UFC Inks Boost Mobile as Official Sponsor

October 21, 2010

Bill King of the Sports Business Journal writes that the deal between the UFC and Boost Mobile is official. Boost will begin its first activation piece this weekend at UFC 121 with a text to win game, while also doing some in-arena activation around one of its new phone offerings.

Boost launches its first major UFC activation on Saturday with a national online and text-to-win sweepstakes promotion titled “Your Town, Our Fighter.” Boost also will serve as presenting sponsor of Saturday night’s UFC 121 PPV from Anaheim featuring BrockLesnar-Cain Velasquez. That event brings the unveiling of Boost’s in-arena activation, a “Seek and Destroy” zone in which consumers can sample Boost’s first touch-screen slider handset, the Samsung Seek, and also win seat upgrades by posting the highest score on a UFC video game.

Payout Perspective:

This has been in the works for the last couple months. MMAPayout.com first reported on Boost’s relationship with Rampage Jackson at UFC 114, which was the first time they’d been allowed in the Octagon. Then at UFC 119 in September the mobile phone provider had cage mat and fence signage to which we proposed the following:

The one thing I really wanted to mention was the addition of Boost Mobile as a sponsor on the mat and cage padding. Boost has been slowly increasing it’s investment in MMA over the last year; most notably with it’s sponsorship of Rampage Jackson back at UFC 114. It appears the brand will be the presenting sponsor for UFC 120, so look for plenty of signage that evening. I’d also expect, seeing as it’s a Spike TV broadcast, that Boost will purchase some additional ad inventory to further activate it’s new found relationship with the UFC.

 

I’ll be watching this with a keen eye over the next couple of months to see where this relationship goes. The UFC is a potentially incredible platform for a mobile phone operator to advance on that coveted 18-34 demographic; especially one such as Boost that doesn’t require users to sign contracts.

We’ve seen other UFC sponsors reticent to activate and I’ve never fully understood this approach. The UFC platform is full of little nuances and marketable lifestyle traits that a sponsor could easily use to draw a better association between its brand and the UFC, which would help the brand endear itself to the fans. Boost is set to change all of that. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Boost, in addition to signage and several contests, sign a few more fighters in the coming months.

——

Chalk one more acquisition up for UFC VP of Sponsorship Mike Pine. He’ll be moving to IRONMAN Triathlon in November and the UFC is currently searching for someone to fill his shoes.

UFC VP of Sponsorship Set to Depart

October 7, 2010

MMAPayout.com has learned that UFC VP of Sponsorship Sales, Michael Pine, will be leaving the organization next month in order to pursue an opportunity with international triathlon company, Ironman.

Payout Perspective:

Mike Pine is a tremendous asset to the UFC and I’m sad to see him go. He was the man responsible for the UFC locking up both Harley Davidson and Bud Light as its first two blue chip sponsors. Pine then went on to bring brands like Burger King, US Marines, Miller Lite, BSN, and AMP Energy, and more, into the Octagon. I cannot speculate as to why he’s chosen to leave the UFC, but I wish him all the best at Ironman and in his career moving forward.

Interview with FightMetric creator Rami Genauer

September 30, 2010

MMA Payout had the opportunity to get in touch with Fightmetric creator Rami Genauer. He was gracious enough to answer some questions about his company. Earlier this month, Fightmetric was chosen as the stat provider of choice by the UFC.

1.  What is your background?

 My educational background is in political science and media studies, and I started out my career as a journalist, covering Congress and politics. I also did some sports writing, which is how I first got interested in sports data. Prior to starting FightMetric, I worked as a corporate strategy consultant. Much of the work that went into creating FightMetric drew from that experience in designing data collection methodologies, performing quantitative analysis, and mining data sets.

2.  How did you come up with the concept for FightMetric?

FightMetric started because I was writing articles about MMA and thought it was strange that there were no data to use beyond wins and losses. In writing about other sports (mainly baseball), you find yourself drawn to performance statistics in nearly every article. Because of this, I took it as a challenge to try and conceive of what an MMA statistics system would look like. The goal of the system would not be to merely produce numbers that are anecdotally interesting, but to inject some science into this sport. With the right system, we could create data used to advance the understanding of the sport and create meaningful and powerful metrics.

