UFC, DGital Media to produce podcasts starting June 21

May 30, 2016

The Sports Business Journal reports that the UFC and DGital Media have struck a deal in which the company will launch a twice-a-week podcast featuring UFC President Dana White, fighters from the company and other notable figures.

Financial terms of the multiyear deal were not disclosed however SBJ reports that the companies will split advertising revenue from the podcasts.

DGital Media is the same company that produces NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski’s “The Vertical Podcast.”

The podcasts begin June 21 featuring former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra with comedian Jim Norton.  The show, “UFC Unfiltered with Jim Norton and Matt Serra” will be 1 hour shows releasing on Tuesday and Thursdays.  The usual platforms such as iTunes and GooglePlay will carry the shows for free download.

According to the SBJ article, the UFC had been considering launching a podcast “for a few years.”

Payout Perspective:

Believe it or not podcasts are a big media platform.  The question is whether they could be monetized via advertising.  The only real measure for podcasts is how many downloads they receive.  Even then, its not known whether or not they are listened to by the consumer.  Thus, for an advertiser, it becomes a gamble as to whether or not an ad is heard or if it just falls on deaf ears.  The UFC seems positive that it can leverage this show to sell to its existing sponsors as well as others.  It will be interesting to see if the podcasts become the go to place for fighters and it excludes other shows like “The MMA Hour.”

UFC Fight Night attendance, gate and bonuses

May 29, 2016

UFC Fight Night 88 drew 5,193 for a live gate of $359,000 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas.  Headliner Cody Garbrandt led the list of bonus winners.

The attendance, gate and bonuses were announced at the post-fight press conference.

Cody Garbrandt, Jake Collier, Jeremy Stephens and Renan Barao earned the $50,000 fight night bonuses.  Garbrandt and Collier won for their Performances of the Night.  Stephens and Barao drew Fight of the Night.

The attendance and gate was one of the lowest for a Vegas UFC show.

Payout Perspective:

The annual Memorial Day show was held on a Sunday night instead of the usual Saturday PPV.  On would have to go back to UFC Fight Night 47 for a live gate and attendance this low for a Fight Night.  I left out UFC Fight Night 80 (PVZ-Rose 1,643 in attendance and $234,725 gate) since the venue was so small.  Obviously, this event comes at a time in between big events and with no top names the low attendance and gate may have been expected.

Showtime sues Top Rank for Pacquiao lawsuits

May 29, 2016

Showtime Networks, Inc. has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of New York against Top Rank, Inc. citing indemnification and breach of contract related to lawsuits filed by third parties against Showtime and Top Rank stemming from Manny Pacquiao’s claim that he fought with an injury against Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

The lawsuits, filed by individuals who purchased the PPV claimed that Pacquiao was not ready to participate in the fight because of an injury in early April 2015 and it was not disclosed.  Most of the lawsuits point to the Pre-Fight Medical Questionnaire provided by Pacquiao which seemingly misrepresented the injury by not disclosing it.

Under the terms of an agreement between Showtime and Top Rank, Top Rank was to defend and indemnify Showtime from any liability (i.e., lawsuits) and supply Showtime with its own legal counsel.  Showtime’s attorneys point out that a potential conflict occurred when Pacquiao did not notify officials of a shoulder injury prior to the Mayweather fight.  According to the lawsuit, Showtime demanded that Top Rank pay for Showtime’s legal representations once these lawsuits were filed due to the potential conflict.  Top Rank claimed that the terms of the agreement which would trigger Top Rank to defend and indemnify Showtime would be an instance of actual conflict between the parties.  Per the lawsuit, Showtime claims that Top Rank did not believe that there was a conflict.

The relevant indemnification language of the Showtime/Top Rank contract is below:

Showtime also claims that Top Rank threatened to assert its own indemnity claims against Showtime.  Top Rank claimed that Showtime promotional materials for the fight were relevant in relation to claims of breach of contract filed by plaintiffs.  Thus, Top Rank requested the same defend and indemnification that Showtime had been of Top Rank.

Despite the refusal to pay for its attorneys, Showtime defended the lawsuits it was named in.  The legal fees through May 12, per the lawsuit is $682,754.06 plus interest.  Showtime seeks to recoup this plus fees and costs of the lawsuit in this action.

Payout Perspective:

It’s clear that this was bound to happen.  Once Pacquiao claimed the injury post-fight, the lawsuits started to pour in from plaintiffs’ attorneys and they were going to name any and all entities in its complaints.  The lawsuit presents the question of what is a conflict and what is not and when the right to indemnify and defend took place.  Showtime claims that the unreported injury should have triggered the indemnification in the contract while Top Rank will likely deny this citing no conflict at the time.

We will keep you updated.

Amendment to Ali Act introduced on Thursday

May 28, 2016

The much-anticipated bill seeking to amend the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act was introduced by Oklahoma congressman Markwayne Mullin this past Thursday.

No text of the act which would amend the current law is available for the public but one would think that this should be available soon.  Democrat Joseph Kennedy is co-sponsoring the bill.  Thus, there is bi-partisan support for the bill as Mullin is a Repbulican.

