Kid Nate is joined by Iain Kidd and Bloody Elbow Alumni Jonathan Snowden to breakdown the UFC Fight Pass service. Everything from the initial launch library to the future of the service is discussed. A partial transcript is provided below.
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Fight Pass Launch Library
Jonathan Snowden: I wanted to take some of these older fights and share them with fans. One of the ones I thought of immediately was a fight from UFC 22, Brad Kohler vs. Steve Judson, which was a grappler versus striker fight, but one where the grappler had this tremendous knockout. That's an example of something that I thought new fans might appreciate, but it turns out that fight wasn't on UFC Fight Pass, and hundreds and thousands of other fights aren't on UFC Fight Pass yet. It's a real work in progress. Based on what they say, it's not a finished product.
Kid Nate: I like the fact that they're promising that they'll have every fight available as soon as the free trial period ends, which... [Laughs], which is like, ‘trust us, if you actually pay your money, you'll get all the stuff we promised.' Iain, do you want to put down a bet on whether or not they'll have every fight by March 1st?
Iain Kidd: I would put $1,000 down that they won't. They'll probably have enough of the library to quell most of the complaints, but there's no way they'll have the entire library up in time. They have so many UI issues and user experience issues they still have to fix, never mind getting the thousands of fights still missing checked, blurred and uploaded. They don't have the resources to do it.
Kid Nate: Do we have any idea what kind of staffing they have on the tech side for Fight Pass?
Jonathan Snowden: Based on what I've heard, and keep in mind this is complete rumor mongering, they're light. This is something that kind of happened a little bit out of the blue for the folks that were working on it. It's taken the WWE the better part of a decade to try to start digitizing their footage and getting It ready, and the idea the UFC are going to suddenly get every single one of these fights up seems ludicrous to me. I'm with you guys, that's not going to happen. Especially with them trying to remove sponsors who aren't paying them anymore and removing walkout music... it's going to be a long time before the entire library is up there, it's definitely not going to be happening in March.
Kid Nate: Did they just launch this to try to pre-empt the WWE Network?
Jonathan Snowden: It seems like maybe. They denied that, and maybe that's true, maybe it was targeted for the first of the year. That's plausible, but I think their idea was maybe that they would avoid some of the hard questions if they got Fight Pass out first, that In the initial press coverage of it, there wouldn't be all of these comparisons with the WWE Network, because it didn't exist yet. That was helpful; in the first run of coverage that they got there was no real comparison or discussion of the WWE because that wasn't a thing yet.
Kid Nate: What about guys like Kawajiri and Kikuno? These are guys that I think could hang in the ‘real' UFC, but instead they're stuck on these cards that are only seen on the Fight Pass service in the US. Are these guys just going to be in limbo for the duration of their careers?
Iain Kidd: We've seen a few guys in the past couple of years go from prelims to a title fight with maybe one bout in between, and now that the prelims are on Fight Pass the audience for those guys will be so significantly diminished that it will make no financial sense for the UFC to give these guys title fights, because no one knows who we are. Unless the UFC really get a handle on putting guys on the right cards and the right place on cards, I think this is going to hurt them long term. They're going to struggle to have challengers that the casual fan recognizes in any way, shape or form.
Kid Nate: This is something they're already struggling with. A Gustafsson vs. Jones rematch could be a significant PPV draw, and yet his next fight is going to be against Jimi Manuwa in the UK on a card very few American fans will see. It's baffling to me.
Fight Pass Programming
Kid Nate: There is a dearth of original programming. The WWE is cranking out documentaries and they have a long-standing history of putting out great DVDs that put together historical stories, plotlines and great matches, and the UFC has never really done anything like that. Their storytelling abilities are extremely limited, and yet they're promising original programming on Fight Pass. What do you expect to see in that way, and when do you expect to see it?
