EliteXC To Las Vegas?

July 5, 2008

Nevada State Athletic Commission head Keith Kizer recently sat down with the Las Vegas Sun to discuss various boxing and MMA related issues. The biggest piece of news to come from the session was the possible debut of EliteXC in the Sin City.

EliteXC has recently filed a promoter’s application, which should be on a Commission meeting within the next 45 days. I know they really want to do a show in Nevada, and I think they would do well here.

Such a time frame for license approval could possibly make Vegas a possible venue for a third CBS network show, which at this time is rumored to be set for October. The UFC currently has no domestic UFC cards planned for the month of October, much less in the Vegas area. One key to drawing well for a Vegas show would be placing the card far enough away from UFC events so as not to hurt the gate figures.

Booking a show too close before or after a UFC show would adversely impact their ability to fill a venue. Whether Las Vegas would embrace EliteXC is up for the debate. With the lack of any professional athletic teams, the fight game is often seen as the home sport of Vegas, with the UFC being in essence the home team. EliteXC would have to come with a very strong card to sway the somewhat provincial Vegas crowd. The results of other promotions in the past have been mixed, with Pride drawing well in two shows but with the IFL drawing so poorly they abandoned the Vegas market all together.

Another bit of news to come out of the Kizer chat was his estimation that tonight’s Griffin-Jackson should be a top 5 gate historically for MMA in Vegas. Such a figure would mean that the UFC did very little comping of tickets for tonight’s show. The Lesnar vs Mir card drew similar numbers but the gate was lower due to the high number of comped tickets that were distributed for the show. UFC 81 suffered from coming just over a month after the UFC 79 card. Tonight’s card suffers a similar fate, coming about 6 weeks after the UFC 84 show, but this cards seems to have done much better at the box office.

The Vegas Sun gives a little insight into the hot ticket status of the card:” Stubhub.com still has a few available. Minimum price: $236. Want to be cageside? There’s some seats left for $1,400. Over on Craigslist.com the brokers are posting some upper-level seats for $165 a pop.”

A Tip of the hat to MMAMania on the find.

EliteXC To Amend Cage Rage Venues

July 4, 2008

Cage Rage co-promoter Chris Cordeiro spoke recently with Fighters Only Magazine about a switch in the company’s philosophy in choosing venues:

“Right now I know people are talking bad about Cage Rage because they are used to a little more glitz and glamour, but it’s a publicly owned company now so we have to be a little more accountable with the money we spend, that’s all there is to it,” he explained.

Cordeiro confirmed that Cage Rage will be using a smaller venue in the near future but revealed that the promotion will still be using Wembley Arena as well.

“We’re at Wembley again before the end of the year and we have some dates booked for next year,” he revealed.

Venue management is often overlooked but this is one area where promotions can get in over their head. While it is certainly an ego stroke to say you are playing the biggest venue in town, all too often the crowds aren’t justifying the price tag attached to renting the larger venues. Does the AFL really need to rent a 21,000 seat Phillips Arena when they are drawing around 3,300 folks? The IFL went down much the same path during it first year existence, playing places like the Los Angeles Forum without the crowds to fill them. The Cage Rage folks are being smart in saving the Wembley shows for their biggest gigs, giving those shows a higher profile and prestige level.

IFL on the Ropes

June 27, 2008

New Jersey’s The Record has a story on the IFL on the front page of today’s business section. The story covers a lot of the same ground that has been covered previously, but provides a succinct narrative of how the company reached the verge of bankruptcy and the current MMA landscape according to Jay Larkin and Gary Shaw.

The piece ends on a note of optimism from Larkin:

“Before I got here, the company was overloaded, was maxed out on resources — human more than anything else,” he said. “We were traveling all over the country. The more places we went to, the more money we bled.”

Now that the fights have stopped altogether, the company’s biggest assets are the fighter contracts and video library of 400 hours of IFL action, he said.

“So we have very attractive assets here and we are getting a lot of interest from people who see that,” he said, adding that the best way forward would be to privatize the company. “The chances of the company surviving in some form are very good.”

Art of War To Syndication

June 17, 2008

Sun Sports & Entertainment announced today an agreement with American Television Distribution (www.americantvd.com) to license a four show series of “ART OF WAR” Events (2-hour specials) into 40 of the top syndicated TV markets.

American Television Distribution, which currently licenses CHEATERS UNCENSORED, STAG and BILLIONAIRES CAR CLUB worldwide, will license the ART OF WAR name brand to local affiliates of FOX, ABC, NBC, CBS, MY TV,The CW, etc. across the United States scheduled for September 2008.

“ART OF WAR” features many popular MMA stars including: Pedro Rizzo, Jeff Monson, David Loiseau, Justin Eilers, Jeremy Horn and Alex Andrade. Those within the company feel the deal will raise the company’s profile as it looks to possibly relaunch its’ brand:

“Syndication will introduce the ART OF WAR brand to a broad audience across the country,” said Clyde Gentry III, Chief Operating Officer of SUN. “With the MMA space continuing to grow, it will give us an opportunity to increase our fan base.”

