The Competition Debate in MMA

January 22, 2010

Danny Acosta of FIGHT! Magazine has an interesting short clip interview where he discusses the idea of competition in MMA with Strikeforce’s Scott Coker.

Payout Perspective:

MMAPayout.com has long talked about why competition is so important in MMA and Coker does a pretty good job of summarizing the position: competition helps to grow demand for the entire industry. How? It affords the consumer the luxury of choice in which they can experience the product in a different light, compare and contrast, and ultimately feel better, or more invested, in their purchase decision. All of those things lead to greater satisfaction, which in turn spurs further repeat business and referrals to the sport.

However, there are some limitations to the argument, and I’ll push back on what Scott has said merely to play devil’s advocate a little bit:

1.) The major limitation to the idea of competition spurring demand in the sports world is that product quality is highly dependent on a very limited source of human capital that cannot be duplicated or engineered the way you might develop a new piece of proprietary technology through R&D. Hence, there’s never been a truly successful model in North American professional sports (or the world, really) where two high level leagues were able to compete simultaneously in the same sport over the long term. There’s always been a merger to combine talent and resources: e.g., NFL and AFL, NBA and ABA, the NHL and WHA, etc.

While I certainly buy that competition spurs demand, I do so with a long-term perspective constrained by the notion that this will only be the case while the sport is moving through the growth phase of its product life cycle. MMA is still a very new sport to many people and it’s less about seeing the best fighters as it is experiencing the novelty of the sport itself. That will only be the case for so long, and we’re already starting to see the effects of a more well-educated MMA consumer (less booing on the ground, larger interest in martial arts programs around the US, fans being selective in PPV purchasing, etc.).

2.) The WWE and Pride are probably not the best examples to cite where competition played a huge role in industry demand. WWE and Pride both thrived on theatrics and the “promotion” aspect of the business that enabled them to go head-to-head with their competition. The quality of the product essentially became more about drama than it did the action.

The most popular MMA fights in Japan have all largely been freak show fights or gimmick bouts in which a former pro wrestler fights MMA. Pride worked to mimic a professional wrestling atmosphere in the sense that it built baby faces and heels to polarize the crowd. If you look at the popularity of professional wrestling in Japan today, I’m not sure it should be a surprise to anyone that Japanese MMA has fallen off as much as it has.

If MMA is going to work in North America it cannot be based upon gimmick fights or as a stop-over for every over-the-hill athlete in professional sports. It has to seek legitimacy as a bona fide sport . MMA can and should be story line-driven – all sports are – but it must be so in a manner that more closely resembles the way the professional sports leagues build-up a game between two rival teams.

Why? That’s where the mainstream money lies; there’s a reason wrestling’s growth has stagnated and its demographic skewed younger.

3.) The absence of competition certainly isn’t the only reason the ratings have fallen off in both cases. The WWE lost a great deal of its 90s writing group that produced such successful plot lines. The company also experienced quite a dramatic talent gap: John Cena, Randy Orton, and Batista…the new Rock or Stone Cold they are not. Likewise, Pride dug itself a hole with the Japanese mob and debt that ultimately impacted the day-to-day operating environment of the company.

8 Responses to “The Competition Debate in MMA”

  1. Machiel Van on January 22nd, 2010 3:27 PM

    An interesting counterpoint to the eventual mergers that created the NFL, NBA, and NHL is that those are American leagues, with nearly every single one of their games taking place in cities across the U.S. MMA is a global sport and may be able to support more than one major “league” even in the long run. If PRIDE had not gone out of business (I know it was purchased but come on), it is feasible that a heated debate over which organization (PRIDE or UFC) was indeed the premier MMA organization in the world would exist today, and would only have been exacerbated by the rapid growth of MMA interest that has occured over the past several years. Part of what makes this feasible is that PRIDE really had a different consumer base than the UFC (primarily Japanese) and a vastly different business model (non-PPV reliant). The organizations always seemed to be competing for bragging rights, not viewership and revenue. The question was merely which organization had the best fighters and which format provided the stiffest test for the athletes.

  2. Brain Smasher on January 23rd, 2010 1:55 AM

    Great job on giving both sides of the compeiton debate. I am strongly against the idea but do think it has some effect as you said. Early in the life of MMA it in theory could boost mma popularity. However what real MMA fan would want to sit by for the next 10 years while we watch watered down matches. Talk about fights that will never be. I have sit through this long enough when Pride was around. Once they collapsed MMA fans got to see the best match ups in the sports history. Nog vs Randy, Chuck vs Silva, Hendo vs QJ, etc simply because Pride was no longer competing.

