By Colin Salao
LOS ANGELES — In the Philippines, despite the NBA’s continued success, American football has been off the air since the NFL was dropped by TV5 after the 2017 season.
However, the NFL has found a following within the Filipinos in Los Angeles, host of Super Bowl LVI and home to 12% of the Filipinos in America. According to Filipino Cultural School board member Edgar Salmingo Jr., Filipinos have embraced how football games are an opportunity to gather family and friends together to feast, akin to the Filipino term salu-salo.
“Sometimes Filipinos just (want) an excuse to have a big gathering,” Salmingo said. “(Football) has the elements of what Filipino culture intends to bring out: bringing people together in your location and eating.”
The structure of the NFL season allows for its games to be more of a spectacle than those of other major American sports leagues. Each team plays just once a week over 18 weeks, and most games are scheduled on Sundays. Since the week’s rest day can be blocked off for football, a whole-day gathering to consume the NFL is a staple of American culture.
“Watching NFL RedZone, barbecuing and drinking beers is such an American thing, and I love it,” first-generation Filipino American Misha Reyes said.
The two cultures are bridged together when Filipino food is thrown in. “When it’s (the) Super Bowl, my titas and titos are always going to bring some sort of pancit or lechon,” Reyes said. Pancit is a traditional noodle dish in the Philippines usually topped with vegetables and seasoned with calamansi, while lechon is a roasted pig that’s normally present in big Filipino gatherings similar to turkey during American Thanksgiving.
But Filipinos have only embraced football when exposed to the influence in America. Kevin Hernandez’s father moved to the U.S. from the Philippines in 1980, but Hernandez said his dad was “definitely not” a football fan when he first arrived in Los Angeles.
“When he came here, he dove into all sports available,” said Hernandez, who credits his dad for making him a fan of multiple sports.
Roland De Leon — who moved to Glendale from Manila in May 2021 — has yet to appreciate football, admitting he did not know the Super Bowl was on until the morning of the game. But he says he’s been to a few Sunday gatherings when he’s seen the NFL playing on TV and thinks that with the amount of exposure he’s gotten to the sport, he’ll get into it in time.
“Back home, the only times I’ve ever seen football were online,” De Leon said. “Here, every bar you go to, every restaurant … you just walk in the mall and you’ll see people wearing (football) jerseys.”
While the NFL has put more of an emphasis on growing football outside the U.S., its lack of coverage in the Philippines indicates that American football has yet to make waves in the country despite how Westernized Philippine culture remains after the nearly five decades under U.S. rule in the early 20th century.
Salmingo and Hernandez said they believe it may be because of how difficult it is to play the sport due to the amount of equipment and players needed. Reyes said he thinks it may be because of the time difference because most NFL games start in the afternoon in the United States, which would be before dawn in the Philippines. And for die-hard football fan Chris Borromeo, the lack of international marketing targeted towards the Philippines may also be a reason.
However, if Los Angeles football fans are any indication, it seems Filipinos can easily appreciate football when introduced to the communal aspects of the game.
Colin Salao is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @colinsalao.