PFL kicks off season Thursday night with a lot on the line

June 6, 2018

The Professional Fighters League kicks off on Thursday on NBC Sports Network and Facebook Watch as it seeks to reinvent itself with a season-like year culminating in a bracket-style playoff and $10 million pool of prize money for the champions for each respective weight division.

The PFL will hold its “regular season” events this summer on Thursday nights.  In the fall, the events will switch to Saturday nights for the playoffs and will end with a New Year’s Eve event to crown the champions.  The winner of each division will win $1 million.

The deal with NBC Sports Network is a one-year revenue sharing deal.  Previously, the network aired World Series of Fighting events to modest ratings.  The Facebook deal will be an interesting watch since the PFL succeeded in its one event it aired last year on the platform.

The league will have a uniform policy, but it will allow room for fighters’ sponsors.  The move looks to be a way to appease fighters while capitalizing on negotiating its own sponsor deals.  Arguably, the move looks to build on lessons from the UFC’s Outfitting Policy.

The roster of fighters vying for the $1 million in each division is a mix of prospects, international fighters and former UFC fighters.

The company will draw upon shoulder programming to promote its fighters in hopes of creating personalities for viewers to latch on to similar to episodic television.

Putting the “regular season” on Thursday nights might be a good move considering WSOF was buried on Friday and Saturday nights and seemed to be going up against a Bellator or UFC card.  Thursdays during the summer may be a tactical gamble that may work out.  Moving the day of the show during its “playoffs” may be a risk since it will get bogged down with football.  But, the hope would be that the company would have reeled in a core base that would continue to follow the season.

PFL CEO, Peter Murray was interviewed on the Sports Business Radio Podcast to promote the new season.  Murray, formerly of Under Armour, spoke about meeting with the ownership group of the PFL who were enthused about the product.  He spoke about the ‘season’ and ‘championship’ aspect as what distinguished the PFL from other MMA leagues.  He talked about the distribution deals with NBC Sports Network and Facebook Watch.  He noted that Facebook Watch being a disrupter in the industry.

The success of this venture will depend heavily on the entertainment value of the fights and the overarching factor that no one gets hurt and has to withdraw from the tournament and/or a fighter misses weight and cannot compete.  The unknowns that can derail a fight or event are likely a big concern for the PFL.  Everything must go right this season for the PFL to have a second season.  You might infer that NBC Sports Network will remain a partner with the PFL so long as it drawing enough revenue (and ratings) to make it worthwhile.  Facebook Watch is a non-traditional medium which the PFL hopes to capitalize on by helping the platform bolster its content.  Still, the amount of views and how long people stay to watch will be something that execs will keep tabs on.

While the optimist sees potential for the PFL, the pessimist sees a lot of trappings of defunct leagues of the past.

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