FX looking to add sports programming

January 31, 2011

The Sports Business Daily reports that Fox executives are looking to include sports programming in hoping to grow FX. They are looking at the Turner Network Television (TNT) model as a template for its foray into sports. Could this new strategy for FX mean an eventual home for the UFC?

Via Sports Business Daily:

The idea is to bring a broadcast model — with a mix of sports and entertainment — to cable, and Fox thinks TNT has the blueprint for how it would look.

Fox executives think live sports are a main reason why TNT has better distribution numbers (100 million to FX’s 96 million), higher subscriber fees (more than $1 to FX’s rate in the mid-40-cents range) and more viewers than FX.

Payout Perspective:

The new focus on sports by FX means another opportunity for the UFC to extend its brand. It was thought that Bellator was in talks with FX for its fourth season but it ended up on MTV2. As we have indicated the past, the UFC to FX is a logical choice to add to the FX lineup. One of the concerns regarding the Bellator-FX relationship was how Bellator would draw fans due to its lack of star power. The UFC would have no problem with star power (e.g., Brock Lesnar, GSP, etc.)

But does FX want the UFC? There are options out there for FX to bid on.

Sports Business Daily writes:

The NFL is expected to make an extra cable package available when its next round of rights come up after the 2013 season. MLB’s rights come up after the 2013 season, and NASCAR’s in 2014. And bidding for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics is expected to start later this year. FX expects to have a seat at the table for most of those.

Will it focus its efforts on bidding for these sports rights? Or, will it consider the UFC as a cost-effective option or complimentary sports programming in addition to one of the above.

There has been much speculation that the UFC could land on FX. As we have noted about the TV landscape, it has solid original programming catering to the M18-49 demo including The Sons of Anarchy and this year, FX premiered, “Lights Out,” a boxing drama. To add the UFC would be a logical extension. The only question would be the negotiations between the two sides. Among the many issues, would Dana White and Fox executives be able to come to a mutual agreement on money and creative control? We will have to wait and see.

Spike TV to show 12 “UFC Prelims” in 2011

January 30, 2011

Last week Spike TV announced that it would air “UFC Prelims” for 12 UFC PPVs in 2011. The first one hour prelim show will be this Saturday prior to UFC 126.

According to the Spike TV release, “Spike has aired 13 “UFC Prelims,” beginning with UFC 103 in September 2009, with an average viewership of 1.5 million.”

UFC 127 will not air a UFC Prelim show on Spike TV although bouts will be shown on ESPN in the UK. MMA Junkie speculates that the UFC may go another route (UFC.com, Facebook, ION) in showing prelims.

Payout Perspective:

Could it be that ION was a “one and done” deal to show Spike TV that there were other networks out there that would jump at the chance to air the UFC.  Maybe not. According to MMA Junkie, the UFC and Spike TV haven’t finalized a contract renewal for 2012. The “UFC Prelims” is a step in the right direction for the UFC-Spike TV relationship although it could be that both parties are taking a wait and see approach to the future.

From a fan viewpoint, the announcement is a chance for the UFC to show its expanded roster of fighters, especially when PPV cards are shortened when a title is on the line.

Is Herschel Walker good for MMA?

January 29, 2011

At 48 years old, Herschel Walker is set to fight on the Strikeforce card Saturday night. Because of his football celebrity, he has been able to penetrate mainstream media by talking about the fact that he could still play football at his age. Strikeforce and Showtime should benefit from this crossover publicity. But is Walker good for MMA?

Via MMA Weekly:

Herschel Walker isn’t trying to sell himself as a legitimate contender to the heavyweight crown. He knows all too well that he’s still very ‘green’ in mixed martial arts, and he has a ton of homework to do before he can challenge any of the top competitors in the sport. But Walker’s continued support of MMA has an ability to reach out to people who are not so familiar with it.

This week, Walker appeared on multiple national shows including ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption and The Dan Patrick Show talking football, and then MMA. For Walker’s part, he understands MMA and even sold the sport stating that it is safer than football.  Even if mainstream sports media picked up Walker’s comments about the ability to play in the NFL, he still brings up the fact he is in MMA.

