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« | Home | »

The meaning of K-1 Dynamite’s fizzled rating on TBS

By Zach Arnold | January 2, 2011

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Quietly, the ratings number came out for the 2010 K-1 Dynamite show on Tokyo Broadcasting System and it was a 9.8% rating. A sub-10% rating was the very last thing K-1 needed. (Though it was nice to know that they ended up giving an attendance for the show — 26,729.)

In the here-and-now, it feels inevitable that the relationship between K-1 and TBS will either significantly change or lead to a divorce. The World MAX, DREAM, and Dynamite shows are in decline on the network. Should TBS divorce itself from K-1, the big question is whether or not Fuji TV will help save the company. While ratings aren’t hot on Fuji TV for K-1 programming, they are steadier than on TBS. The relationship between Kazuyoshi Ishii and Fuji TV is also a much longer one as well.

All of this is important for K-1’s survival. The entire business plan that Mr. Ishii laid out for the business after the PRIDE collapse was to control the television pipeline in Japan. By controlling it, he could cash in on the broadcasting fees and also control what programming was on which network. If somebody wanted to promote a foreign show under his banner (think: the Holland shows) and get on Japanese TV in exchange for absorbing the live show costs and getting a % of the TV money, that sounded great. Now with the TBS relationship in serious decline, suddenly the plan becomes a lot less viable.

In a good public relations (and perhaps business) move, Mr. Ishii’s front man Sadaharu Tanigawa told the press that FEG was going to spend the next three months restructuring and getting money from both American and Chinese companies. One company named was Shanghai Media Group. I say it was a good PR move because it was a classic “turn the page before the bad news comes out” tactic. It sounds great to say that FEG will restructure and that there will be a ‘renewal’ for both K-1 and DREAM, but all the concrete facts right now say that the problems facing the company will require a lot more than just three months of restructuring.

The biggest issue facing K-1 is the financial model. The writing is likely on the wall with TBS, so I can understand why the economic realities are going to force K-1 to change. However, there’s a reason that K-1 has always been most concerned about the Japanese marketplace — because that’s where the money is (in television). Without that money, you’re asking K-1 to become a live house business model. That has never been the strength of the company. Well, you might ask, didn’t K-1 used to run a lot of foreign shows in the 90s and early part of the 2000s? Yes, but the man who was responsible for foreign business affairs for Mr. Ishii was Ken Imai. Imai turned on Ishii and ended up going to PRIDE with Nobuyuki Sakakibara right as the whole Mike Tyson fake contract & tax evasion scandal broke out. Mr. Ishii is a conceptual guy and a charmer, not a nitty-gritty numbers guy working behind a desk all the time. Unless Mr. Imai and Mr. Ishii miraculously work together again (which in the fight business is always a possibility), it’s hard to see how K-1 comes up with the right networking structure to make running foreign shows profitable on a big scale. Simon Rutz of It’s Showtime would only be part of the puzzle, not the whole puzzle itself.

And let’s address the idea of K-1 changing it’s economic model in order to get money from outside investors, if you want to call them that. If the money coming in is not due to money laundering or tax write-off purposes, how can you say with a straight face that the investors can expect a 30-50% return on their investment based on all the business data you’ve seen over the last five years? Especially in an industry where there are few tangible assets and the intellectual & video property at stake is largely controlled by the Japanese television networks…

There’s no question that significant change is needed for K-1 to survive in the fight game. However, nothing that I’ve heard as of right now convinces me that there is going to be major change. The situation reminds me a lot of when PRIDE made a deal to work with Ed Fishman and become ‘a casino play.’ Ed Fishman was and is a real, legitimate business man who did his job well. However, as he told the story to us multiple times, Sakakibara was looking to sell the PRIDE assets to UFC while working with Ed. Who’s to say the same situation won’t happen here with K-1?

There are many problems that Mr. Ishii is facing. The biggest problem is that his biggest strength is also his biggest weakness right now. His biggest strength is building up foreign aces. He’s very good at it. He’s taken the best foreign fighters in the world and made them into stars (the Alistair Overeems, the Peter Aerts, the Andy Hugs of the world). The problem is that when your business model is so dependent on Japanese television, you need strong Japanese stars. Yes, fighters like Masato and Kid Yamamoto were strong drawing cards, but the biggest problem K-1 faces is that with the heavyweight class of foreign fighters, they need legitimate heavyweight native stars and it’s just not there. Without the big heavyweight aces, you can’t consistently book the mega fights for the casual fans.