There was about six months of testing hypotheses, defining methodology, creating a data collection regime, and analyzing the outputs for accuracy and utility before we officially scored our first fight. It started as something fun to try and to satisfy my curiosity, but the reception to it was so great, it has turned into something much larger.

3.  When was it first utilized by an MMA show?/When was it first used by the UFC?

 We started hearing announcers reference our numbers in early 2008, but UFC 87 was the first time we worked directly with the UFC. 

4.  Did you approach the UFC or did they approach you?

We have a great working relationship with the UFC. There are some things we come up with on our own that we pitch to them and some things that they will ask us for that we do per their request.

5.  Is this a computer program you developed specifically for MMA?

I should clarify that FightMetric is not a computer program; it’s just the name of a company that provides statistics and analysis services. But yes, the system was developed specifically for MMA. As we’ve learned, MMA is a complex and unique sport. Attempts to cut corners by borrowing ideas from other sports have largely failed because of the unique nature of MMA. There’s enough here to keep us busy for a while.

6.  Can you tell us the growth of your business? How long has it taken to get to where you are at now as a company?

The company is a little more than three years old. It started as more of a hobby, but it became clear very quickly that this was something people wanted. We’ve grown tremendously during a brief amount of time and are looking forward to innovate in this space for a long time to come.

7.  Have fighters/fight camps asked for the data to use in their training?

Yes, there are several camps that utilize the data. They use it to optimize training and supplement scouting of upcoming opponents.

8.  How many full-time (part-time) employees do you have?

We are a lean, global operation. We have a few full-time employees, but the vast majority of the people who work for FightMetric do it part-time wherever they live. At this point, I think we have as many people working for us outside the US as we have domestically.

9.  Do you see FightMetric being used for fantasy type sports?

Yes, we have already done more than a year of research and development in the fantasy space. FightMetric is a proud member of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. We presented at the FSTA conference in June and were awarded the Best Pitch of the show. As anyone who tries to think about it will find, MMA presents a lot of challenges to fantasy gaming. For a variety of reasons, the traditional fantasy game models people play in other sports break down when you try to apply them to MMA. We looked at everything from baseball to bass fishing to find games that worked, but in the end, we’ve had to invent entirely new models to produce a game that plays consistently and is still fun. By utilizing sound game theory, real-life testers, and a whole lot of trial-and-error, we’ve come up with some great solutions.

Silver Star President Talks ABG Deal

September 7, 2010

The fastest growing sport in the world just got put on an even faster track to mainstream awareness and one step closer to Madison Ave’s biggest dollars after one of the biggest brand licensing companies have jumped directly into the deep end of the mixed martial arts’ pool.

Authentic Brands Group LLC, a company with a giant global footprint in the worlds of apparel, consumer electronics and action sports has today announced the acquisition of TapouT, TapouT MPS, Silver Star Casting Company, Iron Star and Hitman Fight Gear to it’s portfolio, which also includes the Bob Marley Brands, among dozens of others.

In today’s press release, Authentic Brands Group’s Chairman & CEO Jamie Salter said, “This sport is still in its infancy. We strategically chose these acquisitions as our first big move because we’re getting into the right business at the right time. We’re looking forward to working with the best brands and the best athletes in the world as we transition these two companies into global lifestyle brands with our retail and licensing partners.”

In his first interview since the announcement, Silver Star president and founder Luke Burrett tells me the deal took about nine months to close, and it’s going to be mean big things for MMA fans.

“Authentic Brands Group is a brand development and licensing company. In conjunction with Leonard Green & Partners, our mandate is to acquire, manage and build long-term value in prominent consumer brands,” says Burrett, who will maintain his title for the Silver Star and Iron Star brands.

He said ABG’s overall strategy for the brands is to become a full licensing model.

“The beauty of a full licensing model from the consumer standpoint is that the products get better – at least it will with us because our internal mandate is to work with the best in class licensees,” said Burrett. “Its a simple formula really, the best brands work with the best licensees and best retailers. Plus, we have rigorous rules and regulations for our licensees – we literally approve every single product, ad, you name it. Because of this strategy, each partner gets to do what they do best, and we can focus on what we do best – and that’s marketing and building a brand.