Via MMA Fighting:

You could argue that Walker is similarly as valuable to Strikeforce as he was to his college coaches, if only for his PR appeal. He may not have a title run in him, but he does attract a lot of media attention, even if that doesn’t always lead to more attention for Strikeforce.

More from MMA Weekly:

It’s the goal of Herschel Walker to bring an understanding of MMA to the casual sports fan. Some may not understand the purpose of Walker being a part of what many believe to be a brutal competition, but he understands that. And perhaps him being a part of it, then praising it to everyone else that knows who he is, makes him ideal for the position of ‘MMA spokesperson.’

Payout Perspective:

Should Herschel Walker be a spokesperson for MMA? If so, how much would it help MMA?

The argument against Walker may be that he is just a sideshow that Strikeforce-Showtime is using as an overblown publicity stunt. Walker’s longevity in the sport cannot be too long, and his matches are of no significance since his opponents are not contenders either. Shouldn’t a spokesperson for MMA be successful and a contender? A face for MMA can be GSP or Cain Velasquez. Maybe Dan Henderson.

If he is a spokesman for MMA, does it matter that Walker is an athlete crossing over into MMA, and not organically grown in mixed martial arts? Even though Walker has a martial arts background, his athletic fame is from football (and maybe his stint as an Olympic bobsledder). But, unlike boxer James Toney, Walker understands MMA and is not trying to be a “bad guy.” “I want to be a good guy for MMA,” said Walker in an interview with MMA Weekly Radio.  Thus, even though Walker may not be as successful in the sport of MMA as a GSP, Cain Velasquez or Nate Diaz, he can still add value through mainstream media and his continued success.

The only drawback for Walker is his age and inexperience in the sport. At 48, it is hard to imagine Walker lasting another 5 years in this sport (Randy Couture aside). Secondly, Walker is as good as his opponent is bad. At some point, Walker may want to step up in class of fighters he will go after. At that point, he may be exposed (e.g., Kimbo Slice).

At this point, Walker is good for Strikeforce because mainstream sports media will cover Walker. Its a good story: a former Heisman trophy winner, in his late 40s, in shape, fighting in a cage. Is he good for MMA? Yes, considering his respect for the sport. His dedication to training and relaying the realities of the sport to mainstream outlets that it is a sport legitimizes MMA as a sport.

Walker can help MMA through the continued education of the sport to the casual fan. If nothing else, it will draw interest from casual fans to tune into a Strikeforce event that may be curious about Walker’s ability.

Video: Lawler preps for the Gator

January 28, 2011

Before his fight Saturday night, Strikeforce’s Robbie Lawler goes through fighter prep in San Jose before his fight with Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. MMA Fighting goes behind the scenes with Lawler in this video.

Payout Perspective:

Lawler’s Fight Journal is a great way for him to market himself. It is a sacrifice to let cameras follow you around before a big fight, but many fans are interested on what a fighter goes through and this gives you that perspective. The video lets you see the many obligations a fighter has on top of concentrating on the fight. Also, not a bad way for Lawler’s clothing sponsor, Raw State, to get some publicity.

An interesting part of the video is Matt Hughes talking to Strikeforce’s Rich Chou about BJ Penn around the 1:30 mark.

Gretzky still more popular than GSP in Canada

January 28, 2011

Despite Dana White’s claim that Georges St. Pierre is more popular than Wayne Gretzky in Canada, a recent poll revealed otherwise.

Via Sportsnet.ca:

A Canadian Press-Harris Decima survey showed Gretzky outdistancing the mixed martial arts champion when respondents were asked to grade their opinion of Canadian celebrities.

The national average was a grade of 7.29 for Gretzky, compared to 6.11 for St-Pierre. The fighter, who ranked seventh out of the 11 Canadians on the survey, still rated higher than Prime Minister Stephen Harper (5.22).

Payout Perspective:

Although GSP was behind Gretzky in the poll, it shows the overall popularity of St. Pierre in Canada. Also, if we are to analyze this a bit further, the broader question asked in the poll: “grade your opinion of Canadian celebrities,” shows that GSP is considered a mainstream celebrity to Canadians. He is much more embraced in Canada than any MMA star would be embraced in America. Obviously, Dana White’s comments about GSP being more popular than Gretzky was hype, but the statement could prove true as time passes.

