Strikeforce’s Big Fall Plans: MMA DVD Release, EA Sports MMA, & Hopeful CBS Show

August 5, 2010

Though not much has been heard from Strikeforce beyond their big upcoming shows this month which include the women’s 135 lbs GP in their Challengers 10 event from Phoenix and big card from Strikeforce Houston featuring King Mo vs Feijao Cavalcante and Tim Kennedy vs Jacare Souza for the vacant Middleweight belt, they have plans to make a huge impact in the MMA landscape in the Fall.

Strikeforce MMA ON DVD Ad From Event Program

– Planned Early October Strikeforce Event in San Jose, CA on October 9

Strikeforce is planning an October show (October 9th at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, CA) which is rumored to possibly hold the first round of their MW Tournament.  Highly touted Strikeforce prospect, Luke Rockhold (7-1), is looking to make his long awaited return to the cage in his hometown and could be a dark-horse.

This show could also host a rumored bout between Dan Henderson and Babalu Sobral, which would most likely be a co-main event.  Strikeforce is also in talks with CBS to broadcast an event around the fall, and is hopeful that they can rebound nicely from their April CBS event which was marred by uninspiring ratings and the brawl at the end of the telecast.  Both October and November have been discussed as possible months to host the event.  Scott Coker talks to the Las Vegas Sun about the possible LHW bouts:

“Dan Henderson and I had a conversation after LA and he wants to move up to 205,” Coker said. “That led us to think the next fight for Dan will be either Babalu or Gegard Mousasi.

“Calvacante just had an impressive win over Antwain Britt so he deserves the shot. I think the winner of Dan and Babalu or Dan and Gegard could face the winner of that title fight.”

As a main event, Strikeforce is in dialogue with Fedor’s management (M-1) and is also in talks with Strikeforce HW champ Alistair Overeem, but a matchup involving both fighters is not yet certain.  What we do know is that Fabricio Werdum will not be able to compete until early 2011, so that leaves match-ups with the rising HW out of the picture for the rest of the year.  Herschel Walker and fighters such as Mayhem Miller, Matt Lindland, Nick Diaz, and other MW tourney hopefuls are expected for the show.

– Strikeforce MMA DVD Estimated Release Set for October 12

Strikeforce fans who have been patiently wondering when Strikeforce would be releasing their events or non-televised bouts to their fans will soon get their opportunity.  Amazon.com and BestBuy is now accepting pre-orders for and upcoming 2 disc DVD release titled “Strikeforce MMA”, at the moment starring Alistair Overeem and Jake Shields and will contain 6 hours of content produced by Showtime Entertainment.  The listing price is $20.99 and will be releasing on October 12, which is just a few days after their October event is rumored to take place.

Here is what Strikeforce said about the release:

It will be particular fights from 2010 and some added never before seen footage that our hard-core fans will enjoy.

– EA Sports MMA Release Set for October 19

The release of the EA Sports MMA video game is something that both EA and Strikeforce have been anticipating for quite some time.   The excitement and synergy between both groups was apparent during E3, and both have high hopes for their video game release, hoping that it could be as influential and monumental as UFC Undisputed 2009 was for the UFC and THQ.  The game is set for release on October 19th on both the XBOX 360 and Playstation 3 platforms.  Pre-orders of the game, which gives fans exclusive content like Herschel Walker, can now be placed at GameStop, Amazon.com, Walmart, and Best Buy.

EA Sports has slowly announced fighters in their video game roster for months, leading up to their release date which is now only a couple months away and around the time of a planned CBS event, which should create buzz for the title release.  Here is their latest announcement regarding complete roster reveal dates leading up to the release date:

Complete roster reveal by weight class starts 8/9 with heavyweights at easports.com/mma…..new update each Monday in August.

MMAPayout Perspective:

October will be a huge month for Strikeforce’s future, pulling all their big guns and hoping to make a permanent mark in the MMA landscape.  The release of DVD set, a video game, and working for their return to CBS prime-time programming is all crucial in terms of their relevance in the MMA landscape, increasing brand awareness, and creating stars in their roster.

Strikeforce signing a deal with Collective Licensing International (CLI), which is now the manager of the Strikeforce brand and provides the rights to license and produce merchandising like footwear, apparel, accessories, and equipment will also be a key component to their growth. It will be interesting to see how that partnership benefits Strikeforce in the upcoming year and beyond, along with their other partners.

