What Affliction MMA Should Have Been

July 29, 2009

By Kelsey Philpott

The fact that Josh Barnett’s positive test for anabolic steroids was able to bring down an entire card really speaks volumes about the level of structure, organization, and most importantly, depth, within Affliction.

A crisis such as this would not have hampered the UFC’s ability to put on an event; nor would it have likely impacted Strikeforce. Some might say it’s unfair to compare Affliction to the UFC or Strikeforce, but I’d argue that’s precisely the point of absurdity in this entire situation.

The real truth of the matter is that Affliction could not hope to compete with the UFC right out of the gate, and to expect otherwise was to set itself up for a rather large and costly defeat.

And, sure, the idea of what Affliction was trying to do is absolutely marvellous. What MMA fan in their right mind wouldn’t want another organization that is paying huge sums to its fighters, puts on some of the best fights in the world, and supports itself through millions in PPV revenue?

But as they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Affliction should have done things properly right from the outset: going small, going responsible, and going from the ground up, all in order to build a solid foundation.

What would have been wrong with Affliction as a regional promoter – doing four shows a year – in any one of the many underserved MMA markets across the US? It could have easily leveraged its brand into a strong following, sufficient media coverage, and likely a TV deal (HDNet would have been a great full-time partner).

More importantly, as a regional promotion, Affliction would have had the opportunity to gain many of things it proved to lack: operational experience, fiscal accountability, organizational structure, roster depth, and a chance at consistency. In other words, the regional promotion business model would have equipped Affliction with all the tools it would have needed to deal with a crisis such as the one that occurred this week.

Call it what you want – the Strikeforce model, responsible management, whatever – this is the kind of approach and business model that would have produced success. It may not have made money right out of the gate, but it would have been a whole lot easier for the clothing line to subsidize a regional show than the international money glutton that Affliction actually produced. You can also bet that they would have been making money by the 3rd or 4th show; again unlike the model they decided to run with.

Further, the greatest strength of Affliction- aside from the brand itself – was Atencio’s passion and commitment to the sport. Under a better, more well-thought-out business model, you have to figure that it would have only been a matter of years before the correctly modelled promotion began to compete for big name contracts (just as Strikeforce has done).

That’s what Affliction should have been.

Point, Counterpoint: Affliction Killed Affliction

July 28, 2009

By Kelsey Philpott

Welcome to the latest addition of MMA Payout: Point, Counterpoint!

After reading Payout contributor Jonathon Snowden’s latest piece entitled “Who Really Killed Affliction?” I feel compelled to respond and engage in some healthy debate here on the website.

In his article Jon argues for the following:

As the smoke cleared from Affliction Entertainment’s implosion, the media vultures were quick to assign blame for the promotion’s demise. Some pointed a finger at Tom Atencio, the organization’s front man and the architect of fight cards filled with untenable contracts, cards too good and too expensive for an upstart promotion. Others blamed Josh Barnett, the self destructive enigma who once again allegedly resorted to using illegal performance enhancers to prepare for the biggest fight of his career. But the real culprit is a true American hero, or a titular one at least. Yes, Randy Couture killed Affliction and he did it all the way back in September 2008.

Fedor vs. Randy

Although Fedor vs. Randy may have been an epic fight, it would have been a far less epic PPV for Affliction.

Randy Couture is an enigma in the sense that he’s quite well regarded – a legend in fact – by most within the sport, but he hasn’t been able to match the success of men like Chuck Liddell or Tito Ortiz in the PPV department. He’s managed to headline some record shows (e.g., UFC 57 or UFC 91), but he’s never done it on his own.

If you were to assess Randy’s drawing power at the time of the proposed Fedor fight, you’d have to look at fights like UFC 68 or UFC 74. He was the main attraction in both cards (aside from having GSP on the undercard at 74) and drew in the solid, yet unspectacular range of 520-540k.

Fedor’s numbers, on the other hand, were downright dismal: 30k and 50k for the Bodog and Pride events respectively.  

While I understand the hype surrounding the fight, the simple reality of things was that Couture could not have carried a “super fight” on a somewhat unknown promotion, against a virtually unknown fighter.

The fact that some were expecting Fedor vs. Randy to break PPV records under the Affliction banner speaks to just how much the MMA community underestimated the value of the UFC brand and marketing push in comparison to the individual drawing power of great fighters like Randy Couture.

The subsequent performance of Affliction I and II – both of which featured former UFC heavyweight champions, Sylvia and Arlovski – is further support to this line of thinking.

Bad Gamble, Bad Business

I concede the points that Randy Couture was likely the basis for which Affliction’s promotion was formed and that Affliction seemingly bet the farm on Fedor vs. Randy.

However, I object to the notion that Randy Couture killed Affliction. 