That means TapouT’s Punkass and Skyskrape, along with Luke’s wife, Charis Burrett, will continue to be mainstays on the MMA scene, although today’s press release makes no mention of TapouT chairman Marc Kreinert.

Burrett says the acquisition of his company has always been part of his and wife Charis’ strategy.

“In business, every company reaches a point where they need to make the best decision for the company,” he said. “Charis and I have put many years into Silver Star and still have a lot of passion for the brand! ABG is the right partner and we look forward to a great future. This acquisition will strengthen every facet of Silver Star, not just MMA, so we look to our partnership with ABG to take the company to the next level in all of areas,” he said.

Silver Star sponsors UFC Middleweight champ Anderson Silva and fan favorite Clay Guida, and has had deals in place at one time or another with the likes of Georges St. Pierre and Jon Bones Jones.

The buzz about the ABG acquisitions, which may include more brands in the near future (think Sinister), was loud at last month’s UFC Fan Expo, where guys like Burrett, Skrape and Punkass were noticeably more relaxed than usual, with representatives from ABG doing most of the heavy lifting this time around.

“Since we are now going into a licensing model, I will have more time to work with our athletes and the marketing direction of the brand,” he said.

Dana White in SBJ

June 15, 2010

Dana White was interviewed for this week’s Sports Business Journal and answered various questions about the direction of the UFC and MMA in general. It’s clear the interview was designed for an audience that isn’t tremendously familiar with the sport and MMA fans are likely to have already heard these questions answered in previous interviews. Nonetheless, here’s a summary of the interview:

  • White still considers the UFC a PPV company, but noted an increasing television presence and expansion into video games and UFC Gyms as potential sources of revenue growth.
  • Nearly 44% of UFC fans are female.
  • The UFC is not a renegade company: it wants to be unique and edgy, but it’s also “running towards regulation.”
  • Canada could end up rivaling the UFC in terms of MMA market size; Mexico and the Middle East were cited as near term markets with huge potential.
  • The UFC is looking to start in China with a TUF on one of the country’s popular websites (note: Sohu.com would probably be the obvious choice, if this were to happen tomorrow).
  • White claims the bottleneck on growth is not infrastructure or hiring more people, but notes he can’t fly around to global target markets because of the company’s 36 shows per year.

Payout Perspective:

I’m not sure any of this is a surprise – especially for MMAPayout.com readers. 😉

However, I did find it interesting just how much White emphasized the female portion of the demographic. It’s likely a focus for the organization and something the marketing and sponsorship teams are actively pitching to agencies representing companies looking to buy media or other advertising.

…..

The other interesting bit came from White’s claim that the UFC’s struggle to manage its growth is not bound by people. I disagree. As the UFC continues to expand, I think it’s going to find that there are major differences in the consumers within many markets and that individualized marketing and sponsorship tactics are going to be necessary. Those individualized plans require local market knowledge and talent.

In fact, we’ve already seen this in Germany. The UFC’s approach hasn’t worked very well and in many ways its just making people more angry – it’s not just 3-4 politicians that don’t want to see MMA in Germany, it’s a lot of people. Germany is a country in which many of its people still view combat sports through the boxing paradigm: it’s not gentlemanly to tackle an opponent, hit him while he’s down, or try to choke him. That’s a real obstacle to overcome; one that takes time and a dedicated market approach.

Furthermore, the UFC just went out and hired Tom Wright to head up UFC Canada, because it needed dedicated people in the market. Wright is now able to do what Dana and Lorenzo can’t: apply consistent pressure on the Canadian government and manage the ebb and flow of UFC news in the country.

Network, Sponsor Positions on MMA Thawing

June 14, 2010

John Ourand and Terry Lefton of the Sports Business Journal have contributed an article to this week’s Fight Edition that gives us some good information on what current television executives and marketing industry people are saying about the sport.

Television executives:

When you ask John Papa if the added MMA attention means that ESPN is any closer to bringing live MMA events to ESPN or ESPN2, the vice president of strategic program planning demurs. “Currently, we’re not pursuing live events,” Papa said. “But we’ve gotten to a point where the sport has grown. We’re going to continue to monitor how it’s received and how it does.”