Which leads us to Satoshi Ishii, the man who was supposed to be the great savior of the Japanese fight business. In the history of the modern fight game in Japan (since the Reconstruction period after World War II), there is one sure-fire pattern that you must follow in order for a Japanese ace to become a major star in the eyes of the public. The first step requires that this fighter must have a highly regarded track record in Japan. Meaning, they may have a mixed win/loss record, but the public buys into the fact that they have talent and will become a somebody some day. Think of all the pro-wrestlers like Nobuhiko Takada and Mitsuharu Misawa who did ‘foreign excursions’ to other countries when they were young pups and ended up coming back to Japan after they spent time in Mexico or the States. Once they came back, they were pushed hard and given the chance to succeed. They did. The same case applies here to Japanese MMA. A prospective ace needs to be taken seriously by the public.

Once you get to that point, there are one of two traditional paths to stardom:

In the case of Satoshi Ishii, none of these attributes apply. This is why he is floundering in Japan and receiving ‘go away’ heat from the fans. I cannot recall a native fighter getting buried so hard in such a universal fashion in the media the days after a big fighting event like this. I know quite a bit about how the Japanese media works and the media there is motivated largely by two factors:

In order for such a critical mass to be reached in the media there to bury someone like Ishii, there are likely one of two reasons:

Given Satoshi Ishii’s weird statements before and after every fight, I’d probably guess that A is the correct answer. After all, this is a man who said he was going to fight Tito Ortiz after his November squash against Katsuyori Shibata and do so in the States. Then, before his fight with Jerome Le Banner at Dynamite, there was discussion of him wanting to get into Hollywood. Between the public displays of protest and goofy behavior, I’m sure no one was shedding a tear for the public burial he received in the media. And let me tell you, it was a hell of a burial. Daily Sports ran an English text headline saying “Booooo” next to Ishii’s name. Every other major paper (from Sports Nippon to Nikkan Sports) all ran with “Fans booing at Ishii” headlines.

Tim Leidecker, a wonderful friend and a great writer at Sherdog, asked me after the Dynamite show if there was some way that Satoshi Ishii would be able to turn the public heat against him and become a dominant heel with the fans. I said no. I base that on the fact that he’s an awkward goof socially and the fact that the Japanese public just doesn’t take him seriously now. After the 9.8% rating for Dynamite 2010, it’s clear that the public is just not that into him. Will they ever get into him? It’s hard to say, but fighting in Strikeforce won’t give him credibility when he goes back to Japan. Nobody knows about Strikeforce in Japan. When Aoki lost to Gilbert Melendez last April in Nashville, few if any saw that fight in Japan. Out of sight, out of mind.

Going back to the tenets of building an ace that I laid out earlier in the article, Ishii needs to be taken seriously first in Japan before he starts thinking about fighting in organizations outside the country.

I know that this is largely an exhaustive read for you and you’re probably wondering what the point of all of this is. Here’s the point. The point is that there are so many moving parts and so many obstacles for K-1 to overcome in 2011 and in the future that it’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of determination, and a lot of street & book smarts to pull this off. While it is never wise to underestimate Kazuyoshi Ishii, he is not a fellow who strikes me as someone who has all the answers to win this battle. He’s a tough guy, a charmer, and has a lot of street smarts. What the tax evasion scandal and the loss of Ken Imai proved, however, is that he’s not necessarily a book smart guy. In the predicament he’s in now, he needs all the weapons he can use at his disposal to try to revitalize the industry on a large scale.

Topics: Japan, K-1, MMA, Media, Zach Arnold | 26 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

26 Responses to “The meaning of K-1 Dynamite’s fizzled rating on TBS”

  1. Jonathan says:

    Good post Zach.

    You did not come right out and say it, but you think that K-1 will not survive 2011 and/or into 2012.

    Is that what you are saying in a nutshell?

  2. Stel says:

    no worries, zuffa will buy them when the time comes

  3. 45 Huddle says:

    FEG isn’t coming back untilt he spring.

    I bet there is a 50/50 chance that they never come back at all.

  4. PizzaChef says:

    I think for american pro wrestling fans to understand better the heat that Ishii is getting is to use this term: X-Pac heat.

    Now all we need is for him to do is start in a porn video with Chyna complete with clitdick.

