UFC 82 Preview

February 29, 2008

A busy week on the business side has nearly overshadowed UFC 82. The show got a solid build on the Countdown show. Silva-Henderson is definitely a highly anticipated fight among the hardcore fan base, but what about the casual/mainstream fans? That is the difference between a baseline show in the 350-400,000 range and a breakout show above 500,000.

Silva’s track record on pay-per-view is fairly consistent:

  • 10/26/06 – UFC 64 – Silva v. Franklin – 300,000
  • 2/3/07 – UFC 67 – Silva v. Lutter – 400,000
  • 7/7/07 – UFC 73 – Silva v. Marquardt -425,000 (also featured Ortiz v. Evans)
  • 10/20/07 – UFC 77 – Silva v. Franklin II – 325,000

Henderson has never headlined a UFC pay-per-view before, however, his last fight with Quinton Jackson was watched by 5.9 million on Spike, making it the highest rated fight in MMA history.

At the end of the day, its hard for me to see this show topping 500,000, but I still believe that Silva is gaining momentum as a draw. Silva’s it factor combined with Henderson’s exposure of Spike could lead to an upside surprise here.

The co-main event of Heath Herring v. Cheick Kongo leaves a lot to be desired and is a testament to where the heavyweight division is right now. The live card is rounded out by a pair of Middleweight contender fights showcasing Chris Leban and Yushin Okami, as well as the return of Evan Tanner and a place holder fight for Jon Fitch.

The most interesting fights, at least from a business perspective, may be taking place off the live broadcast as Andrei Arlovski and Josh Koscheck each finish their current UFC contracts. Dana White stated at yesterday’s press conference that he intends to resign them both, but with the entry of several new players as well as aggressive moves by EliteXC and HDNet Fights, this promises to be the most competitive free agent market the industry has seen.

Zuffa Wins Preliminary Injunction

February 29, 2008

I have a piece covering yesterday’s preliminary injunction hearing in Zuffa v. Couture up at Sherdog.com. Zuffa’s motion was granted, but it essentially ended up being moot:

The victory, however, was a shallow one, as the court noted that many of the issues regarding Couture’s involvement in the event had become moot. As Sherdog.com reported Thursday night, prior to the ruling the IFL agreed remove “Xtreme Couture” from the event, including any references on its Web site, as a professional courtesy to Couture. In an amended affidavit filed yesterday with the court, Couture further stated that he had no intention of attending the event.

FULL STORY: Zuffa Wins Preliminary Injunction

Professional Courtesy: Xtreme Couture Out, Team Tompkins In

February 29, 2008

No word yet on the outcome of today’s preliminary injunction hearing in Zuffa v. Couture, but MMAPayout.com has learned that the athletes fighting at tomorrow night’s IFL event will compete under the Team Tompkins banner, not Xtreme Couture.

Joe Favorito, IFL Senior Vice President of Communications issued the following statement to MMAPayout.com:

Given the ongoing litigation between Extreme Couture and the UFC, we were asked by Extreme Couture Wednesday to not use the Extreme Couture camp name in our event this Friday. Out of respect for Randy and his team in this difficult situation, the camp will take the name Team Tompkins. Shawn Tompkins is coaching this Friday as already announced for this Friday’s event. The IFL is not in any way involved in this litigation, we are doing this out of professional courtesy for Randy and his group.

Developing…

UPDATED: UFC Announces Bud Light As Official Beer of the UFC

February 28, 2008

This afternoon the UFC announced a new three-year partnership with Anheuser-Busch which makes Bud Light the official beer of the UFC and WEC. Beginning with UFC 84 in May, Bud Light will appear on the center of the mat at UFC pay-per-view events. Key quotes:

“UFC has developed a huge following in recent years and is wildly popular with the 21-34 year old fans we want to reach,” said Tony Ponturo, vice president, global media and sports marketing, Anheuser-Busch, Inc. “The number of people attending live events, buying the pay-per-views and talking about UFC around the water cooler continues to grow. It’s just a great place for us to be.”

