EliteXC's CBS Debut: Three Angles to Watch

May 29, 2008

MMA will make its major network primetime debut this Saturday night when EliteXC presents Primetime on CBS at 9PM EST. The following are three angles worth following after the show unfolds:

(1) RATINGS:

The buzz in the industry is that its not the headline household number that matters as much as the demographic breakouts. While network television ratings as a whole are in a continuing decline, it is the younger viewers that advertisers crave in particular that are slipping away. This is particularly the case at CBS which skews older than other networks. Enter MMA, the great white hope.

All eyes will be on males 18-49 and more specifically males 18-34. Some context of what good demographic numbers will look like: for the week ended May 18, CBS averaged a 2.6 in adults 18-49 (third behind leader Fox at a 3.5) and a 1.7 in adults 18-34 (third behind leader Fox at a 3.0).

That said the headline number obviously matters and the network has publicly set a 3-4 million viewer threshold. For some perspective, UFC 75 is currently the highest rated television broadcast of MMA. The event drew 4.7 million viewers on Spike last September. The general consensus is that anything about a 3.0 would be a considered a homerun and anything below a 2.0 without amazing demographics would be a failure. And it’s not just EliteXC’s future that is riding on the results. A strong showing could open the flood gates for MMA on network television.

(2) FINANCIAL FOLLOW-UP:

The 5/31 show is shaping up as a make or break show for the company. According to ProElite’s SEC filings, it is clear that the company is low on funds and seeking additional capital. All indications are that the company has “bet the farm” so to speak on its CBS debut. It is critical that the company put up a number that creates the momentum necessary to raise the capital needed to survive and advance.

(3) POLITICAL BACKLASH:

One of the most under discussed angles in MMA’s major network television debut is the potential political backlash the sport may face. “Cagefighting” will arrive on the national stage for the first time this Saturday and the reaction is assuredly going to be mixed. Some pundits will no doubt seize the opportunity to hammer CBS for peddling blood and violence, but the biggest danger lies in a potential political backlash in the vein of John McCain’s “human cockfighting” crusade of the mid-90s.

While the sport is in little danger of returning to the dark ages of untelevised, unsanctioned events, the potential for political grandstanding against MMA, particularly in an election season is very real. For a sport not yet established as acceptable in the mainstream, that may be all it takes to stifle the growing influx of blue chip sponsors and mainstream acceptance.

The inclusion of a women’s MMA bout as part of America’s introduction to an already violent sport has done the industry no favors in this regard.

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