    • Garret says:

      That’s the worst heat a fighter/wrestler can get. That type of heat drives viewers to change the channel.

  5. Wolverine says:

    K-1 will be back, it’s too big of a brand to go under like that. However I wouldn’t be surprise if we never see Dream and K-1 Max again.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      It would make sense to concentrate on few leagues if they are having money problems.

      If they get rid of DREAM, it’s basically the end of MMA in Japan on any sort of larger stage. Sengoku pulling 5,000 fans at Ariake shows they are basically out of the running as well….

  6. Garret says:

    They can talk all they want about having financing, until they successfully promote shows in 2011, I think the company is dead. The writing has been on the wall for awhile now, the fact that fighters are not getting paid is telling of their current financial situation.

  7. nick says:

    This article is a bunch of bs first, k1 call about 10 % rating plus it was going against other hugh shows playing at the same time. Second what were the rating of the k1 gp that is the bread and butter of K1 not the new years bash. Every other show Satoshi Ishii was on the rating went up wether people want him to lose or win is not important the fact that they watch him is. K1 is too big to go down and even if dream went k1 would still do mma in some way. Yeah k1 had a bad year and this show did not do as well ( again it was called) as it had in the past but k1 just got a shit load of money which means someone thinks the business can work.

    • Steve4192 says:

      LOL

      Love the Sherdog-level rebuttal skills of this guy.

      Keep it up champ!

      • The Gaijin says:

        While some sites/blogs like to run “controversial” or “inflammatory” stories I think we can agree that this site isn’t one of them.

        Zach has a STRONG track record of running stories that are legit and right on target.

        • nick says:

          You can’t base the future of k1 on the new years show lol once again I say show the rating for the finals

      • nick says:

        I will as long as you keep writing things that have nothing to do with the topic lol

  8. kobashi says:

    Serious question Zach.

    Will New Japan Pro-Wrestling Tokyo dome show get more media coverage then the Dynamite show?

  9. Mark says:

    I think it’s obvious that UFC and Japan will trade the hot business streaks back and forth and will not simultaneously have deep rosters. During PRIDE’s 2000-05 run, they had 90-95% of the best fighters in the world and UFC had 5-10%. Now UFC has probably 98%, and Strikeforce and DREAM split the other 2%. The talentpool is not deep enough and never will be to spread enough of the top fighters in the world evenly enough for both to do big business.

    Eventually sometime in the future, the Japanese will catch the MMA bug again, probably around the same time UFC’s business stalls a little and the balance of power will shift. I’m not saying UFC is going to go back to doing 15,000 buys or that this is going to happen next year or anything. But cycles are inevitable both ways.

    • Chuck says:

      I think the ratio is a LITTLE bit closer than that. Especially that None of those companies has Hatsu Hioki, who is top 5 in his weight class. And Sengoku has Jorge Santiago as well. But yeah UFC has probably about 90-95% of the top fighters out there.

    • Steve4192 says:

      90% to 95% is a bit of a stretch.

      The UFC’s complete ownership of the WW division was enough all by itself to give them claim to 20% of the best fighters (of course, Pride also got 20% based on their complete ownership of the LW division). Of the other three divisions, I’d say that the UFC had at least 20% to 40% of the top talent. They had Sylvia-Arlovski at HW, Couture-Chuck-Tito-Babalu at LHW, and Franklin-Lindland-Tanner at MW.

      Net, it broke down something like this:

      HW: Pride 80%, UFC 20%
      LHW: Pride 60%, UFC 40%
      MW: Pride 70%, UFC 30%
      WW: Pride 0%, UFC 100%
      LW: Pride 100%, UFC 0%

      Pride was definitely the dominant promotion, but to say they had 90%-95% of the top talent is crazy talk.

      • Mark says:

        I think 90% is very fair. I’m talking about going back as far as the days where Pat Miletich stunk up pay per view and Frank Shamrock was all they had as a respectable name. Where PRIDE started eating up their big names and creating their own stars like Sakuraba, Wanderlei, Igor, Nogueira, Herring, ect. You seem to only be looking at 2006 when the playing field started to even as UFC finally made money.

        And nobody considered Tim Sylvia top talent. He was the posterboy for lamenting how horrible the UFC HW division was until 2008. People laughed at UFC for running a Gan McGee-Tim Sylvia HW title fight at the same time PRIDE did the classic Fedor-Nog fight.