“Landing Anheuser-Busch and Bud Light is huge for us, our fighters and especially our fans,” said Dana White, UFC president. “We’ve got the number one selling beer in the world and one of the top marketers in all of sports as our sponsor. If our TV ratings, pay-per-view buys and venue sell-outs weren’t enough, this definitely cements UFC as a major player in sports business.”

MMAPayout.com was the first to report that the UFC was on the verge of a deal with Budweiser last month.

On the heels of MMA’s first major broadcast television breakthrough, the announcement of the largest corporate sponsor in the history of the sport, in the form of a company considered by many to be the gold standard of sports sponsorships, represents another major breakthrough for the entire MMA industry.

Get the best MMA betting and UFC betting info on the net

UPDATED: Inside the EXC-CBS Deal; Where Does the UFC Go From Here?

February 28, 2008

Today Pro Elite and CBS officially announced a multi-year partnership that will see EliteXC events air live in prime time. The deal is a major milestone for the entire MMA industry, marking the first time the sport will air on a major broadcast television network.

“This is wonderful news not just for one brand but for the sport,” IFL President & CEO Jay Larkin told MMAPayout.com late last night. “It is what the sport needs to grow and will open up all kinds of doors for all of us. I congratulate Pro Elite and Gary Shaw and applaud CBS for their foresight.”

Sources tell MMAPayout.com that IMG is the force behind the deal, specifically IMG Media President Chris Albrecht. Albrecht was instrumental in the deal thanks to his relationship with CBS President Les Moonves. You may remember Albrecht as a leading proponent of MMA during his tenure at HBO, initiating negotiations with the UFC that ultimately collapsed over creative control issues.

MMAPayout.com has also learned the rumored financial terms of the agreement. The deal is believed to be a straight time buy, meaning EXC would receive no live rights fees. Pro Elite is already shopping for a title sponsor of the first show at $500,000, plus a commitment to buy a minimum of eight commercial spots from CBS, and a $100,000 investment in Pro Elite.

Pro Elite announced a partnership with IMG Media in late November of 2007. Several weeks ago, speculation within the industry suggested that IMG was on the verge of buying into Pro Elite.

This is the second door opened by the UFC that EXC has walked through. MMAPayout.com was the first to report that negotiations between the UFC and CBS had stalled in December over creative control issues. EXC landed its spot on Showtime after the UFC attempted to use the network for leverage in its failed negotiations with HBO.

In a humorous twist, sources also tell MMAPayout.com that CBS was not aware of its ownership interest in Pro Elite until well into its negotiations with the UFC.

Where this leaves the UFC in its search for a network TV partner is unclear. CBS was the only network whose interest in MMA was reportedly not dependent on the writer’s strike which was recently resolved. MMAPayout.com reported that the UFC received a less than warm reception from NBC earlier this year, however, that may change now that CBS is out of the picture.

Multiple sources have told MMAPayout.com that FOX is believed to have interest in MMA with rumors suggesting that the network even went so far as to make a bid on the entire company during recent negotiations with the UFC. UFC President Dana White alluded to an unidentified network bidder in an interview with Steve Cofield earlier this month.

Zuffa v. Couture Preliminary Injunction Ruling Expected Today

February 28, 2008

I have a new piece up at Sherdog.com previewing today’s hearing in Zuffa v. Couture with a look at both sides briefs and the back story of the IFL incident, as well as details on the role Couture’s promotional contract is playing in the proceeding, plus a look at Couture’s motion to dismiss several claims in the case. The lead:

Months of verbal sparring between Zuffa and Randy Couture (Pictures) should have some resolution late Thursday afternoon. In front of Judge Jennifer Togliatti, in Nevada District Court, Zuffa is seeking a preliminary injunction preventing Couture from “engaging in any promotion or production of any events or programming related to unarmed combat during the one-year Restricted Period in his Employment Agreement.” This includes, but is not limited to, the use of Couture’s likeness by the IFL and his participation in this Friday’s IFL event in Las Vegas.

