UFC Hires Washington Lobbying Firm

May 28, 2008

While the UFC has been highly active on a state by state basis in trying to shape the regulation of mixed martial arts, the UFC entered the fray on a national level recently by hiring Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to lobby on Capitol Hill.

“UFC is at the point where they are one of the fastest-growing sports leagues, and we want to make sure members of Congress are aware of the changes MMA has undergone,” said Makan Delrahim, a former top Justice Department official who is now a lobbyist at Brownstein Hyatt.

The UFC also looks to use the lobbying firm to resist efforts to place the UFC under regulation relating to professional boxing. In short, they are looking to do everything they possibly can to not be listed under the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act of 2000 and Professional Boxing Amendments Act of 2007, regulating among other things contracts between fighters and promoters.

“Sometimes those types of laws can become vehicles for other things, affecting other sports,” Delrahim said.

“Boxing has a whole different story and certain laws may have been appropriate, but it is a whole different operation for MMA; it wouldn’t make sense to apply the same rules.”

Inclusion of the UFC under the two aforementioned boxing reform acts would basically turn the standard UFC fighter contract on it’s ear. The standard UFC contract is largely seen as one-sided, favoring the corporation to an almost draconian degree.

Hiestand Weighs In On MMA

May 28, 2008

Influential media maven Michael Hiestand’s most recent column casts an eye toward mixed martial arts and EliteXC’s network debut. Hiestand is the the sports media columnist for USA Today, a column widely read by those in the television business and seen as a taste maker in the industry. In what can best be described as a fairly even handed take on MMA’s broadcast debut, Hiestand illuminates the mindset of Network execs in giving MMA the greenlight:

The debut of CBS’ four-part CBS EliteXC Saturday Night Fights (9 ET) is just the latest experiment of taking something that’s drawing niche audiences on cable — such as Arena Football or so-called action sports — and seeing what it can do for broadcasters. It’s also another attempt — such as NBC’s quickly defunct XFL and ABC’s expanded prime-time Saturday college football — to give broadcasters some pop on TV’s least-watched night, especially with the largely absent young viewers advertisers covet.

The column does give voice to those with negative views of the sport on broadcast television (Redstone, Goren), but generally puts the sport over as legitimate and not that different than some of the reality programming offered at the networks.

ESPN: MMA Live, 2nd Edition

May 27, 2008

ESPN.com published the second edition of its online mixed martial arts news show, MMA Live, this past Thursday. Though the show briefly touched on the three International Fight League championship bouts from Mohegan Sun and the results from the Sengoku event, it mainly focused on UFC oriented news.

As MMAPayout.com previously reported, the UFC lobbied for the show to be exclusively about the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and excluding the larger MMA world. The true test of the show’s willingness to digress in coverage from the industry giant, UFC, will come this week when they will be tasked with recapping UFC 84 and previewing the network debut of EliteXC on CBS.

Many non-UFC entities within the sport have expressed their delight that the world’s largest sports network is testing the waters on an MMA show that could potentially transition to television. Given overwhelming dominance of ESPN in sports news, the network is effectively creating a spotlight in the dark tunnel of MMA, where the competition is cast in the shadows of the UFC.

By powering up that spotlight, and potentially shining it on the lesser known promotions, ESPN is quickly becoming a major player in the world of MMA.

Stadium Shows In UFC's Future?

May 26, 2008

Dana White made comments after UFC 84 about possibly doing a show in Hawaii and put forward the idea of doing a stadium show:

Well the (regulations) won’t be done there till 2009, and when we do, do an outdoor, big stadium, it will definitely be Hawaii.

The ability to do stadium shows would be somewhat limited for the UFC. There are probably only two guys in the UFC that would be able to draw on that level – Georges St Pierre and BJ Penn. Both men are akin to national heroes in their home regions – Penn in Hawaii and St Pierre in Canada – and strong geographic ties are the key to filling up a stadium at this stage of the UFC’s growth. A Chuck Liddell may draw more PPV viewers but he lacks the geographic fan base to fill up a stadium for one of his fights. Even a card loaded with top shelf match-ups would be hard pressed to draw on a stadium level.

