Strikeforce: Past, Present, and Future
Dave Meltzer writes a wonder article over at Yahoo detailing how Scott Coker was able to build the Strikeforce brand over the past several years and where they may be heading in 2010. Here is his take on Strikeforce's growing roster, partners and deals they've attained the past year:
... In the past year, Coker has signed television deals with Showtime and CBS, a video game deal with EA Sports, and has signed contracts with fighters ranging from genuine top-level stars like Fedor Emelianenko, Gegard Mousasi, Cris "Cyborg" Santos, Marius Zaromskis and Dan Henderson, as well as potential drawing cards and celebrity fighters like Gina Carano, major pro wrestler Bobby Lashley and NFL legend Herschel Walker. All that means he’s a proverbial bulls-eye to UFC, which counter programs most of Strikeforce’s major events.
"A year ago, we had 15 to 20 guys under contract," said Coker, who promotes his final show of the year Saturday night on Showtime, in the first of what will no doubt be a number of head-to-head battles with UFC owner Zuffa, which has its sister World Extreme Cagefighting promotion running on Versus in a show from Las Vegas that night. "Now we’ve got … as many as 155 athletes under contract. Before we relied on Fedor and Gina, but now we have good fighters in all the weight classes."
Meltzer indulges on what fans can expect from Strikeforce in terms of events and a business model for 2010:
And there’s no break in sight. Coker expects to run 20 shows during the next fiscal year (March 1, 2010-February 28, 2011) on Showtime, CBS and pay-per-view, the same number industry-leader UFC ran in 2009. The business models are different. Strikeforce went from live-events based to one whose top priority is television events. The UFC’s goal is to build fights for monthly pay-per-views. Strikeforce is looking at building television fights and if and when the right big fight falls into place (like a potential Emelianenko vs. Alistair Overeem fight) then going to pay-per-view.
Cokers plans for Overeem and a co-promoted event with DREAM, giving the fights some mega fights between the two promotions:
If everything goes perfectly, and in MMA, that’s a crap shoot, the idea would be to first get Overeem, a 6-5, 258-pounder who looks like he stepped off the pages of a bodybuilding magazine, onto CBS before putting him in the company’s ultimate heavyweight match on pay-per-view.
One of Coker’s big goals for 2010 is to have a show televised from Japan with a Dream vs. Strikeforce theme, matching up the best fighters in each organization.
Still, Coker talks of bringing Dream’s top stars to the U.S., with ideas for fights next year like Nick Diaz vs. Hayato Sakurai, Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki against the winner of Saturday’s Josh Thomson vs. Gilbert Melendez match for the Strikeforce lightweight title, a deal he said was "about 90 percent there," or even a legends match with Frank Shamrock vs. Kazushi Sakuraba, which would have been one of the biggest matches possible eight years ago.
Meltzer and MMAPayout talk UFC Network Deals past, present, and future after the jump...
UFC Network Deals: Past, Present, and Future
Earlier this year, we received word that the UFC was very close to signing on with either ABC or ESPN, which would satisfy MMA fan's appetites since they announced possible UFC network deals since 2007. Dave Meltzer and MMAPayout now give us an update on how talks have ostensibly broken down with between the UFC and ESPN:
The UFC insisted on the non-exclusivity aspect in its new Spike contract, largely to be able to negotiate with ESPN. Talks with ESPN heated up after ESPN officials were blown away by UFC 100 and ordered all of its talk shows to start covering UFC and Brock Lesnar as major figures. At one point the deal was close enough that there was a name for the proposed television show, but it fell apart.
The two major hold-ups in UFC making deals with either a premium station like HBO, or a network like CBS, both of which they had talks with, have been control of the production and financial. The UFC attitude is that they know what type of show the audience wants, and is not going to sign a contract to have people present UFC in a different manner. The second is that even the lowest numbers a UFC show will do on a live American PPV is about 350,000 buys, which generated well over $7 million in revenue, and that’s a Quinton Jackson vs. Keith Jardine level main event. Right now, no network is going to come close to that type of money.
Meltzer also analyzesthe recent TV deal the UFC signed with Versus, its original and current purpose, and whether they are positioning themselves for something much bigger in the future:
What makes this deal interesting is that UFC is going on a low-rated station that would not give them added distribution, but are likely getting a strong money offer from a station trying to use the programming to put the station on the map, just as Versus did with the NHL. The entire purchase of WEC and setting it up as a new separate promotion from UFC stemmed from UFC’s original contract with Spike that prohibited UFC from airing on a rival station. When
WECVersus was close to a deal with the IFL, UFC headed off the deal by making the deal and having to create a new promotion because Spike wouldn’t allow them at the time to go on a second network.
MMAPayout analyzes Meltzer's points and asks some very interesting questions:
The right deal involving ESPN would mean the UFC gets the support it needs from ESPN’s existing television line-up (PTI, Sportscenter, Around the Horn, etc.), some additional help from MMA Live and Countdown-type shows, and the full use of the ESPN touchpoint network (internet, radio, etc.). That’s what’s most important for the long term.
Then, and only then, is it a matter of securing production control and compromising on the rights fee. The issue of the rights fee is interesting, because exactly as Meltzer points out the UFC doesn’t want to lose out on the typical cut that they’d receive from a PPV. However, you’ve got to question whether this stance is conducive to the long-term health of the sport.
Business is very much about being in the right place, with the right opportunity, and at the right time. MMA may or may not have a limited window of opportunity to strike while the iron is hot and make a lasting impression on a generation of youth that will go on to support the sport for 20-30 years. This begs a set of questions:
1. Does the UFC gamble that the window will remain open for another few years until it can secure enough negotiating leverage to get the perfect deal?
2. Or, does the UFC compromise on the rights fee with the idea of using ESPN as a vehicle to increase its value (and hence, its negotiating leverage) in the future?
Again, with the UFC strengthening its ties with Versus, its hoping to benefit from having two network deals and being opportunistic enough to seize a network deal with the latest news of a Comcast/NBC deal:
But Comcast’s impending acquisition of NBC Universal will certainly set off an effort to turn Versus into a viable alternative, if not a full-fledged competitor, to ESPN, The New York Times’s Richard Sandomir writes. Under Comcast’s ownership, Versus has transformed from the Outdoor Life Network to OLN, then, in 2006, into its current incarnation.
So, ironically, the UFC would go from nearly being on the coveted ABC/ESPN network, to now positioning themselves to become a main focus point on a network possibly destined to become ESPN's future competitor. Either way, the WEC and the UFC will suffer in the short-term, after Direct TV dropped Versus from its programming lineup in addition to losing 9 million more viewers due to the expiration of Dish Network's free Versus trial, which expired earlier this month. They will gladly take these early lumps to hopefully position themselves into becoming a major player in NBC's future sport network.