It’s the same story with Fox, where Fox Sports Net was one of the first television outlets to show MMA matches. Fox Sports en Español has carried MMA matches for several years, and its website covers the sport. Still, as he has said for many years, Fox Sports Chairman David Hill remains turned off by some of the more violent aspects of the sport. But it appears his position is thawing.

“There’s no dispute that MMA has grown in popularity over the last several years, especially with young men,” Hill said. “There are elements to it, like hitting a guy who’s down, that I still have a problem with, but today it is more a sport to consider rather than one to dismiss out of hand.”

Marketing standpoint:

“MMA has become more accepted, especially from a media-buying perspective, but there are still some brands that think any association will mean there will be blood on their logo,” said Bechtel, whose company sells media and marketing rights for the Bellator MMA circuit, which is on Fox Sports Net, NBC and Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Mun2. “But no one can deny the numbers or the demos MMA is getting, and it’s killing boxing, which does have some mainstream advertisers.”

Payout Perspective:

The television and sponsorship communities are slowly opening up to MMA, but it’s very much a cautious approach. No one wants to move too fast and risk losing a larger segment of their audience, just to pick up the growing, but still niche, MMA demographic. It’s a battle and process – these two things we know – and mainstream acceptance certainly isn’t going to happen over night.

However, I’m inclined to think we’ll begin seeing more and more company’s dip their toes in the water with sub-brands that are somewhat distanced from their core products (and those that perhaps have a less conservative brand image). In the same way that Pepsi is jumping in with AMP Energy, we could begin to see auto and consumer electronics manufacturers jump into the fray.

WWE Recruiting from USTA

March 15, 2010

Street and Smith’s Sports Business Journal is reporting that the WWE has just hired former U.S. Tennis Association executive Tandy O’Donoghue as its VP of Operations and New Business Development.

WWE has hired Tandy O’Donoghue as vice president, operations and new business development, making her the third former U.S. Tennis Association executive to land with the wrestling company.

She joins Michelle Wilson, the former USTA chief marketing officer, and Jared Bartie, the former USTA general counsel. Wilson is the WWE’s executive vice president of marketing, and Bartie is executive vice president and general counsel.

Payout Perspective:

The WWE has experienced a great deal of turnover in the last 18 months with the departure of both Linda and Shane McMahon. While Vince McMahon has since taken over CEO responsibilities, these latest hires now look to plug the remaining holes.

Interview with WEC's Harris (Part I)

August 28, 2009

MMAPayout.com recently had the chance to chat with WEC General Manager Reed Harris in regards to a variety of topics. It wasn’t really your typical question and answer interview, but more a meandering conversation between two MMA enthusiasts.

Below, part one of the interview largely discusses the business consequences of the WEC’s decision to postpone WEC 43, a bit of their strategy for 2009, how the organization plans to separate and distinguish itself from the UFC, and sets the record straight about the merger talks.

Enjoy.

KP: Everybody has focused on the reasons why you’ve cancelled the event but from a business perspective, what were the consequences for the WEC in cancelling the event? In terms of some costs or obligations to the venue, the city, hotels, flights, and things like that.

RH: Certainly there were a lot of discussions with the venue and there were also some fairly significant costs to postpone the event. So, it was something that we didn’t do lightly.

The main issue for us was that this fight had a lot of implications for us in terms of future events. We want to have the winner of this fight, fight Jamie Varner, and we felt that if we substituted someone in for Ben Henderson then it would almost as if we really couldn’t do that fight as an interim belt.

The anchor for the entire show was going away, and not only that but there are also other injuries on the card that I really can’t discuss. The notifications of those injuries all happened for us within a 24hr period. One of the other guys on the main card got injured and these are the type of injuries where, like in Henderson’s case, the doctor said, “look if you can take 2-3 weeks off you can be fine.” It wasn’t a break for him, it was a sprain.

KP: You looked at the consequences of cancelling the event – some of the costs, venue discussions, and those are pretty big – but on the other hand, the consequences of moving forward with the event, without Henderson and Cerrone, were also pretty extreme and not just for 43, but for future events.