AKA Licensing Program

May 24, 2010

American Kickboxing Academy has announced that it will officially begin its licensing program at this weekend’s UFC Expo that coincides with UFC 114 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The American Kickboxing Academy® is going to present opportunities to license its federally registered trademark at the UFC® Fan Expo™ on May 28-29 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Several American Kickboxing Academy® team members will make appearances at AKA™’s booth, including undefeated heavyweight sensation Cain Velasquez, welterweight number one contender Josh Koscheck, and fan favorites Jon Fitch and Mike Swick. Fans will have the opportunity to purchase AKA™ apparel and collect autographs, as well as to win autographed items through contests. Clients interested in licensing opportunities will have the chance to discuss ways to partner with AKA™, including affiliated training facilities and product licensing.

Payout Perspective:

I can’t help but feel as though we’re finally starting to see a bit of a business evolution within the mixed martial arts industry. Some of these companies have realized that they have valuable properties with significant exploitable potential; and, as a result, they’re now moving to license or sell those properties to earn extra revenue. We saw it first with the UFC’s merchandising and collectibles initiatives – and many would argue that they took too long to do that – and now we’re seeing brands like Tapout and AKA explore more opportunities than what are just immediately in front of them.

UFC-Topps Promotion Finds First Winner

April 15, 2010

Part of the UFC’s push towards a more diversified set of revenue  streams has involved an emphasis on merchandising over the last 12-18 months, and one of the deals  it signed was with trading card company Topps. The two company’s engineered a promotional contest to help drive interest and sales in the card series in which the purchaser of a triple autographed card (Dana, Chuck, and Tito) would win a trip to Vegas and a day with Dana White.

UFC FAN FINDS GOLD AND WINS DREAM TRIP

 

Topps announces UFC Super fan Alfonso Rodriguez of Melrose Park, IL is the first to find the special triple autograph card featuring Dana White, Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz from packs of the all-new Topps UFC Main Event.

 

Rodriguez and a guest will receive an all expenses paid trip to Las Vegas to be Dana White’s guest at the UFC Training Center. While there, they will tour the gym, meet the coaches and contestants from hit Spike TV show, The Ultimate Fighter Season 12, and sit cage side with Dana during one of the TUF preliminary matches.

 

Topps created 10 of these unique cards, which were randomly inserted into packs.  Nine other lucky fans finding this card will receive a pair of UFC gloves signed by Dana, Chuck, and Tito.  Fans finding the card should e-mail ? UFCprize@topps.com to claim their prize.

Payout Perspective:

The trading card industry may not be as prevalent as it once was – many things are to blame: the internet, video games, etc. – but it still represents a solid niche market within the overall sports merchandising industry. Promotions like this one are needed to drive interest and a way to drive fan affinity in both brands.

These deals are slowly starting to build up.

Strikeforce Inks Licensing Deal with CLI

April 13, 2010

Strikeforce has announced a licensing partnership with Collective Licensing International that should give the MMA promotion a much-needed boost on the ancillary revenue side of the business.

(Englewood, CO) April 12, 2010 – Collective Licensing International (CLI) today announced their brand partnership and master license agreement with world championship Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion STRIKEFORCE. The long-term brand partnership agreement provides CLI the rights to license and produce all facets of STRIKEFORCE brand merchandise including, but not limited to, footwear, apparel, accessories and equipment.

 

CLI plans to elevate the STRIKEFORCE brand though its years of successful action sports and performance athletic brand expertise, innovative marketing initiatives, and extensive retail partnerships. CLI will bridge the gap between core MMA athletes and worldwide consumers for the first time by bringing the STRIKEFORCE-specific product line further into the youth consumer market with an entirely new product offering.

 

The collaboration with CLI will build the STRIKEFORCE organization into a complete lifestyle and culture brand, securing a commanding role in the fastest growing sport in the world.

Payout Perspective:

You may recall that Strikeforce reportedly sold just $8,000 in merchandise at Strikeforce: Miami in January, so the importance of this licensing deal cannot be understated. The deal should help to provide additional revenue, diversify the company’s revenue streams (necessary from a risk mitigation standpoint), and assist in driving home a brand message.

I have been both complimentary and critical of Strikeforce – just as I have been of the UFC and other promotions in the past. The biggest obstacles to this company’s success that I see right now are its brand image and its communication. Both really go hand in hand, but Strikeforce has yet to establish its core brand from a positioning standpoint. What does it want to be and what are the 4-5 words that you’d associate with Strikeforce? Until the company can answer those questions and communicate them to the MMA demographic, it will continue to be a niche player in the sport.

Why? There’s a lot of confusion out there in the marketplace and without a differentiating brand, most will continue to confuse the Strikeforce product as that “UFC” stuff.

