cost to stitch up a wounded cock: 200 pesos ($4.50)


A wing beating, head-thrusting, leg-kicking explosion of animal fury so pure, so absolute, and in its own way so beautiful, as to be almost abstract, a Platonic concept of hate.
– Clifford Geertz


Sport is perhaps the ‘collective doing’ par excellence. It’s impossible to fully understand society without an appreciation of the role sport plays in shaping identity. The anthropologist Clifford Geertz called it ‘deep play’. A nice way of saying that sport helps us to dramatise and re-enact the values that define us.

This is important stuff for brands. Sport sponsorship commands a huge slice of global advertising spend. $55.7 billion dollars were spent in 2015[1], which is close to 10% of ALL ad spending over that same period. Amongst the top 50 spenders you will find the likes of AT&T,  Apple, Nike and most of the top car brands.

It’s big business so getting it right is all about making the right connection and understanding what sport means to people. It’s also about looking at the relationships people form around it and how it weaves itself into their lives.

What’s Sabong all about?

Our encounter with Sabong took place in one of the many official arena’s that can be found in Manila. There are roughly 2,500 such arenas in the Philippines as a whole. This does not include the innumerable topadas, (illegal fights held in a cockpit hastily improvised down a quiet alley). Sabong fights usually take place on the weekends and attract huge crowds. The matches are boisterous (it’s mostly men) rowdy affairs that can last long into the early hours of the morning. Some even stretch out over the course of several days.

Whilst the fight itself is a dramatic, brutal affair, what drives the whole thing is the gambling.

In every arena there will be multiple kristo (literally ‘Christs’ because of the way they hold out their arms) taking bets on the next match. There is big money to be made, but it’s unusual to simply bet on the cock you think is most likely to win.

How gambling works

Instead, more often than not, you bet according to your affiliation with the owners of the roosters in the fight. It is a deep offense to not support the cock of a close friend or relative. In the same vein if the cock is from your village, or owned by the mayor of your municipality you will support it. Occasions where a conflict of loyalties may occur represent an opportunity to slip away for a drink or a smoke.

What we learn is that cockfighting is as much about demonstrating one’s social and political loyalties as it is about the drama of the fight itself. A more shallow reading of the sport might see it as a mano-a-mano type affair. A deeper reading shows us that (through gambling) the rooster represents a network of affiliations and stands for the solidarity between whole groups of people.

At one level this is just a tone of voice thing. However it is also about thinking outside of the arena itself.  It is about opening up touch points and comms that reach more deeply into the connections surrounding the sport.



Photography by Joel Bennett