A deeper look: United City’s downfall and the PFL’s financial shortcomings

A deeper look: United City’s downfall and the PFL’s financial shortcomings

On Feb. 16, 2023, United City Football Club (UCFC) released a statement about the club’s withdrawal for the remainder of the Philippines Football League (PFL) season. The decision to back out for the rest of the season materialized amid a financial limbo and a legal battle between the club and Singapore-based investor Riau Capital Live.

“UCFC had signed a major agreement with RCL, a Singapore-based real estate and sports investment entity in mid-2021, which the same company finally defaulted under in October 2022,” the statement read.

“Since RCL also failed to honor the agreed final settlement deadlines earlier this month, it has now forced UCFC to temporarily discontinue its professional football team operations and to withdraw its team from the remainder of the 2022/23 PFL season.”

Since then, more information has surfaced about UCFC’s financial trouble and the overall financial stability of the PFL.

Sources who have been granted anonymity have spoken about these issues.

Formerly Ceres-Negros FC, the club was acquired by Emirati-Philippine sports marketing firm MMC Sportz Asia and rebranded as United City FC in 2020. MMC was previously involved with Ceres’ rival Global Football Club in 2019. The two parted ways after one season due to internal issues at Global. Like UCFC, Global withdrew from professional competition due to financial trouble after the 2019 season.

Sixteen out of Ceres’ 21 players resigned during its transition into UCFC. In 2020, the club, under its new name and ownership, won its fourth consecutive league title. Then the descent started, or at least became visible to the public.

According to sources, the club was financially stable under the Ceres banner.

“There were no problems. Sometimes, we even got paid in advance. When it became UCFC, it started getting problematic,” as per source. Another source reported how club president Eric Gottschalk lacked clarity with staff and players about the club’s financial situation.

“He (Gottschalk) has been using the same excuses for two years now with no outcome,” per a source.

“Most of the time, he gets his own stories twisted and loses track of what he said. His stories don’t add up and don’t make sense.There are lots of things he sent players/staff in the WhatsApp group to prove that payments or checks are coming in, but they never actually did.”

According to a source, UCFC’s players have been free agents since last November, the same month they released all of their staff members. The same source stated that UCFC’s front office waited a few months to release a statement to buy more time but knew from the beginning that it would be to no avail.

An unnamed official representative from the club has since denied these statements and described them as “exaggerated.”

“Until the end of last year, players have received their full pay,” per a club representative.

“Yes, sometimes they were delayed, but within Fifa guidelines, they all received their pay... The club was always in direct touch with the team and acted in good faith — balancing the interest of the players and club. All the decisions were made with the knowledge and agreement of the players.”

“Any outstanding [payments] will be settled as soon as our court case is over. This applies to current and former players,” the club representative added.

Seeing a powerhouse club such as UCFC standing on financial quicksand raises questions about other clubs competing in the PFL. According to a league source, there are clubs that do not pay players at all and others that promise wages but fail to deliver. Sources report that some players pay for expenses out of pocket without their club’s support. The roster sizes in the PFL vary between teams of 18 to 35 players, which can be a clear indicator of pay management across the league. As per contracts, sources have reported that some short-term contracts and having no contracts at all are common among players.

“In general, the clubs are currently not able to generate income from its football operation,” a club representative stated.

“Therefore, all clubs are currently on very tight budgets and rely on owners supporting their operations... Traditional matchday revenues are not explored. Fans are not watching/paying for tickets and there are no media and broadcast partners to promote football and provide valuable advertising platforms to attract sponsors.”

The PFL is still in its foundational years and establishing a football league is no easy task, especially in a market like the Philippines where basketball is a religion and football remains an afterthought. At present, the league is in full swing even without one of its biggest teams.

However, facing financial turbulence this early results in uncertainty for the future.

“The clubs are working to change this model and we are all hopeful that the 2023-24 season will see major changes.”

(Leocciano Callao was born and raised in the Philippines but moved to the United States in 2016. He is currently a sports journalist based in New York City, an editor for FanSided’s NBA website, HoopsHabit, and a contributor for FanSided MMA.)


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