    When talent is spread thin across the board you get “created talent”. I like to use Roger Huerta as an example. He was a product of match making and marketing. His first 4-5 fights where verses guys who had never fought in the UFC before and never won a fight in the UFC after. He was created because the UFC needed someone to try and draw the hispanic boxing fans. This may be fine for the new fan. But when you have watched the sport and trained it for as long as i have you can see this from a mile away and you see what his skills are no matter who he fights. I like my contenders built like Dos Santos. A steady string of good style match up that favors him but he isnt getting unskilled fighters either.

    Another bad sign up competion is Strikeforce’s promotion. Noone wanted to see Fedor face Werdum when they were in Pride. Noone wants to see it now that Werdum was tooled by Santos. BUt we are seeing it because SF has no choice. All the top fighters are with SF competitors. Causing us all to watch a watered down SF event. With out SF Fedor would be in the UFC as would others giving the UFC even more talent and better fights and better cards making MMA fans happier event after event.

    IT simply isnt worth watering down the sport just in some possible chance the back and fourth competing will draw a few more fans over the next few years. The fans will come when all the talent is collected under 1 roof and we dont have silly barriers stopping fights like boxing has been ruined by.

  3. Caidel on January 23rd, 2010 2:58 AM

    I think, that overlooked fact is, that in current state that the MMA landscape is, there simply cannot be just one major player (ie UFC). UFC has about 200 fighters on their roster. But in the other bigger promotions (DREAM, Sengoku, WEC, Strikeforce and I guess even Bellator), there is probably also few hundred other athletes with a name recognition that people want to watch. And UFC alone simply cannot provide it, it is a impossible logistic :). They do event about each 3 weeks, but to accomodate another hundreds of fighters, there would be needed a serious change in promotional model. Weekly smaller shows? There is a danger of oversaturating market – I often see someone saying, that 1 PPV per month is about maximum they can afford.

    I wish all promotions would succeed, because I like different product. Actually, current state of the MMA is pretty ideal, I think (It would probably be better, if Strikeforce grows a little and strenghtens its weakest divisions, but other than that, It’s great). There is enough space for everyone and having just UFC as a major league would mean less fights and less fighters for us to see.

    No tournaments. No women fights. No lighter weights. Yeah, no monopol means we pay the price and we sometime don’t see fights that should happen (champion vs. champion), but at the same time, we see a lot of enjoyable fights that wouldn’t happen under UFC umbrella. Great “B” rank fighters like Scott Smith would be without work. It is also interesting, that in terms of pure fight-quality, UFC is often not the best one and on average, WEC shows actually have better figths than UFC.

  4. Imbecile on January 23rd, 2010 8:15 AM

    In continuing the devil’s advocate argument, I think there are a few additional points that can be made. While competition and choice are always good for the consumer, and do in fact give the consumer greater confidence in their purchase choice and greater overall satisfaction, we are necessarily assuming that the choice at hand need be between different organizations offering roughly the same product. That isn’t the case. Consumers already are offered a choice that can bring them greater satisfaction when they choose between different sports. The choice for competition from a consumer standpoint need not be narrowly defined by UFC vs. Strikeforce. Choosing MMA as a fan interest over boxing, baseball, basketball, soccer, pro- and amateur wrestling, etc., are all consumer choices that yield all of the consumer benefits of competition described in the article. The simple competition for fan loyalty between sports is enough to drive up the performance of the individual leagues, and to yield increased consumer satisfaction for makng the decision towards a particular sport. Sometimes competition that is nearly identical is not real competition at all, but just an imitator taking a portion of already established market share. When people reached for tea, coffee, juice, or water, and suddenly had Coke as a choice, Coke already had established competition in the beverage market. Coke did not need Pepsi to find success or to lure new consumers to their side. Similarly, Gatorade has not improved their formula due to Powerade entering the market, but rather Powerade just became an imitator that took a portion of the existing sports drink market share. When Gatorade did improve their formula to offer lower calorie alternatives, it wasn’t because of Powerade, but because of changing consumer tastes and drink alternatives that came from different areas than their direct imitator/competitor.

