MMA For Arizona: Big Picture, Small Picture

September 29, 2008

The Arizona Republic has a nice article looking at the financial impact and various prospects for MMA in Arizona. Legislation fully legalizing all elements of MMA was passed earlier in the year and became effective this past week. Prior to the law, MMA events were held but under much more restrictive rules that limited the chance of bringing in bigger shows. Little time is wasted in moving forward with fully sanctioned events, as the law went into affect Friday and a card taking advantage of the new rules was lined up for Saturday Night.

One of the arguments for the newer rules was the financial impact of bringing in some of the larger promotions like UFC, WEC, and the like. Jason Genet of LG Sports Marketing made the case for an influx of dollars with the arrival of bigger shows:

Jason Genet, who manages several local MMA fighters out of the Arizona Combat Sports gym in Chandler, attended an MMA card in Albuquerque in February when Jamie Varner of Tempe won the World Extreme Cagefighting lightweight championship. The scene afterward speaks to him of the kind of impact Arizona can expect.

“All the joints were filled up,” Genet said. “There was not a restaurant in town that was empty at 10:30 at night. You had a world champion eating pancakes with owners of the (WEC) and fans. And Albuquerque is in the middle of nowhere.”

But everything New Mexico officials hoped a major MMA event would bring “was brought right there.”

With Arizona being more amenable to big time MMA, UFC VP Marc Ratner commented that the community can look forward to possible Zuffa cards in the near term:

“Phoenix is definitely on our radar,” Ratner said. “I would think next year is safe to say.”

While the Big Promotions should be able to come in and do big business, the article also gives a shot of reality to the folks that think that this may trickle down to the local level. Roland Sarria, a Tempe-based promoter who has put on a massive number of Rage In The Cage shows in the state, breaks down what the promoters on the local level will need to do:

Sarria said organizations without the UFC name, reputation and marketing clout will have a rough go in Arizona.

“There’s no revenue in it,” said Sarria, who built his following by starting in smaller venues and most frequently stages Phoenix-area cards at Celebrity Theatre. “Everyone thinks when the rules change, there’s going to be more (money-making) events in Arizona. But guess what? You still have to promote. (Other promoters) might come in and try once. Try twice. But they’ll see it’s very, very difficult.”

Sarria said the Arizona sports market is oversaturated and promoters without the big-name UFC fighters won’t make much money from the live gate.

Sage words from Sarria. This isn’t a market where there will be a honeymoon period, with any show being put on able to draw a crowd. A muted form of MMA has been available in Arizona for quite some time, so it isn’t a virgin territory by any means. Solid on the ground promoting skills are going to be what wins the day at the small show level as more shows are put on on Arizona.

By contrast, a place like North Carolina would be more of a market that is going through a said honeymoon period. MMA became legal in the state at the beginning of 2008, prior to that time there was a total embargo on the sport. No muted rules, no amateur bouts, nothing……no MMA at all since back in the 90’s when the UFC put on several cards in the state. This embargo caused a lot of pent up demand that has served promoters in the state well during this initial phase when MMA shows have finally started to pop up in the state. Cards that have been built around amateur bouts and local pros have drawn strong crowds, but as time goes on the wheat will be separated from the chaff as to who has the promoting acumen to be viable over the long term.

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