RH: The focus of this show was to build the lightweight division. Obviously we’ve done a really good job with our 135 and 145 divisions, so now we want to start building the lightweight division at the end of this year; and, also adding the 125lbs. division. But without that [Henderson vs. Cerrone] fight, it almost kind of deconstructed our entire plans as far as what we want to do.

It was a tough decision, but we decided that if we could postpone it, we would bring the entire card back; meaning that none of the fighters are going to suffer as far as losing fights. And, the other thing we did is we talked to the fighters themselves – all the fighters on the card. I didn’t receive any real push back from any of them in terms of the delay and how it might affect their training. Some of the guys had to look at their schedules. For example, one of our guys, Eddie Wineland, is a fireman and he had to look to see if he was available, but he said, “Yeah, I’m good for the 10th.”

One of the things we’ve been doing for 3-4 months – I’ve said this publicly – is that we’ve been talking to Versus about going to Saturdays for our shows. We want to do that and versus was working on that for us, for either the November or December show. So we then came back and said, look we can make that work in October as well. In fact it was one of the only dates we could get: October 10th.

KP: Well, it makes a lot of sense in moving to the Saturday, not just because it’s a great “fight night,” but also because you’ve got the NFL on Sundays in the fall which is really tough to compete with I should think.

RH: Yeah, very tough! We don’t want to do that! You know, the stuff we do actually makes sense! [Laughs]

And I’m being totally honest with you when I say, I’ve never had a discussion with anyone from Versus about the TV thing. I can tell you that we’ve seen this – the DirecTV and Versus posturing – with FOX and Comcast last year. Comcast was saying that FOX was being unreasonable, and FOX was saying, “if you ever want to watch American Idol again, call Comcast and complain.” The whole thing was just a positioning thing for negotiation of payments.

Versus has really been a great partner for us, and our goal is to work with them to get as much exposure as we can.

KP: Has there ever been a consideration on the WEC’s behalf to move to bonafide network TV like CBS, FOX, ABC, etc.? The UFC has been hesitant largely because of the rights fee issue, but is the WEC in a better position to accept an offer from one of these networks? Especially considering it might provide the perfect platform to build the WEC brand and ready the company for PPV events.

RH: We’re always open to discussing anything, regarding business. However, I can tell you that we’re in a really good situation with Versus and I really don’t see that changing. They’ve been a great partner for us, and we’re actually in the process of actually working through another deal with them. I doubt seriously if that would change.

KP: The UFC has a lightweight division with BJ Penn and so many of the great fighters there, it really begs the question: do you feel as though the WEC operates in the shadow of the UFC and how do you steer the WEC away from that and build your own brand and separate yourself from the UFC?

RH: Well, to be honest, I’ve always felt like we’ve operated in the shadow of the UFC, because they cast a large shadow. What we’ve done though, and this was Dana’s idea, was to focus on the lighter weights which would allow us to focus on coming out from that shadow and also build a unique brand – something home to the best lightweight fighters in the world. I think we’ve done that over this last year or so.

The 155 division, we’re in the process of building, and we’ve actually signed new people which I can’t really discuss right now and we’re constantly looking for new talent.

If you talk about fighters in general, BJ Penn was fighting in Hawaii before UFC picked him up. My goal is to find the next BJ Penn that’s at a gym somewhere here in the United States or abroad, working out, building his record, and looking at an organization like the WEC.

We’ve done this with 35 and we’ve done this with 45 – we’ve got the best divisions in the world in those two weight classes. We control almost all the fighters, in those classes, that are ranked in the top ten. So, that’s our goal for the 55 division and soon also the 125lbs division, focus on those four divisions, and build our brand that way

KP: I’ve noticed other things too: the blue octagon, different commentators, and the different feel of a WEC event.

RH: I think our events are pretty dynamic. Our fighters are faster and they tend to be in really, really good shape. The fights are faster and more aggressive; and that’s kind of where we’re going with our brand. If people tune into our show, they’re going to see the best fights in the world.