Along with the small number of fighters who could plausibly sustain a stadium show, you can count on one hand the number of fights that could be expected to draw on that level. For BJ Penn there only two fights that he could fill up Aloha stadium with – GSP and Matt Hughes. For GSP, only fights with BJ and Anderson Silva could be expected to draw on a level that would fill a venue like Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

If the stadium shows do come off, some adjustment to the payscale would probably be in order for the headliners, GSP and Penn. The fights would have significant gates, generated not off the UFC brand but due to the local fighters mythic status. The agents for Penn and St Pierre would drive a hard bargain before signing on for one of these stadium shows.

UFC International Expansion In-Depth

May 26, 2008

Dana White has recently spoke about ongoing efforts to branch out into the international market with live events. Brazil, Germany, The Philippines, and Brazil are some of the areas mentioned by Dana as possible sites for future UFC cards. Each area has it’s pluses and minuses but one tool at the UFC’s disposal – international television distribution – will be vital to the long term success of these efforts.

Television is Key

One key ingredient to international expansion will be getting strong television in a country before expending the resources to put on live cards there. The UFC has drawn strong crowds in England, with help from a constant TV presence over the past few years on Bravo UK. The UFC business/promotional model has taken several pages out of the WWE playbook, and that would be true in this case as well.

The WWE is drawing significant portions of overall revenues from int’l ppv and touring. They are able to do this because they have had a strong int’l television network in place for years before trying to do live events overseas. Strong UFC television prior to launching these live shows will help to ensure success and make the markets viable long term as opposed to just being a one-off.

Germany: A Continental Play

Dana White has mentioned Germany as one possible area for expansion. I see this as more of a continental play rather than seeing Germany as a market in and of itself. Establishing a base in Germany will draw other folks from the region, a Pan-European market if you will. France with it’s Savate scene, the former Eastern Bloc with players like Goran Reljic, and MMA holy ground Holland are some of the areas from which they can draw upon for local talent to drive strong gates.

The German/EU market is attractive as an expansion target because it’s a mature and stable economy with a high standard of living, which isn’t the case with some other expansion candidates mentioned by Dana White. Germany itself doesn’t have a big MMA scene but serves as a regional mecca for those in the Euro Boxing scene, as home to many an expat fighter (Dariusz Michalczewski, many of the Russian heavyweights). Having strong local talent (Cheick Kongo, Reljic, Holland Resident Heath Herring) will aide in converting some of those boxing fans over to MMA.

The Philippines

Dana’s mentioning of The Philippines as a possible area of expansion is a bit perplexing. The country has shown overwhelming support for favorite son Manny Pacquio and is very much a boxing country. I think Zuffa may be reaching a bit, though, if they are banking on a boxing-hungry culture equating to a wide ranging combat sport culture. There would need to be a significant time period of cultivating that market before it could become viable for live events. Without a homegrown fighter to use as the face of the promotion, I have to think that the UFC would be facing an uphill battle in making money in this market. One also has to wonder about the economic viability of The Philippines as a market.

Brazil

Brazil would be a very enticing market for UFC to make moves in. They have a bevy of Brazilian talent that can be marketed easily and would be substantial draws. Superstars like Shogun Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira would provide for excellent gates. The UFC also has a nice crop of Brazilian prospects – Rousimar Palhares, Demian Maia, Thiago Silva, Thiago Alves, Thales Leites – that could be built into future draws in the country. Brazil is very much a combat sport embracing culture, also, essentially giving birth to the modern MMA scene. There wouldn’t be the up hill battle in Brazil that they would face in other international markets, saving both time and money.

The one drawback I would see to the Brazilian market would be the sometimes uneven economy. The Brazilian economy has a history of hyper-inflationary spikes, though that has been reigned in recently. The per capita income is still low but if Zuffa sticks to the larger Metros like Rio and Brasilia, they should have a large enough group of favorable demographics to support their product.

