Occupy The Throne – Edition #6
Jeremy Lambert: With the UFC on an extended break, the door has opened for new and different MMA promotions to grab some of the spotlight. Whether it be on PPV, Internet streaming, HDNet, or some other method, promotions like RFA, WMMA, SFL, ONE FC, etc… have made their product available for your viewing pleasure.
The question I pose to my partner is, are any of these promotions around for the long haul or are they just benefitting from the Octagon being deconstructed since March 3rd?
Samer Kadi: The volatile nature of the sport has made it difficult for aspiring MMA promotions to enjoy serious sustainability. Establishing a brand name is vital for a promotion’s long term survival, but the attainability of such a feat is far from a certainty. All but a few promoters have fallen short in their bid to run a successful MMA organization, and with the UFC’s increasingly growing stranglehold on the sport, this is unlikely to change anytime soon.
While some of the abovementioned promotions have recently drawn some attention, this was only due to the lack of UFC action in recent weeks, which enabled them to get some unexpected – but badly needed – MMA media coverage. However, it is a tad optimistic to expect this to trigger any positive long term effects. At best, it will gather some momentum heading into their next show, and nothing much will come out of it; and even that is a bit hopeful.
The ultimate challenge for these promotions is to draw interest in their product. Having a bunch of UFC “veterans” – many of which being washed up – is not going to do the trick, and unless a promotion fully dedicates itself to finding young up-and-coming talent that can deliver inside the cage (WEC, Bellator), it is merely going to be looked at as just another MMA company putting on random fights.
Jeremy Lambert: Samer mentioned the dilemma that a lot of these new promotions struggle with. Do they book young talent to build up or do they book UFC wash outs who may or may not be known to a couple of casual fans?
Unlike Bellator and the WEC, most promotions don’t have the benefit of television outside of HDNet, so it’s tough to build up young talent. As we talked about a few weeks ago when we dedicated a whole column to Bellator, they do a great job of building up talent because of their tournament format and weekly television deal. If you’re WMMA, who had the bright idea of running on PPV, you can’t afford to use unknown talent because they’re not going to draw a dime for you. So instead you have to hope that guys like Sean McCorkle and Karo Parisyan can draw one or two PPV buys in order to turn a profit. Of course trying to run your first event on PPV is equivalent to playing college basketball at Kentucky; you’re one and done.
Samer Kadi: As we touched on in the aforementioned Bellator column, having a clear direction for a newly established MMA company is essential to its long haul existence. Bellator had a well-structured plan, and they stuck to it long enough to see it pay dividends. Granted, such a concept is hardly as facile as it sounds, and crucially, few have the capital to apply it. Like any business, having the financial means is substantial to an MMA promotion’s operation. More importantly, promotions need to spend their money wisely. Do you try to punch above your weight, and shed out a few dollars for some “name” (and I use that term in the loosest way possible) fighters? If so, does that really accomplish anything when accompanied by a lack of proper marketing?
The first year is often indicative as to a promotion’s future. A company like Strikeforce was able to make a name for itself by putting on solid regional shows and establishing a solid fan-base in a particular area, which in turn enabled it to secure that elusive television deal. Other promotions don’t have the luxury of getting off to such a promising start, and with no reliable television coverage – and thus no eyeballs – there simply is no long term future.
PPV is a death sentence for any promotion this side of Zuffa, which only makes a television deal all the more important. Unfortunately, the latter is hard to come by, and it spells trouble for the WMMA’s of the world.
Jeremy Lambert: I’m sure this hasn’t gone unnoticed but every MMA promotion that tried to run their first event on PPV no longer exists. Remember YAMMA? You probably do, but for all the wrong reasons. How about Bodog or Moosin’ or MMA Fight Pit or PWP? The only company that had any type of success charging for their first event was Affliction, and that’s only if you consider losing millions, but making it to a second event a success. So I hope the five people that purchased WMMA enjoyed it, because you likely won’t be seeing them again.
That’s why it’s obvious that starting off on HDNet or streaming is the route to go. Now maybe HDNet has reached their “MMA promotion limit” and can’t sign anymore companies to deals, but securing a streaming deal with Sherdog or MMAJunkie or even through Facebook can’t be that hard. Hell, I’ll volunteer 411Mania to stream some of these cards as long as Jeffrey Harris is allowed to do the post-fight interviews.
Every new promotion has ambitions of being a competitor to the UFC but most of them go about it the wrong way, lose a ton of money on their first show, and then decide that it’s not so much fun anymore.
I feel like promotions are better off trying to run on HDNet, who were surprisingly absent from televising live MMA during this UFC break, and establish a name on that network and hope it blossoms into something more.
Samer Kadi: If YAMMA had it their way and were able to follow through on their “surround the cage by sharks” idea, they would have been alive and well. And in case you’re wondering, yes, they really did throw that idea around. I’ll let you soak that one in for a second.
Affliction would probably serve as Exhibit A for how not to run an MMA company. After all, any promotion that throws half a million dollar on Ben Rothwell, as well as over a million dollar on Andrei Arlovski deserves its inevitable fate. For a powerhouse like the UFC, PPV is the ultimate money-maker. For any other MMA promotion, prematurely venturing into PPV all but guarantees failure. Attempting to compete with the UFC is not an idea worth entertaining, and would pretty much ensure a short lived tenure. At this juncture in time, the UFC’s grip on MMA in North America is simply too firm. In most fans’ eyes, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is synonymous with mixed martial arts; which may explain why the sport is often referred to as “Ultimate Fighting.”
Worldwide, rising MMA promotions may well have a better shot at survival. The sport’s growing popularity across the globe has led to the emergence of numerous overseas promotions, and they have the luxury of not existing in market dominated by the UFC. These promotions face an easier task of establishing their brand in areas where the UFC’s influence is not quite as dramatic. For instance, by running its shows in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, One FC is introducing MMA to a new audience, and any measure of success would go a long way in providing the promotion with a much-needed oxygen boost.
Jeremy Lambert: Our esteemed colleague and friend Jon Butterfield believes that SFL will one day take over the MMA world because Bob Sapp vs. James Thompson drew 5,000 people for their first event in India and they have the backing of some Bollywood stars and Ken Pavia.
While Butterfield’s expectations might be a little high, he is on to something when it comes to promotions getting “in on the ground floor” in untapped markets. Is India dying for MMA? Well for one event, 5,000 people were willing to see Bob Sapp throw another fight, so that’s a start. Other regional companies like KSW in Poland, BAMMA in England, and MFC in Canada have carved out a nice home for themselves and don’t seem to be straying from their game plan all that much.
Obviously it’s nearly impossible for any new MMA promotion to make up any ground on the UFC or even Bellator at this point. But there is still a need for the smaller promotions. UFC veterans need them in order to get back into the big company, newer fighters need them to showcase their skills, and fans need them so they have something to watch when the UFC goes on an extended break. But all of these promotions need to realize that they’re not going to succeed right away and they shouldn’t do anything stupid – like running on PPV or overpaying for guys who don’t draw – right off the bat.
Running a MMA promotion is like committing to a long term relationship. You take things slow, don’t do anything drastic early, and feel things out. Eventually you make your big move and ride a big wave of joy and success. Then things will start to slow down and you’ll get into a holding pattern.
Ok, let me be honest, I know as much about committing to a long term relationship as a t-shirt guy knows about running a MMA promotion.