MMA is a big sport and one of the things we’re trying to do is have meaningful fights and meaningful divisions. When you look at one of our cards, one of the reasons we wanted to save that fight because it had implications for the future, but also, if you look at the undercard, we’ve got guys at 155 fighting for contention spots. I think one of the things that we do differently – and the UFC – than a lot of the other organizations is that we’re not just doing one-off fights. To have our guy fight a guy that nobody has ever seen fight in our organization before – all of a sudden they’re fighting for a title.

KP: There was talk of a UFC-WEC merger – and it came from Dana White…!

RH: Here’s what Dana said! We talked about it. He was asked at a Q&A: had they ever talked about merging the UFC and WEC. He said, “yeah we’ve talked about it,” but I can tell you that we talk about everything.

We’ve had all kinds of discussions about how to best position the WEC and there’s absolutely no discussion at this time about merging us with the UFC. You look at it mathematically and it would be impossible for them to do it with their current roster already at about 200 people.

To get those guys the fights they need – typically you need to get 3-4 fights a year – is tough. That’s one of the reasons why we eliminated the heavier weight classes, we couldn’t during 6-8 shows keep our guys busy. Now that we’re going to 10 shows next year, with four divisions, it will allow us to keep all those guys. And the thing is, you can’t just do title fights, you have to do other fights to build the division and also build the contenders for the belt.

I’ve had a number of discussions with Joe Silva about it and there are absolutely no plans at this time to merge the two companies. The sport is big enough to support two organizations, wouldn’t you agree?

KP: Well, I think that’s up for debate in terms of having mainstream two organizations. I think, right now, the market has proven that it cannot support more than one UFC.

RH: I think you’re right, because I think the UFC will always be the dominant force and the biggest. But, I think the WEC certainly has the potential to be a close number two – our television ratings are very good and we’ve got huge ratings down in Mexico. We are from a numbers standpoint, the number two organization in the world right now. We’re out gating and out televising any other company out there.

Dana Talks to The Edge About Loretta-Gate, Steroids

May 28, 2009

Dana White spoke with gay and lesbian lifestyle website Boston Edge during the UFC 98 show, part of which can be seen in his videoblog. The actual interview itself is up on their website and you can read more in depth on his discussion about the GLAAD situation and the fallout. That is well trodden territory at this point, so check out the link for more info on the subject. There were a few other general interest items, one of which caught my eye.

The interviewer hit on the subject of steroids and the UFC’s policy:

EDGE – Steroids in sports are a hot topic lately. Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, Manny Ramirez are a few who have been implicated in PED use. It seems like every day another top name gets linked to the culture. Can you explain how UFC fighters are tested?

We comply with each state’s athletic commission. Every state athletic commission randomly test a number of fighters before the fight and then EVERY fighter is tested after the fight.

EDGE – So does the UFC do any additional testing?

Right now the Ultimate Fighter is the grass roots for us. All the guys who come in and try out for the Ultimate Fighter are background checked and drug tested. Not only for steroids but any other drug as well. I think we already have a tough policy for steroids.

“We comply with each state’s athletic commission.” Check

“Every state athletic commission randomly test a number of fighters before the fight and then EVERY fighter is tested after the fight.”

Not every state tests before a fight, Las Vegas is a leader in this respect and reserves the right to do so but even they went several cards without exercising that right (Ivan Trembow did some excellent reporting on this for MMAWeekly, he will be missed greatly over there). They did decide to pre-test this time, selecting 4 out of the 22 fighters on the card for UFC 98. The UFC itself doesn’t test before fights in Europe, otherwise they would have pinched Chris Leben for juicing prior to his Bisping fight. The state commissions also don’t test everyone on the card after the fights. UFC 98 drug tests aren’t back in yet but on the most recent Vegas card prior to that, UFC 92, 12 of 20 fighters were tested.

“Right now the Ultimate Fighter is the grass roots for us. All the guys who come in and try out for the Ultimate Fighter are background checked and drug tested. Not only for steroids but any other drug as well. I think we already have a tough policy for steroids. ”

So if you didn’t start off in TUF and haven’t fought overseas, is it quite possible a fighter has never had to take a Zuffa administered drug test? Looks that way.