The congressman is a former MMA fighter and is in support of legislation to protect all combat sport athletes.  Information about the amendment language has been vague.

Despite the intent of the Ali Act, there are issues with the law and its enforcement.

Payout Perspective:

This will be an interesting piece of legislation to track as it makes its way through committee.  While I think the intent is there, the details of the amendments will be the most interesting thing.  The UFC would oppose this Act and despite Bellator advocating for this, allegations in a recent lawsuit against the Viacom-owned company may say otherwise about its business dealings.

TUF 23 Episode 6: 444,000 viewers

May 26, 2016

The sixth episode of The Ultimate Fighter 23 drew 444,000 viewers per Sports TV Ratings.  It shows an increase of approximately 19%.

The fight of the episode was Eric Spicely as he defeated Elias Urbina.

According to Sports TV Ratings, the episode drew 256,000 viewers in the adult 18-49 demo.  The ratings reflect an increase and the best rating in that demo since the first episode.

Episode 6

Last week’s live+SD rating drew 361,000 but increased to 625,000 viewers in adjusted ratings based on DVR+3 which represents a 43% increase from the overnight rating.

Payout Perspective:

The episode rating is a nice bump from last week and is a 20% increase from TUF 21’s Episode 6 last spring.  At 444,000 viewers, it’s the second highest rating for the season.

Bellator 155 peaks at 916,000 viewers

May 25, 2016

Bellator 155 last Friday peaked at 916,000 viewers per Nielsen.  The main event between Rafael Carvahlho and Melvin Manhoef averaged 812,000 viewers.

The overall event, factoring in the adjusted numbers, came to 715,000 viewers and was the second most-watched live sporting event on last Friday.

Peak viewership for last 3 Bellators

Bellator 153: Henderson-Koreshkov 1.1M viewers

Bellator 154: Davis-King Mo 1.3M viewers

Bellator 155: Carvahlho-Manhoef 916,000 viewers

Payout Perspective:

Bellator 155 was not the best of cards and yet it did pretty well in the ratings.  Comparing the peak viewership, it is slightly off the last couple Bellator events.  But, those ratings included known fighters in those main events.  While Manhoef might be a fighter you might know, it’s not someone you would usually see in a main event.

Bellator MMA sued for wrongful termination

May 25, 2016

Zachery Light has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against Bellator MMA and Viacom citing wrongful termination based on public policy.  Light, a former MMA fighter and employee of Bellator, claims various wrongdoings while working under Scott Coker.

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Light’s attorney, William Crosby.

Light, a former amateur wrestler and MMA fighter, was hired by Bellator and worked under Bjorn Rebney.  He became Bellator’s Talent Development Manager.  The lawsuit states he was soon promoted to Talent Development Director.  He was praised for his work and “received the highest ranking on his annual reviews.”

The Complaint notes a shift of business culture when Viacom acquired Bellator and Scott Coker took over.

Light alleges that in September 2015, he became aware of a number of instances in which Bellator “failed to observe and knowingly disobeyed laws enacted to protect the health and safety” of MMA fighters.  Notably, the California law requiring a medical clearance examination by a licensed physician for participants in a MMA fight.  Light claimed that “a reliable source” at Bellator 126 noted that Ryan Martinez’ blood and eye medicals that were submitted to the state of Arizona “were admittedly forged.”  Martinez lost his fight to Nick Rossborough.

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At Bellator 131 in San Diego, Light learned from “reliable sources” that “a number of fighters on the card had submitted California state-required medicals” by Adam Rendon.  Rendon, the lawsuit claims, was not a licensed physician and this was in violation of California law.  Bellator 131 was the first “tentpole” event of the Coker-era which featured Stephan Bonnar fighting Tito Ortiz.

The lawsuit claims that Light talked to Rich Chou, Bellator’s Vice President of Talent, prior to Bellator 126.  Chou indicated to Light that he would follow up but when he did not here from Chou he approached Scott Coker.  According to the Complaint, “Coker told plaintiff (Light) “to do what Chou told you to do,” without addressing these issues.”  Light went back to Chou who, according to the lawsuit, stated he would be terminated if he (Light) “kept pushing the issue.”

Light went back to Coker to question about Rendon.  According to the Complaint, Coker told plaintiff, “a lot of people at Bellator are going to lose their jobs next week.  Do you want to keep yours?”

In addition, the Complaint claims that Coker pressured Light into promoting collusive fights in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.  The lawsuit alleges that Coker disliked manager Anthony McGann.  Rampage Jackson and Cheick Kongo were managed by McGann at the time and the Complaint claims that Light was instructed to “convince Kongo to fire McGann as his manager.”  Light was influenced by Coker to have Kongo fire McGann and have him sign a new promotion agreement or he (Light) would be fired.

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Light was instructed to arrange fights for McGann-managed fighters under contract in Bellator with opponents “who would convincingly defeat them.”  This would apparently allow Coker the pretext to cut ties with McGann and his fighters.  The lawsuit makes a point of indicating that “[s]uch collusive matches were tantamount to fight fixing…”

Under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act whistleblower provisions, employees in privately held subsidiaries of publicly traded companies who assist in an investigation into an employer’s violation are protected from employer retaliation.  Under the California Business and Professions Code, there is a similar provision claimed by Light.

