball has just entered a new chapter. Let’s all bear witness to how it all unfolds.

Follow Noel Zarate on Twitter: @NoelZarate