UFC and JAKKS Pacific Release New Line

April 7, 2010

Jesse Holland of MMAMania.com does a good job of breaking down the latest series of UFC figurines to come out of JAKKS Pacific (courtesy of the UFC Toys Facebook page). Information is also available on the Jakks website.

Payout Perspective:

Here’s where the UFC license sharing deal between JAKKS and Round 5 MMA comes into play. Many of the new figurines that debut as part of this new series with JAKKS were fighters originally held by Round 5. The deal has opened up a greater array of options to both companies, including promotional tie-in with the much larger and more recognizable UFC brand.

It’s a good example of co-operation within the industry growing the entire pie of market demand.

Note: the use of social media by the UFC; these guys have  a Facebook page and Twitter account for nearly everything it seems. Traffic on social networking sites is out-pacing even the most highly visited of traditional sites — it’s a smart move.

Bellator and Everlast Form Partnership

March 17, 2010

Bellator Fighting Championship has announced the signing of a strategic partnership with Everlast that will see the equipment manufacturer become the official supplier of all fight gear for the promotion. Bellator and Everlast will also produce a line of co-branded equipment for sale at retail stores.

CHICAGO, Ill. (March 16, 2010) — Bellator Fighting Championships, the nationally televised mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, today announced a new partnership with Everlast, the world’s leading manufacturer, marketer and licensor of fight sports equipment, apparel and footwear.

 

Everlast will become the exclusive equipment provider for Bellator, including fight gloves, cages and training equipment. Additionally, Everlast will produce a line of co-branded MMA equipment that will be available nationwide through catalog, online and retail.

 

Everlast will also be a category-exclusive promotional sponsor of all Bellator events and the two companies will both strategically market, promote, publicize and advertise their partnership through a wide variety of channels.

Payout Perspective:

This partnership looks to be a solid deal for the promotion. Not only does it link Bellator to a proven fight brand like Everlast, but it’s a step in the right direction in terms of establishing merchandising revenues that will a.) help to diversify revenues away from live events, and b.) increase Bellator’s visibility outside of its television appearances.

With little over three weeks away until the start of its new season, Bellator is slowly ramping up its press machine to generate some hype for its shows. They’ve got my interest.

UFC 110: $540,000 in Merchandise

March 1, 2010

Jon Show of Sports Business Journal reports that the UFC grossed $540,000 in merchandise sales in its Australian debut at UFC 110 in Sydney on February 21st.

UFC 110, headlined by the Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira vs. Cain Velasquez heavyweight bout, grossed $540,000 in merchandise sales at Acer Arena in Sydney, breaking the previous record of $498,000 for UFC 83 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Total sales also topped the previous arena record held by Iron Maiden.

 

Acer Arena doesn’t release concessions figures. The arena, built for the 2000 Summer Games, is the largest indoor venue in Sydney and has hosted acts such as Coldplay and Britney Spears.

 

All 16,500 tickets for the Feb. 21 fight were bought on the first day of sales back in December, trailing only the UFC’s debut in Montreal in 2008 as the fastest sellout ever. The $2.5 million gate for an international event was second only to the fight in Montreal.

Payout Perspective:

The merchandise sold at the event isn’t just short-term revenue, either; the UFC now has $540,000 worth of free advertising roaming the streets of Australia. Some might argue that’s the best kind to have.

However, I take issue with the accuracy of the figures listed. Show mentions the UFC did a gate of $2.5 million, but failed to mention that it was $2.5 million in Australian dollars (AUD) which is roughly $2.25 million in US dollars. That leads me to wonder whether the $540,000 is also AUD, which would convert back to roughly $485,000 USD.

Nonetheless, it’s a significant score; one that, if you compare, trumps even the latest gate receipts for the UFC’s competitors.

GSP Appears in Under Armour Ad

February 26, 2010

Canadian and UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre makes his debut in Under Armour’s spring advertisement series with the latest Under Armour – I Will Protect This House commercial spot.

Payout Perspective:

St-Pierre signed the ground-breaking endorsement deal with Under Armour in early November of 2009, but the bulk of his involvement is now just beginning to take shape. If you’re a brand looking to reach the MMA demographic, St-Pierre is the safest bet; he’s got the right attitude, clean look, and dominant sporting abilities to truly be a successful brand ambassador.

UFC Signs Agreement with Fathead

February 15, 2010

The UFC has announced a new partnership with Fathead to create life-sized posters of UFC fighters. For those that are unfamiliar with Fathead, the company makes life-sized posters that can be pressed onto a wall without any additional supports and just as easily removed without leaving a mark on the wall. The company currently has deals with the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, NASCAR, and the NCAA.