MMA shut out in two sports lists

January 28, 2011

Although growing in popularity, mixed martial arts is behind in the minds of mainstream sports. No MMA fighters were included in Businessweek’s Power List of 100 most powerful athletes. Also, a recent Harris poll asking sports fans of their favorite sports failed to register MMA in its list.

Businessweek’s 2011 Power List of 100 which lists the most powerful professional athletes in sports did not include anyone from MMA. Last year, the list included Fedor Emelianenko (No. 82) and Brock Lesnar (No. 96). NFL’s Peyton Manning was No. 1 followed by snowboarder Shawn White. Manny Pacquiao was the only combat sports athlete at No. 24. (h/t MMA Fighting)

The criteria via Businessweek:

It’s the combination of athletic achievement plus the ability to connect with an audience on a deeper, more personal level that separates mere jocks from the stars. Indeed, the everyman image often earns the highest ranking and the biggest earnings. That explains why the No. 1 spot on the 2011 Power 100 ranking went to Peyton Manning, the well-liked, hard-working Colts quarterback who appeared in two of the last four Super Bowls and led his team to victory in Super Bowl XLI.

The Harris Interactive poll asked American sports fans their ONE favorite sport.  The MMA snub may raise some eyebrows considering bowling is ahead of boxing in the poll.

Via MMA Junkie:

Harris Interactive, a research company with widely distributed and influential surveys, recently asked American fans about their favorite sports. MMA isn’t even listed. According to the 2010 survey, pro football is king of the sporting world and is followed by baseball and college football. Boxing, a sibling of MMA in the combat-sports world, is ranked 13th. It’s outpaced by NASCAR (fourth), hockey (sixth), and bowling (11th).

The question posed to people was: “If you had to choose, which ONE of these sports would you say is your favorite?” The poll surveyed 2,331 adults in December 2010. Several sportswriters have approached Harris Interactive about the inclusion of MMA which it will take under consideration.

Payout Perspective:

Businessweek Power List

With Fedor and Brock losing in 2010, it was inevitable that they would drop out of the rankings. I find it surprising that Georges St. Pierre did not make the 100. His crossover appeal along with his mainstream sponsors should have him on this list. Interesting that Houston Texans running back Arian Foster made the list at No. 22 ahead of Kevin Durant. In fact, Foster was the first NFL running back on the list ahead of Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson.

Harris Interactive

The Harris poll seems antiquated as the MMA Junkie indicates it has not changed its categories of sports since 1985. It also shows that MMA is still is a fringe sport in the eyes of some.

Despite the poll, I think the better question is whether MMA is the one sport you would say is your favorite. Although MMA is growing in mainstream popularity, it would be hard for people to say they would take the sport over the NFL.

UFC Fight for the Troops 2 peaks at 2.5 million viewers

January 27, 2011

This past Saturday’s UFC Fight for the Troops 2 peaked at 2.5 million viewers according to Spike TV and the UFC.

Via Spike TV release:

Overall, the fight card drew a 1.3 household rating, a 1.6 rating in Men 18-49, a 1.5 in Men 18-34 and 1.8 million total viewers, peaking at 10:15pm with 2.5 million viewers. The Spike telecast ranked number 2 in Men 18-34 and Men 18-49 in cable in the timeslot.  “UFC Fight For The Troops 2” drew 18 percent more viewers than the “UFC Fight Night” average for 2010.

In its two Fight for the Troops events, UFC head Dana White stated that it has raised over $8.5 million for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The first Fight for the Troops held in Fayetville, North Carolina raised over $4 million. This means that Saturday night’s event raised at least $4.5 million.

On another note, MMA Junkie reports that 3,200 were in attendance for Fight for the Troops 2. No live gate was calculated as the tickets were free for military personnel.