The UFC has a policy, that much is true, but I don’t think anyone would describe it as tough. I have expressed my issues with the UFC’s steroid policies in the past: here, here, and here. I’ll say again what I’ve said before: the policy as it is currently constituted is too piecemeal and lacking openness and transparency to be considered effective. The UFC needs to have a fully realized policy (preferably one published on their website) that includes unannounced out of competition testing. Only then can fans believe they are not watching the MMA equivalents of Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez fighting in the cage.

Interview with BFC CEO Rebney

January 6, 2009

2008 may have been a year of historic growth for MMA, but in terms of the competitive landscape it remains a virtual UFC monopoly.  EliteXC’s spectacular failure last fall, despite a historic network television deal and a number of marquee fighters, begs the question:  Can a viable competitor emerge?  Can the market sustain another national promotion over the long-term?

Bjorn Rebney, co-founder and co-owner of Bellator Fighting Championships, announced to some fanfare last month, believes his new promotion will be the exception to UFC’s rule.  The key, he believes, is product differentiation.  Unlike EliteXC, whose leaders openly criticized the UFC and aimed to challenge its supremacy, Bellator has taken precisely the opposite approach.  “There is no need to change the material aspects of the game established by the UFC,” says Rebney.  “Our goal is to duplicate many of the things they offer but fill in some of the blanks that consumers are missing.”

The missing elements, he claims, are a “sense of legitimate objectivity,” which he says is found in boxing but not in MMA.  Bellator is not offering “a stale reality format” but a tournament that shows “an aspect of the game that is more pleasurable to watch.   We let the fighters compete, track them and ultimately the best fighter wins.”

Bellator will premiere on Saturday, April 14 on ESPN Deportes and will be shown and each two-hour broadcast will be shown over 12 successive weeks.   There will be four weight classes – feather, light, welter and middle weight, with eight fighters in each weight class.  To win, a fighter will have to prevail in three fights over a three month period.  The purse structure – which Rebney believes is another key differentiator for Bellator – is as follows:

  • $10K for the first fight with a $15K bonus for the winner.
  • $25K for the second/ $25K bonus
  • $40K/$60K for the third.

Rebney believes these “fatter” incentives, plus the chance to fight on national television three times in three months, will also allow the fighters to attract more lucrative sponsorships.  And unlike the UFC, which has strict exclusivity restrictions, Bellator fighters will free to sign with whomever they choose.

Rebney also believes he can learn from EliteXC’s mistakes.  “It was glaringly obvious,” he says, “that there was a lack of focus on promotion of legitimate world class talent.   Pay per view revenues are the #1 growth driver in this business, and fighters like Kimbo don’t sell pay per views.”  From a production and promotion standpoint, Rebney plans to take a lesson from ABC Sports legend Roone Arledge’s playbook.  “What’s missing,” he says, “is legitimate storytelling.  Who are they?  Why are they competing?”  He cites CNBC’s piece on Rich Franklin as a benchmark for his production.

Rebney acknowledges that, despite an impressive sports pedigree, he and co-founder Brad Epstein lack any direct experience in MMA.  And he does not disagree with Frank Shamrock’s statement to MMAPayout.com that experience is essential to the success of any promotion.  In response he has recruited a team including former King of the Cage fighters Matt Stansell and Jeff Clark.  “They’ve fought inside the cage and have worked on the promotional end, promoting and managing fighters,” he says.

Thanks to their efforts, Bellator has signed “a good number” of fighters from Japan, Brazil, Russia, the U.S. and Western Europe, including 155 pounder Eddie Alvarez and light heavyweight Dave Herman.  “UFC’s done a terrific job,” says Rebney, “but the fact that highly talented fighters like Eddie, who are charismatic, articulate and dedicated, are available is a misstep that we’ve been able to capitalize on.”

Despite the slowdown in bank lending that has impacted virtually every industry, Rebney claims that Bellator has met all of its capital requirements for its inaugural tournament, having raised money from “hedge funds”.  He declined to provide any further specifics.

Plans beyond the tournament are sketchy at this point, though Rebney does expect to bring back champions to fight in what he describes as “special events”.  Given the recent track record of UFC’s competitors, it would seem Bellator’s “one tournament at a time” approach is probably best.

Next Page »