ULTIMATE FIGHTING CHAMPIONSHIP® ANNOUNCES LICENSING AGREEMENT WITH FATHEAD®

 

LIFE-SIZE WALL GRAPHICS FEATURING
UFC® STARS AVAILABLE SOON

 

Las Vegas, NV (USA) – Almost everyone had a poster of their favorite athlete hanging on the wall when they were younger.

 

Now, fans have the opportunity to celebrate the superstars of the Ultimate Fighting Championship®. UFC President Dana White announced today that the UFC has agreed to a licensing agreement with Fathead®, the leading brand in officially licensed graphic products. Fathead currently produces life-size wall graphics for major sports organizations including the National Football League and Major League Baseball. With the announcement of this agreement, Fathead will begin producing life-size wall graphics featuring the UFC’s top stars.

 

“Fathead makes the best wall graphics in the business,” White said. “This is another cool way for our fans to show support for their favorite UFC fighters.”

 

Fathead will produce the first UFC life-size wall graphics in the coming months. Once the first Fatheads are rolled out, fans can purchase them at a variety of major retailers, as well as at UFCStore.com and Fathead.com. In the end, UFC officials are pleased to offer another unique product to fans, as well as continue to increase brand awareness.

 

“This partnership with UFC is another step in continuing to align ourselves with the hottest brands out there,” says Patrick McInnis, Fathead CEO. “They are on track to be one of most dominant sports in the world and we are thrilled to be in the Octagon with them.”

Payout Perspective:

The days of the UFC leaving money on the table are quickly coming to an end. The company is working hard to diversify its revenue – to move away from that 75-25 split – and in the last 24 months, alone, it has added toys, trading cards, video games, and posters to its list of available merchandise. In that same period of time, the UFC has also started its own magazine and opened the first in a series of UFC branded fitness facilities.

Easy money? Yes and no. This is obviously the fun part for the UFC, but it’s not without its risk. The UFC must be careful to not step beyond its competencies where ancillary revenue is concerned. Things like toys and video games fit within its realm; the fitness facilities are also a smart move, if not more due to the potential brand building effects than the ancillary revenue potential. But when the UFC jumps into stuff like online poker there is some cause for concern.

You can draw a pretty strong relational line between the UFC and its merchandise (or the fitness facility), but its much harder to draw that line between the UFC and poker. The only thing the two share is a demographic: males aged 18-34. That’s a questionable pursuit. The UFC is absolutely right to be going after the 18-34 demo, but the risk in using something like poker – something that you wouldn’t ever associate with the UFC brand – is that the organization starts trying to be too many things to too many people.

It’s a slippery slope. On its own, the poker isn’t a bad thing, but where does the UFC draw the line?

Motivations and Media and Merchandise Consumption in MMA

February 10, 2010

The phenomenal growth of the sport of MMA over the last five years is now just starting to catch the eye of the broader sports community, including sports academia. There have been a few papers written on the topic of MMA over the last few years – including the well-read Johns Hopkins brain injury study – but none have gone into as much detail regarding the marketing side of the sport as a paper released in the latest issue of Sports Marketing Quarterly.

I’ve done my best to explain how the study works and what it means to MMA below.

Motivations and Media and Merchandise Consumption at a Professional Mixed Martial Arts Event
Damon P. S. Andrew, Seungmo Kim, Nick O’Neal, T. Christopher Greenwell, and Jeffrey D. James

Abstract

The purpose of the study is essentially to:

“explore predictors of merchandise consumption as well as media consumption to provide MMA managers with valuable consumer motivation data on which to focus strategic planning initiatives for merchandise sales.”

A few studies have been done before that look at the different factors that motivate individuals to consume MMA media and merchandise, but they were done with smaller scale MMA shows that weren’t truly representative of the larger MMA-going population. Thus, the research team has made some changes from previous studies involving different “factors” to study and find correlations between.

Study sample

  • 162 participants (105 males & 57 females)
  • 88 in 18-34 (54.1%)
  • Equal representation from different ticket price points (54 reserve, 37 front, and 71 top)
  • Average income: $68,000 (20% earned over $100,000)
  • Education varied: 45% had HS, 32% had some college, 18% had undergrad or graduate degree

Questionnaire

“A 43-item questionnaire measuring demographics, motives, and merchandise and media consumption was developed for this study. The questionnaire incorporated a seven-point Likert scale to which consumers reported their level of motivation to attend a mixed martial arts event and their merchandise and media consumption (1 = strongly disagree; 7 = strongly agree).”

