PFF one step closer to launching nationwide pro football league

MANILA, Philippines – A nationwide professional football league is in the works.

The Philippine Football Federation (PFF), led by general secretary Ed Gastanes and president Nonong Araneta, gave a comprehensive briefing on the planned league, Tuesday, September 6.

United Football League (UFL) team representatives were present to learn about the club licensing requirements, which would be a prerequisite for joining the new league.

"Community football is the future and this national league is a big step," said Loyola Meralco Sparks vice chairman Randy Roxas.

Here are the basics of what Filipino football fans will need to know.

The name. Gastanes said the league will be called the Philippines Football League (PFL). This was supposedly the most preferred name in a survey conducted by the Nielsen research firm last year.

The PFL will replace the UFL as the country's top tier of football.

The kickoff & the format. The league begins play in mid-March 2017 and must have at least 6 clubs who will represent communities.

It will be double round robin with home and away matches, plus a playoff phase afterwards involving the top 4 teams. No details were given on the format of the playoffs.

Gastanes added that there will be a knockout Cup competition with matches "interspersed" within the league schedule. Basically, it will follow the European model. 

Initially there will be only one division, but as the league expands, it is hoped that two tiers can form with promotion and relegation between them. There is talk that the UFL, sans teams that will go to the PFL, will carry on as a second-tier competition. 

The teams. Representatives from Loyola, Kaya, Ceres, Green Archers United, Agila-MSA, and Stallion were at the briefing. Global was not there but it's understood that they will take part. 

Each team was given a copy of the club licensing regulations. The requirements will likely include a home stadium, a licensed head coach, one or two youth teams, and a guarantee of continued financial support from sponsors. These are based on club licensing norms of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). 

The clubs have until the end of the year to study the licensing documents and apply.

Gastanes also said the PFL will be a fully professional league with both a salary cap and a salary floor, or minimum wage. Only 4 foreign players will be allowed in the roster and at least one must be from an AFC country. 

If the PFF cannot muster at least 6 teams then Gastanes said they may still have a league, but it cannot be considered a national league by the AFC. 

The cities. The participating clubs will be representing communities and the league will follow a home-and-away format. 

Ceres La Salle will be the team in Bacolod. That's about all that is sure as of the moment. Teams must attach themselves to a city or area and include the name of the area in their name, which would mean some teams might need to tweak their articles of incorporation. 

Araneta said the PFF will do a roadshow to pitch the league to cities in the Visayas and Mindanao. These areas could then either form a new side, enter an existing team, or adopt a current team from the UFL. 

One thing is very likely, though: most of the teams will probably be representing communities in and around Metro Manila, at least for the meantime. 

The Nielsen survey identified 14 areas in the Philippines that could support a pro football team. Aside from the expected places like Metro Manila, Iloilo, and Cebu, Pampanga and Zamboanga City were also surprisingly on the list. 

There is some speculation that Davao could also field a team.

Finances. Each team will have to pay a franchise fee to the corporation that will be created to manage the league. Gastanes would not divulge the amount at the press conference and he said the teams will be the first to know. The franchise fee, which will likely be substantial, may be paid in installments. 

It's widely believed that teams require tens of millions of pesos to run a competitive squad in the UFL. The travel to provincial areas for away games that this league would entail will likely increase expenses significantly. 

Broadcast partners. ABS-CBN has been involved with the national league task force since its inception a couple of years ago. That is no guarantee, however, that they will be the main broadcast partner. 

Gastanes said the league will offer a tender on the broadcast rights and any network is welcome to make an offer. 

No possible corporate sponsors were mentioned in the meeting.

There is much work to be done, but no doubt, a new era of Philippine club football is upon us. –

Follow Bob on Twitter at @PassionateFanPH