A deal like this gives truth to the old maxim that content is king. With the wealth of television and online avenues of distribution, there is always a need for product to move through those pipelines. On a similar note, however the IFL ends up, look to see their back catalog of fights for quite a while as someone will look to purchase the library and exploit it if the company goes under.

Undertones of MMA: The Flood Gates Are Not Open

June 15, 2008

When the IFL announced it was canceling its August show during a conference call last Tuesday, it really did come as a surprise. Sure, there have been rumblings that the league was in having financial troubles. But little more than a month ago, the struggling promotion held a conference call in which they announced their new fighting surface, “The Hex,” and that they were not only planning the August show in New Jersey, but were looking even further into the future and planned to do a show in Miami.

With the Jersey show dead on arrival, a show in sunny Miami seems to be implausible. So what happened in the course of that month, that the IFL could go from big announcements to big cancelations? It’s more a matter of what did not happen: The flood gates did not open.

Some well-informed speculation is that, financially, nothing changed for the IFL. Instead, IFL CEO Jay Larkin was hedging his bets that after EliteXC’s CBS debut all the competing networks would act on the “monkey-see, monkey-do” nature of network programming, and be compelled to add the IFL’s brand of mixed martial arts to its programming. But that didn’t happen.

According to Larkin, “We’ve had conversations with media companies, film studios, television networks, individuals, celebrities. Every time we have one of these conversations, the interest is very high, but they’re all being very cautious,” said Larkin.

As usual, the networks are playing it safe. They are waiting to see if the ratings from the EliteXC CBS show were a one-time fluke, with fans tuning in from morbid curiosity, or if the curious watchers became legit, car d-carrying MMA fans. On the bright side, negative reaction and backlash to the event seemed to be minimal. Of course, Billy O’Reilly and his minions had something to say about it. But even O’Reilly admitted he “didn’t hear any complaints from anybody about the show.”

But in order for the sport to grow the next live network show needs to be on the up-and-up:

1. MMA information is all over the net. All those new fans from the CBS EliteXC show who logged into read the MMA media’s account of the CBS broadcast now feel a little slighted by an overblown main event. Kimbo Slice has been thoroughly debunked by fans and writers across the web. Fans, both new and old, are going to be looking for a legit main event from EliteXC’s next network show, or they may go elsewhere.

2. Or, the UFC could land a network deal. Given the UFC’s deep roster of talent, a quality card is not an issue.

But the bottom line, is that for the sport to grow, for the IFL to stay alive and for fans to have affordable access on a regular basis, the floodgates need to open.

Undertones of MMA: Sport or Lifestyle?

June 14, 2008

On its best nights, the recipe for great MMA was real simple: equal parts pro-wrestling and boxing. The pageantry of the former, combined with the legitimacy and unscripted nature of the latter were thought to make for an intoxicating night of fights.

However, Tuesday’s dichotic announcements are an indication that since its assumed all MMA promotions are based in legitimate, unscripted competition, the pageantry associated with pro-wrestling is more important for attracting fans and drawing revenue.

But the bottom-line is that the UFC is the only promotion that has found the balance between too much and too little pomp in the circumstance of MMA.

After all, when EliteXC’s CBS telecast juxtaposed MMA with grand entrances, brash hip-hop artists and MMA’s version of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, it was not only rejected by fans, but by the MMA media as well.

Smaller promotions, like many that appear on HDNet, leave their production in the hands of the network, which does an adequate job, but does not devote the resources on a level equivalent to the UFC, or its cable television partner SpikeTV.

In fact, the UFC owes the majority of its financial success to SpikeTV. Outside of turning the promotion around after launching the Ultimate Fighter reality series, SpikeTV’s pay per view previews give the UFC something no other promotion has: A platform on which to sell, not just the sport, but the lifestyle of mixed martial arts.

Early indicators from Afflication’s pre-show production and promos are that it will be on par, and possibly exceed the UFC’s presentation.

If they find a content partner that allows them to sell their brand and its fighters as a lifestyle, it will quickly become a force to be reckoned with, despite the fact that the initial pay per view is doomed to be a profitless endeavor.

The addition of Donald Trump as one of the organizations backers not only gives Affliction deep pockets, but connections to NBC and the king of reality TV producers, Mark Burnett, who cooked up Trump’s reality show, “The Apprentice.”

Given Affliction’s dual role as an MMA promotion and clothing company, it already has created a context for a lifestyle. Finding that “lifestyle content” partner would drive consumers to its MMA product and clothing line at the same time.

Undertones of Tuesday's Announcements Overlooked

June 14, 2008

Listen carefully… What’s that you hear in the hallowed halls of mixed martial arts?