    Another quick point on competition. Competition is always good for the consumer, but that does not mean you need to support a competitor simply for competition’s sake. If the competitor is offering an inferior product, they are no true competitor at all, and they don’t deserve our support. I’m not going to support EliteXC or Affliction with my limited PPV dollars out of some vague notion that competition is good regardless of quality. I will choose an offering other than the UFC if they have a product that is better or more desirable than the UFC’s. That is the real nature of competition. Not blindly following a competitor for competition’s sake, but having a competitor that provides a new benefit to consumers enter the market and having consumers choose them because of their superior product. EliteXC, Affliction, the WFA, and others deserve to die if the only offer an inferior version of the UFC.

  5. Brain Smasher on January 24th, 2010 1:19 AM

    Ciadel

    When people refer to competion in MMA it isnt refering to smaller promotions. When i say competition is bad for MMA im refering to another promotions close to or equal to the UFC to the point they effect the UFC. Other events are needed by fans and the UFC. This is how the UFC gets their fighters and how people not in large cities can see MMA. So womans MMA, tourneys, lighter weight class’ etc would still all exist. The only difference is the few fighters like a Strike Force have that are worth a damn would actually have to fight other top fighters and not be protected by fighting in shallow divisions. If not for direct competion Fedor would have already been in the UFC and already fought Randy Couture and maybe another fight and we would be getting ready to see him vs Brock. Compeition is soley responsible for creating MMA’s version of the Mayweather vs Pacman fiasco. The biggest fight in our sport isnt happening due to direct compeition. The same reason super fights of the past didnt happen like Fedor/Randy, Chuck/Wandy, etc. Isnt compeition grand? I dont think so.

    Another effect Comp has on MMA is promotions taking huge risks to compete with the UFC that has serious repercussions on the future of the sport. Elite XC jumping in and selling their sole to get a TV deal rather than get a good deal. This started things going down from there. They made very poor choices that caused their demise that could have ruined any other MMA promotion from ever getting another chance on network TV.

    Outside of a few more fights on tv to watch. Compeition hasnt done anything for MMA but hurt it and thats why it doesnt exist in almost all other sports. A house divided can not stand. Thats why all the promotions who rise up end up crumbling down. IFL, Bodog, WFA, Pride, K-1 MMA, Affliction, Elite XC, etc. Just as in every other sport the people wont be torn between 2 equal groups. Interest in one always drops off and they merge or go under. The problem is there is no shortage of promotions who get a finacial backer and try to compete with the UFC. They get a few name fighters, run a few shows, get in trouble, sell out. Another starts up and does the same thing, then another. The same will happen to StrikeForce and someone will take their place. The problem is these promotions are always holding a few fighters who are good and prevent fans from getting the fights they want.

  6. mmaguru on January 26th, 2010 9:02 AM

    I’ve always liked the competition. I just wish these ORGs would co promote.

  7. Brain Smasher on January 26th, 2010 5:26 PM

    ■mmaguru on January 26th, 2010 9:02 AM
    I’ve always liked the competition. I just wish these ORGs would co promote.

    That would never happen. The only people who want to co promote are the promotions who are smaller and want to piggyback the UFC. The large company or 2 equal companies would never co promote because they have to much to lose. 2 equal promotion wouldnt be equal if the rival won a majority of the head to head match ups. Then the promotion who lost looks like a second rate promotion with lessor talent.

    Co promotion is a great tool for smaller promotions who have nothing to lose.

  8. bill hardiek on March 16th, 2010 11:23 AM

    I am on the side of less competition. Here’s why: 1) If the UFC or Strikeforce(lol) had all the top fighters in the world. We wouldnt be subjected to the Fedor is the best in the world or Randy is the best in the world arguements. We would get to see the best fight the best. 2) I believe competition only dilutes the talent pool. Let’s be honest, Did Herschal Walker deserve to be on Strikeforce? promotors will be less likely to put on freakshows if they have the depth in their rosters. 3) Competition is not good for fighters. In the short term, yes, competition is good for fighters. However, long term. If all the best are under one banner, imagine the clout and collective bargining ability they would have. I believe the mantra. “United we bargin, divided we beg.” 4)The Pay per view will be stacked. We wont hear bitching about the price anymore. 5) The level of competition will be at an all time high. No more Kalib Starnes or Houston Alexander running away. With one strong league, a fighter will have to work his ass off to get there. 6) All MMA fights will be held using the same rules. I loved Pride, but, MMA cant continue to grow if it’s different everywhere. I always thought of Pride as a National league vs. American league kind of thing.

Got something to say?