Motivational factors considered

Drama/eustress, escape, aesthetics, vicarious achievement, socializing, and sport knowledge were selected for this study because prior studies supported the inclusion of these factors (Funk et al., 2002; Sloan, 1989; Trail & James, 2001; Wann, 1995). Furthermore, the motives of violence and adoration/hero worship were added from Kim et al.’s (2008) study of MMA spectator motives. In an attempt to better understand the unique motives for attending an MMA event, the factors of sport knowledge and crowd experience were included. 

Motivational factors according to importance

Event attendance

  1. Aesthetics
  2. Drama
  3. Escape
  4. Vicarious Achievement
  5. Crowd Experience

Media consumption

  1. Drama
  2. Aesthetics
  3. Knowledge
  4. Violence (male only)

Merchandise consumption

  1. Crowd Experience
  2. Vicarious Achievement
  3. Knowledge

Implications for MMA

The study provides a great amount of new insight regarding MMA’s relationship with its fan base, but also supports many hypotheses that MMA industry professionals have had for quite some time. 

I think the biggest thing I took away from the study was the absence of violence as an important motivational factor for any type of consumption. However, the importance of drama in media consumption, vicarious achievement in fighter attachment, and the differences between professional and amateur fan bases should also not be ignored.

1.) Violence has long been MMA’s white-hot risk: the element of the sport many fear could limit its growth in the future. Critics claim that it is the brute violence of the sport that attracts the masses, and this alleged perpetuation of violence will exacerbate problems related to violence in society. However, most in MMA would beg to differ, and now they’ve finally got some empirical evidence to back up their claims. Things like aesthetics (the beauty of the sport), drama (story lines), and vicarious achievement (cheering for a fighter like GSP) are greater motivators for consumption than violence.

This study is far from fool proof – the authors freely admit that the motivational factor of violence in MMA needs to be further investigated – but it finally adds some credibility to those of us arguing for the legitimacy of the sport. It’s about more than hitting somebody – much more.

2.) The idea that drama is important to media consumption shouldn’t come as any surprise. What is sport, if not an analog to our daily lives? The way to capture drama and evoke emotion – to better associate the consumer with the product – is through story telling, which is essential in all sports. That’s why ESPN is successful, HBO’s 24/7s is such an effective tool, and fights like Evans-Rampage will always do well regardless of whether a title is at stake.

Hence, you’ve now got fighters like Dan Hardy and Chael Sonnen going out of their way to build up fights by talking a lot of smack. Expect that trend to continue as fighters look to differentiate themselves and prove they can sell enough PPVs to make it worth the UFC’s while. I mean, really, would either Hardy or Sonnen have been considered for a title shot if the UFC didn’t think they could talk the public into believing they had a shot?

However, I’ll caution that it’s important to maintain a balance to everything; this sport cannot afford to lose credibility with a continuous stream of contrived pro wrestling soap operas (e.g., Wes Simms has taken things too far).

3.) In an article some months ago, MMAPayout.com talked about how fighting ability was the single most important attribute in the determination of whether a fighter could reach a level of popularity commensurate with that of a “star.” The idea not only being that nothing else matters if the fighter can’t fight, but also that fans often like to see their favorite fighter obliterate an opponent (e.g., Anderson Silva’s KO of Forrest Griffin). The study confirmed that hypothesis:

Based on the findings from the present study, media consumption of professional events can be enhanced by scheduling matches whereby dominant fighters are able to assert their dominance on competitors with less skill. Such dominating performances often serve to build the reputation of the superior fighter, who may later become a point of attachment for devoted fans (Robinson & Trail, 2003).

4.) Lastly, fans often scoff at the idea of the UFC comping so many tickets – rightfully so, to a degree, because the act signals limited product demand – but there’s so much to the idea of comping than just filling the building. A full house is advantageous for the television product, sponsors, and the size and intensity of the crowd is a very real and important part of what contributes to an overall fan experience.

Go out and talk to the people that were in Columbus or Montreal for those debut PPVs and they’ll tell you that 20,000+ rabid fans screamingn at the top of their lungs for Rich Franklin or Georges St-Pierre is one of the most powerful moments in MMA they’ve ever been associated with. Likewise, talk to any of the people that had an opportunity to experience an old Pride event in front of 45,000 people.

The crowd experience is vital to the overall product experience of a live event.

Acknowledgement: The research team that includes Damon Andrew (Troy U.), Seungmo Kim (UTK), Nick O’Neal (VP at KOTC), Chris Greenwell (Louisville), and Jeff James (FSU) have done a marvellous job with the study. Not only was this paper not the first work that some of these men put together, but it wasn’t the last, if I understand correctly. Something to look forward to.

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