FULL STORY: Zuffa v. Couture Preliminary Injunction Ruling Expected Today

Affliction and Golden Boy

February 27, 2008

A busy day in the MMA industry continues with news that Matt Lindland has signed a contract with an unnamed fight promotion. MMAWeekly reports that Affliction is a primary partner in the deal with Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions as a partner.

Rumors have been circulating in the industry for several months regarding Affliction’s entry as a promoter, dating back to December when the UFC first flirted with the idea of banning the clothing line from it’s events. The company eventually allowed Georges St. Pierre to wear his signature Affliction shirt at UFC 79, but subsequently banned the label.

In recent weeks speculation has centered on a partnership between Affliction and Golden Boy, predating the latter’s stated interest in MMA.

Preliminary Injunction Ruling Delayed in Couture Case

February 27, 2008

Greg Savage has an excellent account of yesterday’s hearing in Zuffa v. Couture up at Sherdog.com, complete with quotes from the court room. The issue basically boils down to what the phrase from the contract “involved with any promoter” means.

Couture’s attorney:

The conduct is not promoting. The conduct is not conducting a business related to unarmed combat other than Xtreme Couture, which was excluded from the employment agreement.

Zuffa’s attorney:

The words ‘involved with any other promoter’ are broad for a reason. Because we don’t want him involved with any other promoter. We pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars not to be involved with any other promoter. That was the consideration for the contract and the simple fact of the matter is that someone has whispered in his ear that maybe he can make more money doing something somewhere else, doing something he shouldn’t be doing under this contract. And he has decided, for whatever reasons, be they avarice or whatever, that he is going to do them, and in the course of doing so, sully the good name of the individuals that made him a multi-millionaire 10 times over.

The hearing was continued until Thursday afternoon in order to obtain an affidavit from the IFL regarding the effect the injunction would have on their show on Friday. Couture’s attorney suggested that an adverse ruling might force the promotion to cancel the show, a notion which Zuffa’s attorney called “nonsense.”

EliteXC Reportedly Reaches Deal with CBS; Where Does That Leave the UFC?

February 27, 2008

EliteXC may be on the verge of establishing itself as the industry’s leading challenger to the UFC’s dominance. First came news that Showtime’s subscriptions were up 11% last quarter. Then came an explosive report from MMAJunkie.com that Pro Elite is on the verge of announcing a prime time television deal with CBS.

To say that such a deal would change the landscape of the industry is an understatement. That television platform, combined with EXC’s already existing talent base, and the mass of UFC talent that is set to enter the free agent market, could quickly change the hierarchy of the industry.

If true, this would be the second door opened by the UFC that EXC has walked through. MMAPayout.com was the first to report that negotiations between the UFC and CBS had stalled in December over creative control issues. EXC landed its spot on Showtime after the UFC attempted to use the network for leverage in its failed negotiations with HBO.

Where this leaves the UFC in its search for a network TV partner is unclear. CBS was the only network who’s interest in MMA was reportedly not dependent on the writer’s strike which was recently resolved. MMAPayout.com reported that the UFC received a less than warm reception from NBC earlier this year, however, that may change now that CBS is out of the picture.

Multiple sources have told MMAPayout.com that FOX is believed to have interest in MMA with rumors suggesting that the network even went so far as to make a bid on the UFC during recent negotiations. UFC President Dana White alluded to an unidentified network bidder in an interview with Steve Cofield earlier this month.

Update: Zuffa v. Couture

February 27, 2008

The parties were in court yesterday for a hearing on Zuffa’s motion for a preliminary injunction enforcing the non-compete provision of Couture’s employment contract. Specifically, Zuffa is trying to stop the use of the Xtreme Couture brand by the IFL in promoting its 2/29 event. The proceedings were continued until Thursday because the judge needed more information in order to make a ruling.

More details to come later today. Sherdog’s Greg Savage was in the court room and I have written up each side’s motions on the matter.

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