Point, Counterpoint: Affliction Killed Affliction

July 28, 2009

By Kelsey Philpott

Welcome to the latest addition of MMA Payout: Point, Counterpoint!

After reading Payout contributor Jonathon Snowden’s latest piece entitled “Who Really Killed Affliction?” I feel compelled to respond and engage in some healthy debate here on the website.

In his article Jon argues for the following:

As the smoke cleared from Affliction Entertainment’s implosion, the media vultures were quick to assign blame for the promotion’s demise. Some pointed a finger at Tom Atencio, the organization’s front man and the architect of fight cards filled with untenable contracts, cards too good and too expensive for an upstart promotion. Others blamed Josh Barnett, the self destructive enigma who once again allegedly resorted to using illegal performance enhancers to prepare for the biggest fight of his career. But the real culprit is a true American hero, or a titular one at least. Yes, Randy Couture killed Affliction and he did it all the way back in September 2008.

Fedor vs. Randy

Although Fedor vs. Randy may have been an epic fight, it would have been a far less epic PPV for Affliction.

Randy Couture is an enigma in the sense that he’s quite well regarded – a legend in fact – by most within the sport, but he hasn’t been able to match the success of men like Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz in the PPV department. He’s managed to headline some record shows (e.g., UFC 57 or UFC 91), but he’s never done it on his own.

If you were to assess Randy’s drawing power at the time of the proposed Fedor fight, you’d have to look at fights like UFC 68 or UFC 74. He was the main attraction in both cards (aside from having GSP on the undercard at 74) and drew in the solid, yet unspectacular range of 520-540k.

Fedor’s numbers, on the other hand, were downright dismal: 30k and 50k for the Bodog and Pride events respectively.  

While I understand the hype surrounding the fight, the simple reality of things was that Couture could not have carried a “super fight” on a somewhat unknown promotion, against a virtually unknown fighter.

The fact that some were expecting Fedor vs. Randy to break PPV records under the Affliction banner speaks to just how much the MMA community underestimated the value of the UFC brand and marketing push in comparison to the individual drawing power of great fighters like Randy Couture.

The subsequent performance of Affliction I and II – both of which featured former UFC heavyweight champions, Sylvia and Arlovski – is further support to this line of thinking.

Bad Gamble, Bad Business

I concede the points that Randy Couture was likely the basis for which Affliction’s promotion was formed and that Affliction seemingly bet the farm on Fedor vs. Randy.

However, I object to the notion that Randy Couture killed Affliction. 

Affliction made a bad gamble when they decided to bet the farm on a single, impotent main event, which is an absolute indictment of their bad business practices – it was ultimately a sign of things to come, with or without Fedor vs. Randy.

Affliction Killed Affliction

To claim that Randy Couture killed Affliction is to divert attention from the other significant factors that contributed to the demise of the promotion.

The following reasons for Affliction’s demise are issues that the MMA community – and prospective promoters in particular – need to be mindful of in the future:

1. Affliction had no apparent business strategy. The organization was content to focus on one event at a time, without any forward thinking as to what might lie ahead and how they might try to bring everything together in a cohesive, progressive manner.

2. Affliction used a flawed and inappropriate business model. In the organization’s quest to compete with the UFC, they chose to follow the PPV business model without the prerequisite fan following to ensure sufficient cash flow generation. Additionally, they paid out some of the most handsome fighter salaries in the history of the sport, while also forking out huge money to produce each show. They had Ozzy scheduled to play at intermission for goodness sake.

3. Affliction tried to build their organization around one fighter. It’s hard enough to build a card around one fighter, let alone an entire organization; and, whether it ended up being Randy or Fedor, the organization’s appeal was destined to be quite shallow. This, of course, omits the fact that Fedor, who became Affliction’s prime ticket, was a virtual unknown in the United States. It never added up.

Other Contributing Factors

4. The presence of the UFC. The sport’s most popular fighting organization drew the ire of many hardcore fans for its hard-line stance and opposition to Affliction. By refusing to co-promote, refusing to acknowledge the existence of Affliction, and waging competitive broadcasts during Affliction events, the UFC helped to cut off the casual MMA fan from knowing about, hearing about, or watching Affliction events.

5. The state of the sport itself. MMA simply isn’t yet popular enough to sustain a full-on competitor to the UFC. There isn’t enough disposable cash in the current economy, there aren’t enough marketable entities outside of the UFC’s control to make it happen, and, dare I say, there just isn’t enough interest in the sport as of right now.

Counterpoint Conclusion

Randy may have contributed to the beginning of the end for Affliction, but it was a combination of the organization’s strategy, business model, and singular attraction that led to the organization’s demise.

Check back tomorrow for a look at what Affliction Entertainment should have been.

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