Strikeforce and Showtime Are In the Fedor Emelianenko Business and Business Is Good, or Is It?

I'd like to do two things here. First, let's do a poll and tell me about your relationship to Showtime and whether or not Fedor being on a Showtime card influenced your decision to subscribe or not.

Then I want to revisit one of the most prescient posts our own Michael Rome wrote in 2009: Strikeforce Should Directly Challenge UFC 106 With Fedor Emelianenko. Most of our readers at the time completely missed his point since they didn't understand the Showtime business model. 

So here's Rome's key point:

 What they should do is be proud of their product and put it up against UFC 106 in November.  Showtime can easily advertise the fact that you have a simple choice that night: you can pay $50 to see a WWE superstar who doesn't even know how to fight, or you can see the greatest fighter in MMA history on Showtime.  Sure it's manipulative, but it's no worse than what Dana's been doing to Fedor for years now.

If they do that, there will be a mountain of press covering the entire Fedor vs. Brock situation, and who is the more legitimate champion.  And whose side do you think most reporters are going to come down on?  When Dana couldn't stop slamming Affliction, he ended up on the front page of the L.A. Times sports section next to Donald Trump in a big piece focusing on their upcoming battle.  Dana can't help himself, he'll go berserk if they do this, and it will drive a ton of publicity for their event.

Further, even though UFC 106 has the potential to do over a million buys, that's still just a million households.  That's far less than would watch some big Spike TV show, and you're offering a cheap alternative to their expensive product.  The success barometer for Fedor's first fight is probably the 400,000 viewer mark, a level that a press avalanche could push them across.

The complete and utter failure of Strikeforce/Showtime/M-1 Global to generate any significant mainstream or sports media press coverage of Fedor vs Werdum testifies to just how big a waste it is to have the world's best and possibly most expensive fighter fighting on Showtime.

Fedor vs Werdum on CBS would have been a fairly easy sell. Not to mention that CBS Sports formidable news and PR operation would have been engaged. But trying to sell Fedor fighting on Showtime to your typical big time reporter -- who's busy and lazy and used to having stories spoon fed to him/her by aggressive PR pros -- just begs the obvious question: If this guy is so great and such a big deal, why is he fighting on Showtime?

Now I still think that the right play was to get Fedor vs Werdum on CBS in April, preferably on the same card as Overeem vs Rogers to build to a mega PPV featuring Fedor vs Overeem. Obviously that didn't happen, largely due to really dumb decision making by M-1.

But once they were stuck with putting Fedor on Showtime, presumably at a big loss even if he brought in 20,000 new subscribers, they should have gone up against UFC 116 next weekend. That would have been a genius PR play that would have inserted Fedor into every single story about Lesnar vs Carwin. Instead, the Lesnar/Carwin fight is forcing its way into the Fedor narrative as shown by stories like this one from our own Brent Brookhouse and this one from Sherdog.

In the full entry, there's a round up of MMA's best and brightest, including Dave Meltzer, Josh Gross and Fightlinker, discussing the business implications of Fedor vs Werdum.  Read on.

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Dave Meltzer talks about the business side of tonight's Strikeforce: Fedor vs Werdum card:

Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker claimed that ticket sales for Saturday's show are ahead of the pace of last summer's Gina Carano vs. Cris "Cyborg" Santos fight in the same building (which drew 13,976 fans) and are on par with the 2006 Frank Shamrock vs. Cesar Gracie fight (which drew a then-MMA record in North America with a sellout 18,265 fans). He threw a knock in at UFC president Dana White, without mentioning him by name, since White claimed they had only sold 4,000 tickets for the show.

But the more important number would be 2.17, the television rating of the Carano vs. Santos fight, the best MMA number ever recorded on Showtime. They are hoping to break that record with Emelianenko's first appearance on the premium network.

Emelianenko's skill level in 2010 isn't the only thing being hotly debated. His popularity and drawing power are as well. As with the arguments over where he stands as a fighter today, the truth is probably somewhere in between the opinions of his skeptics and worshippers. Emelianenko was never one of the biggest-drawing stars of the Japanese MMA world that he dominated in the ring during the past decade. And in the U.S., and for that matter most of the world, he is not nearly as well known as Lesnar or Georges St. Pierre.

But his only U.S. television fight, on Nov. 7 against Brett Rogers on CBS, gained 1.49 million new viewers over the previous fight on the broadcast, the second-biggest viewership gain for an MMA fight in U.S. television history. He is a star in this country and does sell tickets.

Josh Gross spoke to Ken Hershman, senior vice president and general manager of sports and event programming:

With Showtime's limited viewership because of the "premium" network tag, it's expectations regarding ratings aren't equivalent to an advertiser-driven platform like Spike TV, which has blossomed throughout its relationship with the UFC. That, said Hershman, is one major differences of the competing business models between Showtime and Spike, which has made it a habit of releasing comparison-based ratings between itself and the Strikeforce-affiliated network.

"The whole Showtime versus Spike ratings comparison shows me that there are very few people who appreciate the difference in marketplace and business dynamic between the two networks," Hershman said. "We're in a totally different space than a basic cable network.

"We strive to get the most viewers but it's not the be-all, end-all because we're not selling ads against it. We don't have to give back money to our advertisers because we didn't hit a number. To judge our success or failure based on a rating is just missing the point about what our business is about. We're an extremely successful and profitable business, not because we're getting ratings but because we're putting [out products] that are getting and keeping subscribers in record numbers."

Fightlinker compares the historical numbers for past Strikeforce on Showtime events:

The Carano / Santos fight averaged 576,000 viewers and peaked at 856,000 viewers. More recent Strikeforce ratings on Showtime:

  • Strikeforce LA had 164,000 viewers
  • Heavy Artillery had 308,000 viewers
  • Strikeforce: Miami had 517,000 viewers
  • Strikeforce Evolution had 341,000 viewers

If you wanna help Strikeforce get some non-embarrassing numbers, you can always sign up for Showtime right now and get $25 back from it.

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