Oregon’s Law School to Host MMA Panel at Conference

January 27, 2011

The University of Oregon’s Sports and Entertainment Law Forum is set to host the 2011 Sports and Entertainment Law Conference in Portland, Oregon on Friday, January 28th. This year’s conference will feature five different panels that focus on the business and law of the sports industry:

  • MMA: The Legal Aspects of an Emerging Sport
  • Sports Agents and NCAA Compliance Rules
  • Pacific Northwest Professional Sports
  • Sports Business and the Law
  • North(west) Hollywood: Entertainment and Music Law in the Northwest

The panel on MMA features a very notable and influential group of MMA business professionals, including:

  • Brad Darcy, the Executive Director of the Oregon State Athletic Commission.
  • Kenn Ellner, the Chief Legal Counsel at Strikeforce MMA.
  • Frank Mahar, the Executive Vice-President and Chief Legal Counsel at Genesco Sports Enterprises
  • Steve Pacitti, a well-respected legal representative for over 20 fighters, including Georges St-Pierre.

MMAPayout’s own Kelsey Philpott will be moderating the 75 minute discussion which is slated to kickoff the conference at 9:00am on Friday at the University of Oregon’s White Stag building.

For more information on the conference, please visit the Oregon SELC website at www.oregonselc.com.

HDNet Set to Broadcast Strikeforce Fedor vs Silva Prelim Fights, 8-Man LW GP From Japan

January 27, 2011

HDNet has long been the home to MMA promotions all over the world, and it looks like they will continue to be so in 2011 as Strikeforce will call it their home once again to air non-televised bouts on Showtime, starting with the first leg of the HW Grand Prix on February 12, from New Jersey.

LIVE! Sat, Feb 12th8:00 PMHDNet Fights – Strikeforce™ World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament UndercardsTop prospects take center stage as John Cholish meets Marc Stevens. Plus, Igor Gracie and Sam Oropeza are in action.

Along with televising the undercards, HDNet Fights’ Inside MMA will also be on site the day before the event, and will televise their weekly program focusing on the monumental event at 9PM ET Live from New Jersey.

UPDATE: Mike Schiavello and Bas Rutten will be doing the Strikeforce Prelim commentating.

UPDATE 2: According to ESPN’s Josh Gross, Strikeforce is in talks with Real Entertainment to host an 8-man LW GP consisting of Strikeforce and DREAM LW’s in Japan, which would be televised on HDNet starting in May. Japanese fighters Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Katsunori Kikuno are expected to participate.

Payout Perspective:

In the past few years, there have been on-and-off again discussions for Strikeforce to televise their non-aired prelim fights through different outlets.  In the past, Strikeforce, EA Sports, and recently, Sherdog have all hosted prelim fights on their website via online streaming, and conversations between Strikeforce and HDNet had taken place in the past but nothing ever materialized.  It’s great to see Strikeforce use HDNet as a platform to get more fights out to its fans, and more importantly, getting more of its fighters experience and on television to grow them and groom them for the bigger shows.  Strikeforce has only so many shows they can do in a year and with an ever growing roster, televising undercard fights will do wonders for the company. Along with growing their own brand, this platform gives exposure to fighters in order to grow their own individual brans. It also gives them the opportunity to benefit from sponsorship dollars.

Former Tapout Employee Receives $3.2M Jury Award

January 26, 2011

Following up on my earlier post, Former TapouT Employee’s Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Set for Trial in January – Claims Against Kreiner Dismissed, according to the Beverley Hills Courier, the former employee, Michelle Thomas “was today awarded $2.4 million in punitive damages by a Los Angeles Superior Court jury.”

According to the article, “[t]he panel deliberated for about a half-hour before finding in favor of Michelle Thomas in her wrongful termination case. The same panel on Monday awarded her $840,000 in compensatory damages, bringing her total award to more than $3.2 million.”

Consistent with the allegations in the complaint, the article provides that Thomas testified “that employees were told to pay out of their own pocket for any television subscriptions needed to view the company’s show on the Versus cable network, called ‘TapouT,’ as well as pay-per-view Ultimate Fighting Championship bouts.”

Justin Klein is an attorney at Satterlee Stephens Burke & Burke LLP in New York City where he concentrates his practice in commercial litigation and represents clients in the fight industry.  He regularly addresses current legal issues that pertain to combat sports, including efforts to legalize MMA in New York, at his Fight Lawyer website.  He is a licensed boxing manager with the New York State Athletic Commission as well as the founder and Chairman of the Board of the New York Mixed Martial Arts Initiative, a non-profit organization that gives inner city youth the opportunity to experience the emotional and physical benefits of martial arts training.  Justin lives in New York City where he trains in jiu jitsu and boxing.

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