Light also indicates that in “late 2014 and early 2015,” Mike Kogan was hired by Bellator in an executive capacity.  Kogan, who Light alleges is a “close friend” of Coker claims that Kogan was “paid management commissions for fighters he represented in bouts that occurred with defendant Bellator.”  This would be a “serious conflict of interest” and violation of California law.

The lawsuit states that due to stress-related to Coker and Chou refusing to follow laws and regulations and “requiring plaintiff to engage in illegal practices as a condition of keeping his job,” Light suffered an anxiety attack.  The health scare occurred on April 10, 2015 after Bellator 136 on the campus of UC Irvine.  He was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety.  Light had to take an extended medical leave.  He was cleared to return to work without restrictions on March 10, 2016 but was terminated on March 17, 2017 via a letter.  He was advised that “his job was no longer available.”

Payout Perspective:

This will be an interesting case as it goes forward.  Since it was filed just yesterday, there’s still a lot to digest about the claims.  As with many wrongful termination lawsuits, the allegations are salacious and may or may not be true.  One would expect Bellator to deny the claims and file a motion to dismiss – none of which is earth-shattering.  Obviously, the claims present a public relations issue as the company in support of amending the Ali Act to include MMA fighters are accused of doing things that oppose the protections claimed in the Ali Act.  Also, the conflict between promoter and manager rears its head in another MMA promotion.  We shall see about the veracity of the claims and how will Bellator address them.

MMA Payout will continue to follow.

Penn claims ignorance in violating anti-doping policy

May 24, 2016

BJ Penn claims that he did not know about the ban on IV usage and that is the reason why he violated the UFC anti-doping policy per a statement issued on his web site.

“I voluntarily disclosed to USADA that during a non-fight period that I had an IV administered under the care of a doctor.

“The rule for IV usage had changed since my last fight in the UFC and was unaware of the change and voluntarily disclosed the information to USADA. I had no idea that IV use was banned 365 days a year.

“At no time in my career in martial arts have I ever doped and anticipate all test results from USADA will come back clean and will be working with the UFC to get the matter cleared up and return to fight as soon as possible.

As we know, Penn’s last fight in the UFC predated the anti-doping policy which went into effect on July 1, 2015.  Penn’s last fight in the UFC was against Frankie Edgar and occurred in July 2014.  He was slated to fight next week at UFC 199.

Payout Perspective:

I don’t believe plausible deniability will be a viable defense for Penn.  One would surmise that Penn had to sign a contract with the UFC which included abiding by the anti-doping policy enforced by USADA.  This defense is not unique and it may not be very successful if Penn decides to go through an appeal process.  Perhaps he will be able to broker a deal that would mitigate a penalty.

Showtime Boxing ratings peak at 491,000

May 24, 2016

Showtime Boxing Saturday night peaked at 491,000 subscribers.

The event was highlighted by Erislandy Lara defending his WBA Super Welterweight Championship over Vanes Martirosyan.

In addition, Jermall Charlo defeated John Jackson.

Per Sports TV Ratings:

11:18pm – 491,000 subscribers

10:57pm – 414,000 subscribers

12:09am – 358,000 subscribers

10:07pm – 389,000 subscribers

Payout Perspective:

The NBA Playoff game between Cleveland and Toronto on ESPN scored the highest in cable sports TV ratings Saturday night.  The Showtime Boxing event did much better than previous showings of late.

USADA violation scraps Penn from 199

May 23, 2016

B.J. Penn has been taken off of UFC 199 next week as a result of a violation of the UFC anti-doping policy.

The UFC has issued a statement found on its web site.  A portion reads:

“The UFC organization was notified today that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) informed BJ Penn of a potential Anti-Doping Policy violation. Penn disclosed the usage of a prohibited method – the use of an IV in excess of 50 ML in a six-hour period – during a March 25, 2016, out-of-competition sample collection. In accordance with the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, Penn has received a provisional suspension, and has been removed from his scheduled bout against Cole Miller on June 4 in Los Angeles.

Payout Perspective:

The good news is that the MMA community does not have to fake like Penn’s return to the Octagon was a good thing.  In fact, it was quite sad.  If you watched his fight against Rory MacDonald in 2012 and then his return against Frankie Edgar in July 2014, you knew that the old BJ was no more and that he was done as an elite MMA fighter.  His last fight against Edgar did not show any sign that he was competitive.  In fact, he has not won a UFC fight since November 2010.

Unfortunately, Penn’s career and possibly his personal life is in turmoil.  Penn was involved in a fight with a friend which resulted in an arrest.  You might recall that his return to fighting was delayed due to sexual assault allegations.  Earlier this year, the story took a weird turn as a former writer for his web site accused Penn of the assault on his girlfriend.  With the possibility of a suspension due to his violation of the anti-doping policy, the future is murky for the former prodigy.

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