There might not be anyone in the MMA industry right now that has a stronger background in television that IFL President and CEO Jay Larkin. Based on his vast experience as a television executive, I requested an interview with Larkin to get his response to the recent announced that CBS had agreed to begin televising EliteXC.
Larkin was gracious enough to grant FiveOuncesOfPain.com (www.FiveOuncesOfPain.com) an interview just a little over 24 hours prior to the IFL’s first show of the year on Friday night (11 p.m. ET on HDNet) at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.
Sam Caplan: I wanted to get your reactions to today’s announcement that CBS and EliteXC have agreed to partner on a broadcast agreement.
Jay Larkin: I think it is wonderful news. I don’t know the deal terms, obviously I’m not a part of that so I don’t know the details. But just based on that one announcement of a major broadcast network carrying live MMA, I’m overjoyed. I think it’s a wonderful advancement. The fact that I’ve been told it will be on a regular schedule is wonderful. I think congratulations are due to EliteXC and Gary Shaw and I applaud CBS for taking that leap.
Sam Caplan: When I interviewed you a few weeks back for CBSSports.com you mentioned that you felt once the dam breaks that it was going to open up for everyone. What do you think is going to happen next as far as the television outlook is concerned in regard to MMA?
Jay Larkin: The next step of course is what kind of sponsorship and what kind of ratings these shows do on CBS. If the ratings are not good (then) it will be hard to maintain the show. If the sponsorship is not there, same thing. That’s the next thing to wait and see for. But I believe that now the perceived stigma of live MMA will be overcome and with CBS in charge, I believe the other major broadcast and basic cable networks will be more willing to jump in the pool.
Sam Caplan: Are you surprised it was EliteXC that was the first MMA promotion to sign an agreement with a major broadcast network as opposed to the UFC?
Jay Larkin: No. Not at all. In order to make things happen, in order to grow, in order to have any healthy business, there’s got to be a good amount of compromise and a good degree of cooperation. That being said, I’m not the least bit surprised it’s not the UFC.
Sam Caplan: How does the CBS/EliteXC deal affect the IFL?
Jay Larkin: Hopefully very well. Hopefully a lot of the broadcasters we’ve been talking will now be less cautious about moving forward with something they have perceived to be controversial.
Sam Caplan: Can you identify any of the networks that the IFL is in talks with right now?
Jay Larkin: No, I can’t do that but I can tell you that there’s several and the talks are serious. We’re not about to sign a contract today but we’ve had serious, substantive talks with outlets that we’d be proud to be associated with. So I welcome this announcement from CBS as nothing but good news. I’m a big believer in a strong tide rises all boats. Also, let’s not forget that we have the ongoing relationship with Fox Sports Net (and) we’re going to be carried live on HDNet on Friday night so we already have significant broadcast and telecast partners in place that we’re very happy with and certainly hoping to expand in those roles.
Sam Caplan: I also wanted to ask you about Friday’s show, which will be the IFL’s first show of 2008. What are some differences that we’re going to see during tomorrow’s show in comparison to the final show of 2007 on Dec. 29?
Jay Larkin: Technically you”ll see some differences. The viewer at home will see some cosmetic changes; a brand new state of the art production package, a graphics package, you’ll see a tighter, faster paced show. And you’ll see champions defending their belts during every telecast we do going forward. In fact, we have three titles on the line on Friday.
Sam Caplan: How are ticket sales going so far?
Jay Larkin: Ticket sales are very good. They’ve picked up tremendously. They are out-pacing our last event in Vegas significantly. Also, ticket sales at the Izod Arena in New Jersey for our April show have surpassed the last time we were out in the Meadowlands. So we’re starting to get some traction here (and) we’re starting to get some very positive feedback on our new approach — our camp approach versus the old team concept.
Sam Caplan: You and HDNet are now on the ground together working towards the production of Friday night’s telecast. How have things gone so far in coordinating the event for broadcast on Friday night?
Jay Larkin: It’s a breeze. They are delightful to work with. Andrew Simon heads up that operation and he’s been absolutely delightful to work with. They have a tremendous appreciation of MMA. They’ve explained that they want to be known as a center, a home base for MMA, and as such they’ve opened their doors to virtually any legitimate MMA organization that wants to supply them with shows. I think they are running a tight, smart operation; they’re wonderful to work with and the two of us should continue to build and hopefully continue to grow.