I awoke Sunday morning to find that a large number of MMA “fans” and journalists had a big plate of stupid for breakfast and ran to their keyboards to share. Many of them predicting the immediate demise of ProElite/EliteXC due to a :14 second loss by the company’s poster boy Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson.
Regardless of how you feel about Kimbo or EliteXC, you would have to either be blind or really uninformed to think this fight would spell the end of the company. EliteXC was on the brink of disaster well before Slice agreed to fight Seth Petruzelli, long before the CBS:”Saturday Night Fights” deal was ever in place. For the first 6 months of 2008, EliteXC posted losses of approximately 24 million dollars. Losses that clearly show the company was hemorrhaging money at a rate that just isn’t sustainable. Losses that were affecting the company on a much broader level than a hyped up fighter who couldn’t cut it.
Later today, the numbers for the October broadcast of CBS: “Saturday Night Fights” will be in. I think we all may be forgetting that the Kimbo Slice vs. Seth Petruzelli fight will likely be one of the most watched MMA fights in North American history. The talk surrounding the fallout of this fight was covered on ESPN during a live college football broadcast, good or not so good, media outlets that rarely if ever pay attention to mixed martial arts were talking about the sport. While we as the all knowing hardcore fans can sit back and scoff at the spectacle of it all, eyes and ears that would never watch the sport suddenly had an opinion, a vested interest in something 6 months ago they wouldn’t have dreamed of admitting they would watch. Regardless of how we may feel about it, Kimbo had/has value to any promotion.
I like many await EliteXC’s fate. Some speculate a buyout by CBS/Showtime , some the death of the organization. I am of the opinion we will witness EliteXC morph into something else, a company that under new ownership or management will stop the facade of “fighters first” and begin to take the familiar approach that has been successful for the world leader in mixed martial arts The Ultimate Fighting Championship “company first, no one fighter is bigger than the brand”.
That business model has allowed the UFC to flourish while others wilt and fall to the wayside.
Many people seem to enjoy discussing Affliction Entertainment, or the management of EliteXC saying their product is substandard in one breath and in the very next complain about fighter salaries. Any prudent person would realize these young upstart organizations would not have the polish or power to run the same business model that many consider the benchmark for the sport. They are trying to find their way, some through over paying of fighters, others through creating quasi celebrities. They are fumbling around like a 14year old boy trying to unclasp his first bra. I am no moral compass but they need to get it together and be quick about it.
I have no opinion of fighter compensation, each fighter makes a decision to fight for what they are paid. Nobody put a gun to Matt Hammill’s head and forced him to fight Rich Franklin for 10 grand while Franklin made 100.
Maybe the backlash is Kimbo’s fault. Maybe he should have taken a different path. “No please don’t put me on the cover of ESPN: The Magazine. I’m very new to this sport, and although it’s great promotion, It just doesn’t feel right” “ I can’t let you pay me a half million dollars to fight, it’s not fair to the others. I know I have a large family to take care of, and I’m in my 30’s with only a few fights left if things go well, but paying me an amount of money that will make a difference in my life is just too much.” “ Sure 5 million people tuned in to see me fight, and we did a decent gate at the arena, but until I’ve proven myself to the people who don’t pay my bills, I will have to insist you pay me 4000 to show and 4000 to win.”
EliteXC is suffering from the same problem as many upstart business’s that had good starting capital. I like to call it the “Playing Business” syndrome. EliteXC seems to be “playing” MMA organization and needs to start conducting itself as one. Just because you have great start up money and you come from a field that is distantly related to your new venture doesn’t mean you have to try to reinvent the wheel. If we have learned nothing from Zuffa, it is that fighters want to fight, and will do so for very little money.
The money just isn’t there in mixed martial arts yet. Let’s compare some numbers. Georges St. Pierre defeated Matt Hughes at UFC 79 is a champion and considered by many one of the best fighters in the world, he made $160,000 for his championship effort. Alex Rodriguez made $170,270 per game…regular season…….in 2000. I kinda had to chuckle today when I read the news that St. Pierre had signed with CAA Sports, a company that will be involved with all aspects of his career including his fight contracts. I suspect his representative will soon be “Corky” from the mail room after they have the pleasure of attempting to “negotiate” better compensation for their fighter and they get a clear view of the financial reality of the sport.
I have the privilege to speak with managers and fighters on a pretty regular basis. I hear the stories of fighters living at the gym in a back room, or in an old beat up RV in back of their coaches house chasing the dream. The one thing they all have in common is they would like a chance to fight, make money and be seen doing what they love. Stable organizations allow them to do this.
I also talk with newspaper editors, magazine publishers, and Phil down at the bar. The one thing most of them have in common is they are not warming up to the sport the way they could be. They bring up the legitimate concern that to follow the sport it will cost them/their readers 50 dollars a month. ( before you say, the UFC shows are sometimes free, go ahead and Tivo the Superbowl this year and watch it in June and tell me how much you enjoyed the game)
As a fan of the sport more MMA is better, MMA on network television is outstanding. I like many of you would like the best product possible. There is room for multiple organizations with different delivery models. I enjoy pay per view as much as the next fan and will continue my investment into the sport, however there is nothing wrong with additional entertainment. Those of us claiming to be fans of the sport only to turn around and wish ill on a free product that will allow more fighters to pursue a career really confuse me. Do they not realize maybe one day these fighters may compete for the company we prefer?
EliteXC and Affliction have a long way to go, they can get there by making smarter decisions. They can be national, they can have a large loyal audience. It’s time to grab a plate of crow, eat it, realize what works for others, and what will work for them, and run the business like a business. There are far more talented fighters than the 200 or so in Zuffa’s employ, and it won’t cost a half a million dollars per fighter per fight to obtain their services. Sign them , build them up and watch them grow as well as your company.
This isn’t a sport that deals in quick money, and when it tries to (see Kimbo) the results are usually a disaster.