Objective/ Analysis: CBS's EliteXC Broadcast Team

May 22, 2008

PHOTO: (Left to Right) – David Dinkins, Jr., Executive Producer; Karyn Bryant, Cageside Reporter; Gus Johnson, Play-by-Play; Frank Shamrock, Color Commentator; Mauro Ranallo, Color Commentator

(Courtesy CBS)

OBJECTIVE:

Yesterday the CBS broadcast team that will be calling the EliteXC event on May 31st had a warm-up of sorts, fielding questions from fellow members of the media.

The team includes CBS sports broadcaster Gus Johnson doing play-by-play alongside EliteXC fighter Frank Shamrock and FIGHT Network broadcaster Mauro Ranallo, who will split color commentary duties. Showtime boxing broadcaster Karyn Bryant will be providing cageside interviews.

Like any product, the packaging matters, and how the three-man team presents the sport to first-time watchers is among the most important factors that will determine whether or not CBS will convert first time MMA viewers to fans.

Hardcore MMA fans will find Ranallo’s shift to analysis a bit of a surprise, since he was the play-by-play broadcaster for Showtime’s EliteXC shows and did play-by-play for Pride Fighting Championship’s pay-per-view broadcasts for three years.

“I’ve been a play-by-play guy for 22 years… but the opportunity afforded me by ProElite and CBS is one you do not turn down. And knowing the passion I have for the sport and the anecdotal information I can provide, I truly am comfortable,” said Ranallo.

In preparation for the broadcast, Johnson has decided to get some first-hand MMA experience. Renzo Gracie’s jiu-jitsu academy in New York City has served as his school of hard knocks. Despite his prior studies in boxing and kung-fu, the veteran broadcaster admits he’s on a learning curve.

“It is a new sport for me… but I’m a quick study and I like this sport… It’s a refreshing sport for me… But I have a man like Mauro sitting next to me and Frank on the other side, and I don’t think it’s going to take long for me to get up to speed on mixed martial arts.”

The sport is anything but new to journeyman Frank Shamrock, who was the UFC’s first middleweight champion (which later became the light heavyweight championship). For Shamrock and Ranallo, the sport taking center stage has been a long time coming and provides a serious challenge to the UFC’s market dominance.

Ranallo remembers, “Bas Rutten and I spent many a night in hotel rooms (in Japan after Pride Fighting events) pondering (whether MMA could make it in the US). I did envision it. I am just glad that CBS and ProElite are going to promote the sport of ‘Mixed Martial Arts.’ That’s the name of the sport, it’s Mixed Martial Arts, not Ultimate Fighting.”

“(This broadcast) challenges the UFC to tell the truth,” says Shamrock. “When you have a network and primetime show and tell is going to tell the truth and present the sport exactly as the sport is for what it is, I think it’s going to open up continued growth and open up the industry.”

The UFC’s desire to control the market has been seen time after time with their attempt to make ESPN’s new MMA Live webcast exclusively about the UFC. It is also widely believed that the organization’s desire to uses its own broadcasters led to a breakdown in negotiations with HBO. The company’s handling of Randy Couture’s departure is a prime example of the
difference between an in house and independent broadcast team.

Johnson says he has been not been approached by anyone, at EliteXC or CBS, about ground rules for the broadcast, or making it an “EliteXC-only” show.

“We’re not going to pretend that the UFC doesn’t exist. The UFC has some of the best fighters in the world. We’re going to sell what we have to sell, but we’re not going to the cheat the fans and pretend like that fighters in another company don’t exist. Eventually we want to get to a situation where the best fighters fight the best fighters.”

ANALYSIS:

The three-man team will be one of the strengths of the broadcast. Though it’s disappointing that Ranallo will not be in his usual play-by-play role, it will make his contributions to the broadcast that much more noticeable and he is certainly full of anecdotes from his wealth of MMA experience.

In addition to being a star fighter, Frank Shamrock is a keen businessman who is fully aware of just how important this broadcast is in leveling the playing field in the sport.

In a best case scenario, Johnson proves to be competent at calling all aspects of the sport, especially basic submission techniques, which baffle so many with boxing experience. His study of BJJ with Renzo Gracie show just how serious he is about the sport. Combine that with his natural talent of doing what he does best – exciting the fans – and it should provide a solid foundation on which Ranallo can provide anecdotes and Shamrock can explain the intricacies of stand-up technique and ground fighting.

Holding themselves to a higher journalistic standard and talking about fighters outside of the EliteXC universe is a serious departure from the UFC’s pro-wrestling style broadcasts and will boost the stock, not only of those fighters, but the sport as a whole.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle with boxing fans and first time watchers will be explaining intricacies of the ground-game. When asked if the broadcast will be tailored toward first time MMA viewers, Johnson said he thinks there are some features already prepared to illustrated basic submission techniques. He says he also plans to further discuss the topic with the show’s Executive Producer, David Dinkins, Jr.

The bottom line is that so long as the trio can narrate the true spirit of competition in MMA, the professionalism and sportsmanship of the athletes, and cater to the forum-junkies and the channel surfers drawn in by the strange site of a cage on their screen, these three will help blow the doors wide open in the competition among MMA promotions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is Andrew Falzon’s first contribution to MMAPayout.com. Andrew is an experienced broadcaster and writer. He is a ringside reporter for the IFL and has covered MMA for ESPN.com and FIGHT! Magazine among others. I’m excited to have him on board as a part of MMAPayout.com.

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