Mexico

Dana has also mentioned Mexico as another area for expansion. Dana seems to be making the right moves here, launching Hispanic-specific programming in order to generate interest and foster the entry of more Hispanics into the sport. The UFC is launching “El Octagono,” an hour long Saturday night series on Galavision and currently have Guerreros Del UFC every week on Fox Sports en Español.

Launching these shows is a two pronged approach – helping to reach a growing Hispanic demo in the US while at the same time cultivating Mexico and Latin America as a future market for fighters and shows. They certainly get more bang for their buck by expanding in this area as opposed to others. The company does have a few marketable stars to push – Roger Huerta in the UFC, Miguel Torres in the WEC – until there is a larger influx of Hispanic fighters to the sport.

Andrei Meets The Press?

May 25, 2008

MMAPayout.com received an unconfirmed report that free agent heavyweight superstar Andrei Arlovski will be holding a media day/work out session this coming Tuesday the 27th in Los Angeles. Wild Card Gym in Hollywood will be the site of the presser/workout as Arlovski will reportedly work out with famed boxing trainer Freddie Roach and strength and conditioning coach Alex Ariza for members of the media.

It is possible that this media day will announce Andrei’s future plans, heavily rumored to be a contract to fight for Affliction. Speculation has been rampant that Arlovski will sign with the Affliction promotion to face Ben Rothwell on their July 19th card at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

UFC 84 Gate: $3.7 million

May 25, 2008

Todd Martin of CBSSports.com is reporting that UFC announced a sellout crowd of 14,773, producing a live gate of $3.7 million for the UFC 84 card that originated from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. This has to be considered a strong gate for the UFC. Though not the box office bonanza of UFC 79, which did $4.9 million, it did perform much better than UFC 81, which drew a $2.4 million gate. All three events took place in Vegas.

Bonuses for submission, KO, and fight of the night were $75,000. These bonuses tend to fluctuate, depending on if the card is foreign or domestic, PPV or Spike, but are in line with bonus levels for UFC 83 from Montreal.

CBS/ EliteXC Broadcasters' Conference Call

May 24, 2008

Listen in as MMAPayout.com’s Andrew Falzon interviews CBS broadcaster Gus Johnson, play-by-play, and Frank Shamrock, color commentator.

(Unfortunately, Mauro Ranallo had to excuse himself at this point in the call, as he had to do his radio show for The Fight Network.)

Click here to download and listen.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to Fightlinker.com for audio hosting.

HDNet Fights, Adrenaline agree to 3 fight deal

May 24, 2008

It was announced on this week’s edition of Inside MMA that HDNet Fights and Adrenaline MMA have reached an agreement to air Adrenaline MMA’s first three cards on the the high definition network. Adrenaline MMA, formerly M-1 Global, will hold their first card on June 14th in Chicago and is headlined by Mike Russow vs Jeff Monson. The company’s second show will originate from Moline, Illinois on September 6th with Ben Rothwell and Tim Sylvia appearing on the card.

Behind The Music: UFC Music Licensing

May 23, 2008

Our friend Sam Caplan over at fiveouncesofpain.com has a nice piece detailing the UFC’s licensing of new music for use in their various cable, PPV and television programming. The piece does a good job detailing the who of the situation, but not really the why of the situation. Much of the current music in programs such as The Ultimate Fighter, UFC Unleashed, and UFC Wired are remnants of Zuffa Records, a music label founded by the Fertitta’s and used as an in house source for musical programming.

The label has since been disbanded, but the music has lived on in UFC programming because it is a quick cheap source of background music that doesn’t need to cleared with music publisher’s and royalties paid for each use or incarnation, such as DVD sales, online sales, etc. Zuffa has chosen to license a relatively unknown band like Hard8 because they are able to do so on their terms, probably seeking a greatly reduced royalty rate or paying a one time flat fee for all future uses.

These financial concerns also come into play in other ways. To any of you out there who have been to a live UFC event and seen the highly praised Baba O’Reilly clip featuring UFC action and wondered why they aren’t opening each and every show with that great piece, the price to license The Who’s music for repeated airings as an intro is probably too steep for Zuffa. It’s a shame, too, because that thing is one of the better sales tools they have done.

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