Showtime Sports executive Stephen Espinoza believes that MMA will make a return to his network. But what promotion will get the spot? Espinoza was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani and was quite candid about the timetable for MMA to return and who we might be seeing. First he gave his personal opinion, but tempered it with the reality of the situation (via MMA Fighting):
"I definitely want it back. I think we, as a company, want it back."
"We're going to be very careful because, being completely candid, there's a lot of MMA programming out there already. And the real question for us is, if we're going to get back into it on the programming side, what is going to be the compelling reason for us to do so? What's going to be different about the organization that we're involved in, as the way we present the sport? Because if we're just going out there to put more hours of MMA television on the air, I don't think it makes sense."
It seems that Invicta would be the frontrunner for a possible spot, and according to Espinoza, their relationship with the UFC wouldn't be a roadblock:
"If there was an obvious choice or a clear choice about getting back into MMA, we would've done it already,. But I agree that, probably the highest visibility, probably the most noteworthy promotion that's distinguished itself out there, other than the ones aligned with TV networks, is probably Invicta.
"The UFC relationship (with Invicta FC) is absolutely not a problem, whatsoever. I still run into those guys, from the Fertitta's, to part of their management, from Lawrence Epstein to Peter Dropick, and it's friendly. It was a situation that didn't work out, but bygones are bygones. It was a strange situation that no one really created in and of themselves, so you move on and look for the next opportunity."
Don't expect another international promotion to be carried though (Showtime has aired M-1 cards in the past):
"We have looked at some of the international promotions, and there's a lot of talent there. It would be something new and different. But there's challenges with marketing non-English speakers, in particular. There's additional costs with doing non-U.S. events. So there's a lot to consider, but we still want in and we're still looking around very carefully."
As for a timeframe, he said that it definitely will not be happening this summer:
"Certainly the summer is out of the question. That doesn't give anyone sufficient time to really ramp up. So it would either be late this year or in 2014, unless lightning struck and a deal fell into our laps that made sense immediately. I think more likely it's late 2013 or 2014."
While Invicta would definitely be the most unique MMA product Showtime could pick up, I'm not sure how much traction it could gain on the channel. In all honesty though, there aren't many other options. I personally believe that with all the investment Showtime has made in boxing lately, MMA is really on the back burner for them right now and we're not going to see anything airing on the channel for a while. But I hope Espinoza's optimism can lead to something, because more options for fans is a good thing.