Affliction made a bad gamble when they decided to bet the farm on a single, impotent main event, which is an absolute indictment of their bad business practices – it was ultimately a sign of things to come, with or without Fedor vs. Randy.

Affliction Killed Affliction

To claim that Randy Couture killed Affliction is to divert attention from the other significant factors that contributed to the demise of the promotion.

The following reasons for Affliction’s demise are issues that the MMA community – and prospective promoters in particular – need to be mindful of in the future:

1. Affliction had no apparent business strategy. The organization was content to focus on one event at a time, without any forward thinking as to what might lie ahead and how they might try to bring everything together in a cohesive, progressive manner.

2. Affliction used a flawed and inappropriate business model. In the organization’s quest to compete with the UFC, they chose to follow the PPV business model without the prerequisite fan following to ensure sufficient cash flow generation. Additionally, they paid out some of the most handsome fighter salaries in the history of the sport, while also forking out huge money to produce each show. They had Ozzy scheduled to play at intermission for goodness sake.

3. Affliction tried to build their organization around one fighter. It’s hard enough to build a card around one fighter, let alone an entire organization; and, whether it ended up being Randy or Fedor, the organization’s appeal was destined to be quite shallow. This, of course, omits the fact that Fedor, who became Affliction’s prime ticket, was a virtual unknown in the United States. It never added up.

Other Contributing Factors

4. The presence of the UFC. The sport’s most popular fighting organization drew the ire of many hardcore fans for its hard-line stance and opposition to Affliction. By refusing to co-promote, refusing to acknowledge the existence of Affliction, and waging competitive broadcasts during Affliction events, the UFC helped to cut off the casual MMA fan from knowing about, hearing about, or watching Affliction events.

5. The state of the sport itself. MMA simply isn’t yet popular enough to sustain a full-on competitor to the UFC. There isn’t enough disposable cash in the current economy, there aren’t enough marketable entities outside of the UFC’s control to make it happen, and, dare I say, there just isn’t enough interest in the sport as of right now.

Counterpoint Conclusion

Randy may have contributed to the beginning of the end for Affliction, but it was a combination of the organization’s strategy, business model, and singular attraction that led to the organization’s demise.

Check back tomorrow for a look at what Affliction Entertainment should have been.

Affliction, The Media and MMA (…continued)

October 27, 2008

Last week we told you about the gaff by the Affliction/ M1/ Trump media team, when a representative of the organizations asked that FoxNews.com, NBCSports.com and foreign media outlets remove their mic flags and replace them with Affliction branded mic flags.

The article received a few responses, but the one that stuck out was from No Hold Barred’s own Eddie Goldman, a combat sports journalist who has helped pioneer coverage of MMA from day one.

Email documentation provided by Goldman shows that after he RSVP’d to the intial press invitation, Jeremy Silkowitz of Swanson Communcations, representing the trio of companies responded: Unfortuntely, we will not be able to add you to the RSVP list for tomorrows event. I have received word from Trump Towers security that they were at capacity for this event prior to your name being added to the security list.”

Silkowitz also informed Goldman that a future Affliction press conference will be held in New York to announce an Affliction Entertainment fight and that there would be no space limitation.

Goldman’s response spared no expense: “Keeping me out of this event will only hurt your show by limiting coverage on the most prestigious show there is, No Holds Barred.”

Goldman also was in contact with Kelly Swanson of Swanson Communications, who insisted that it truly was a space issue that kept Goldman out of the event, held at Trump Tower.

MMAPayout has contacted both Silkowitz and Pamela Rogers, who is Affliction Entertainment’s PR representative and will bring you any relevant updates.

Sil

We will be back in New York to officially announce the next Affliction Entertainment fight, and for that event there will not be limited space. We look forward to your attendance.

Affliction, the Media and MMA

October 23, 2008

Last week, as a rather sizable media contingent waited for a tardy Donald Trump to begin the joint Affliction/ M1/ Trump media press conference, something happened that surprised the media in the room – and showed a distinct lack of media savvy.

A tall blonde woman, working for one of the three organizations represented, announced that those organizations with mic flags had to remove them, and replace them with Affliction mic flags.

What’s a mic flag? It’s that square little box that sits just below the top of the microphone, trumpeting the presence of a particular news outlet at the scene of a story.

So being the polite guests that they were, the guys from FoxNews.com’s Fight Game, NBCSports.com and a foreign news agency promptly complied.

While the mic flag is a staple of brand reinforcement for agencies in the broadcast world, in the MMA world, they are even more important. To have mic flags from mainstream media outlets sitting just below the mouth of an MMA executive helps bring their brand or organization into the mainstream, as well.

But instead, there were three “Affliction” mic flags just beneath Tom Attencio and Donald Trump, making it look like a shill press conference – when it was not the case.

Is it a big deal? Not really. But like a fighter who need to work on his stand-up, it’s just one of those little indicators that MMA organizations need to improve their media game.