Jonathan Snowden: The UFC has made some efforts in that direction, it's just things that no one has ever seen because they do a terrible job of publicizing them. They released a Benson Henderson DVD that I called to interview him about, and he wasn't even aware of it. When the WWE releases a DVD it's a big deal. I got vague assurances from the UFC that they were going to have original programming, but you have to wonder what will that look like?
Kid Nate: Dave Meltzer ripped into a recent UFC Fight Night because it had no storytelling; it was just fight after fight. Bellator and even the WSOF does a better job of showing backstory videos about fights. When a UFC fighter goes in to fight, you're lucky if you see their walk-in, much less a backstory, an interview or a bit about what makes this guy different or why he should care about him. My theory is that they're so overworked and they've kept their staff so lean that they don't even have the bandwidth to think of these things.
Fight Pass Security
Iain Kidd: There are two specific issues at play. The first issue is the bad practices we know for a fact they have in place. The biggest issue there is them storing passwords using two-way encryption. They try to put peoples mind at ease by saying, ‘Oh it's PCI verified security, the same way people protect your credit card.'
That's not true. When you enter your credit card information, the UFC doesn't hold the key to decrypt much of that information. That's held by the credit card company. When they store your password, they have the key. That means anyone who gets access to that key on their server can see your password. It's a terrible way to store passwords, and it's against every good security protocol; Passwords should always be hashed and salted.
The second issue is that while your credit card information is probably fine, the fact they're making such basic mistakes with security and coding - their live site had coding errors on it last weekend - suggests to me that the people the UFC have in charge of making programming and security decisions aren't the right people. That worries me, because it makes me wonder what else they're doing wrong that we can't see.
Jonathan Snowden: When I talked to folks at the UFC, part of it is that they don't feel they have an obligation to give us this information. They feel like you should just trust them. They pointed out that even when they had trouble with hackers, they weren't able to do anything significant, so you take that in and decide if it's worth it to give them your credit card.
Kid Nate: We're living in a world where Target just got hacked in-store, so on the one hand maybe things aren't as bad as we're afraid of vis-à-vis the UFC, but on the other hand, you can't trust anybody, so it's alarming to me that the UFC's procedures are noticeably sloppy, and that they're an organization that has got on the wrong side of Anonymous in the past. As someone who live through the Stratfor hack, and had my personal information revealed by Anonymous before, even though I'm generally sort of an Anonymous supporter, I know how inconvenience and upsetting that can be.
My only advice is definitely don't use a password you use on any other sites for Fight Pass. Some people have said that you can use a pre-paid card, but I had some trouble doing that with Fight Pass because there wasn't an address linked to the card, so I had to use a credit card.
Fight Pass's Future
Jonathan Snowden: I would by the end of this calendar year they will be able to live up to their promise. What we expected when we first signed up should be there by the end of the year, I hope. I hope they have at least one or to original documentaries of some sort. They have all of the resources; they have the tools, the video and the people to tell all of these great stories, it's just a matter of whether or not they want to invest in it, and that will be the key to its success.
If this is just a repository for old fights to sit there, and it's impossible to search, and they don't do anything to make it relevant, then I think it's not going to be that successful. There are a handful of hardcore fans that want to see the live fights who will sign up, but in that case you're talking about what, 100,000 sign ups if you're ambitious?
Iain Kidd: I don't think Fight Pass will be much of a success at all. As Jonathan alluded to, there's nothing to drag in the casual fan. The WWE are expecting to have 1 million subscribers by the end of the year, minimum. The UFC have no chance of getting anywhere near that. I think Fight Pass will end up being more of a financial drain than a boon, and it wouldn't surprise me if it's something that gets left in a corner to gather dust, rather than getting improved and made more attractive over the next couple of years.
Kid Nate: Wow, that's pretty harsh, but I can't say that I disagree. I think that it's going to live or die based on how hard they continue to push the international expansion, and how much fans want to see these early prelim fights. I know as somebody who runs a website, for some of these events, the first couple of prelims embedded on the site was the only interest those cards would draw. So, it hurts us, and I just have to wonder how much it's going to hurt the UFC itself.