The sound of silence, since “Announcement Thursday” has come and gone with nothing from Dana White.

With the “big announcement” pushed to this coming Tuesday, many have overlooked the significance of this past Tuesday, which had the UFC and IFL making announcements that could not be more opposite.

While the UFC was announcing a deal with Jakks Pacific that will put UFC fighter action figures in the hands of children of all ages, the IFL announced it was canceling its August 15th show in NJ because of a cash shortage.

While the IFL’s website contends it’s “not dead yet,” the road to recovery will be hard for the league that as recently as a month ago, planned to go into New Jersey guns blazing and unveiling a new six-sided ring dubbed “The Hex.”

Meanwhile the UFC is finally tapping into all those licensing revenue streams created by their TV product, which will add even more cash to its coffers.

On the face of it the scenario is pretty simple: The UFC has a lotta money… And the IFL doesn’t.

But the undertones of these announcements made on the same day are pretty profound.

Leading up to “Big Announcement Tuesday,” MMAPayout’s Andrew Falzon will write a series of posted entitled “Undertones of MMA.”

Each article will be a brief commentary on one of the conclusions that can be drawn from announcements made last Tuesday.

The topics will include:

Saturday – MMA Sport or Lifestyle? (posting later today at 3 PM)

Sunday – The Flood Gates Are Not Opened

Monday – UFC By KO in Round 1

Tuesday – If Dana White doesn’t again disappoint fans by having to reschedule an announcement that was supposedly a “done deal” we’ll be focusing on his overtones, and not the The Undertones of MMA.

IFL asking Price: $1 million

June 13, 2008

Conde Nast Portfolio does a quick synopsis of the IFL’s recent announcement that it was going into suspended animation while trying to partner up. There were some interesting tidbits contained within the article. The IFL has been on the block but this article is the first to actually throw out a figure being asked for the company, $1 million. It would be a steal at that price if not for all the assumed liabilities the company has on it’s financials. The article does let us now that the IFL has about $2 million in cash on hand, which will mainly be used to tide over the executive level through the third quarter as they still actively look to sell or merge with another company.

The article elaborates on how Larkin has slashed costs since he has been brought aboard. He has been able to reduce production costs significantly, going from about $1 million per show to about $125,000. While Larkin’s comment at the press conference that the IFL was no longer operating at a loss seemed dubious, if costs have been cut to that degree then kudos to Jay.

UPDATED: IFL Cancels August Show

June 11, 2008

Earlier today International Fight League CEO Jay Larkin held a conference call in which he announced the IFL has canceled its planned show for its August 15th show at the IZOD Center in New Jersey due to cash flow issues.

“Our cash situation is such that doing an event in August would put the company in jeopardy,” said Larkin.

Larkin said that many of the IFL’s prior changes had been “done on the fly” and compared it to doing open heart surgery – trying to retool an entire organization while still running it. Skipping the August show will allow the company to retool its product and keep cash on hand.

In a release posted on the company’s website, the event was canceled “in light of the company’s current financial condition. If the IFL is unable to successfully leverage any of those options, the company may seek protection from its creditors through a court proceeding.”

Many thought the EliteXC broadcast on CBS would dramatically change the MMA landscape, and that a strong showing in primetime would lead to media outlets lusting after sport to help attract its highly valued demographic, but according to Larkin, that has not yet happened.

“The current business climate has shown us now that the tranition will need more time, and more thought and more creativity. And our current cash position will just not support us going forward (with an August event).”

Though many investors are sitting on the sidelines in the MMA game, Larkin says there is still interest in the sport and in the IFL.

“We’ve had conversations with media companies, film studios, television networks, individuals, celebrities. We have turned over a forest of rocks to see where the interest is… Everytime we have one of these conversations, the interest is very high, but they’re all being very cautious,” said Larkin.

While the company is on hiatus, Larkin says that his fight staff, Bas Rutten and Shannon Knapp, will continue to try to place IFL fighters in fights in other promotions. The IFL will not seek any fee from other promotions that might use IFL fighters.

Looking outside of the IFL and at the sport as a whole Larkin says many other promoters are painting a picture of the glass half full, when it is really half empty.

“Every MMA company is either inflating their numbers or out and out lying about their numbers.”

While many will continue to speculate that this is the end of the IFL, Larkin says that’s not the case.

“If the IFL were to decide the best thing for the shareholders were to close down business, that’s a very bad statement in an industry that’s looking to make nothing but good statements.”

(MMAPayout will have audio from the IFL conference call posted in the days to come.)

IFL: No August Show

June 10, 2008

The International Fight League has released a statement saying it has canceled its August event at the IZOD Center in New Jersey.

A release from the company says the evenwas canceled “in light of the company’s current financial condition. If the IFL is unable to successfully leverage any of those options, the company may seek protection from its creditors through a court proceeding.”

More details to follow from this afternoon’s conference call.

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