    • Steve4192 says:

      In regards to the UFC currently having 98% of the top talent, that is also crazy talk.

      They have LHW and WW on lockdown, but there is a lot of good talent outside the UFC in the other divisions. The UFC still has the preponderance of the talent in those divisions, but not all of it. Guys like Fedor, Werdum, Bigfoot, Mousasi, Mo, Feijao, Santiago, Jacare, Alvarez, Melendez, Kawajiri, Hioki, Sandro, Warren, Takaya, Fernandes, & Freire are all legit top talents.

      • Mark says:

        I’ll give you some of those like Fedor, Melendez, Warren and Alvarez, and that’s who I had in mind. Those are names Dana would jump at the chance to sign and promote as big names. But I would not call people like Mousasi, King Mo, Werdum, Big Foot Silva, Jacare, ect. on the level of top stars. Nobody is saying Shogun can’t call himself the real champion until he beats Feijao or King Mo the same way Fedor’s abscence hung over the UFC, or people demanded a Wanderlei-Chuck superfight to prove who the real 205 champ was.

        And another thing to take into account with Japan, is now that UFC has lighter weights out of the WEC ghetto, there’s no stopping guys like Aoki from coming over and fighting at 145 instead of getting crushed by 25 pound heavier American lightweights. It’s going to be rough.

  10. nick says:

    k1 wgp final 13 % a slip from 15 % last year but still was a soild year for k1 on fuji tv.So like I said before bs this should been about mma in japan and maybe k1 max which is on tbs but then main brand is coming out of 2010 stonger. For one semmy is not the champ anymore which is great for ratings, Two is set up a badr vs overeem 3 for next gp. K1 (not max) is fine and will be stonger next year dream on the other hand

  11. Kuri Kinton says:

    I’m wondering why Zack would bother writing so much about something when he has just half of the story of.

    The linked article showing the ratings clearly says “First section,” running from 9:00 to 10:50. The show has a second section that ran from 10:50 to 11:39.

    The show’s ratings would be the average of each section, not one or the other. (Just as the show’s ratings wouldn’t be the peak either).

    But hey, I guess someone that would call Nagashima gay in one of his articles probably wouldn’t care about the accuracy of the figure he is throwing around.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      (For those who don’t know, this person works for K-1.)

      You said I didn’t break up the rating into the two time frames. OK. So let’s say that time frame 1 did a 9.2 rating and time frame 2 did a 9.8 rating. Does that bolster your cause?

      Listen, I’m not an ogre wishing you lose employment and be homeless. You have trolled me on other platforms and that’s fine, but when it comes to understanding the history of the biz and where things correlate today, I’m happy to put my track record on the line.

      Now, I wouldn’t expect you to bash your employer and I would fully expect you to defend them. After all, that is what someone who is a good employee does. I don’t hold animosity towards you on that front.

      I also think that, if it isn’t obvious enough already, a strong Japanese league is a very good thing for the fight game. Contraction is not good. A one-league dominated circuit is not always the most interesting scenario.

      • Kuri Kinton says:

        Zack, I am not nor have ever been employed by K-1.
        If you want to get technical, I don’t work for FEG either. My living is made well away from kakutougi, so FEG living or dying won’t bother me much in a financial sense. thanks for the concern though.

        As for trolling you on another platform, I merely pointed out that the “yakuza” term you and others throw around in regards to damn near every article related to Japan IS laughable for anyone that has spent any decent length of time here working. The western media/fans lap it up though, so I understand why you/they do it.

        You took a swipe at me for making an innocent observation on that fact when I don’t believe it came about in relation to any organization at all. I commented on nothing but a term. You made it personal; I responded in fashion. Indeed, that is why I commented here using the same name, and not one of the others I use online.

        Now, your opening paragraph above: Don’t play stupid with me. The link you gave as your source, which I presume you do understand as it is your source, offers nothing but the first sections ratings. If the second section is significantly lower or higher it makes your article nothing but spam that many who read, will unfortunately remember. That doesn’t strike me as being particularly informative.

        Now, when it comes to understanding the history of the kakutougi business in Japan, I am more than happy to go one on one with anybody. When it comes specifically to K-1 related matters, even more so.

        I didn’t point out ever single inaccuracy/incorrect assumption in the article. Doing so would come off as petty, and also be exhaustive. It’d also require lots of toe-stepping-on by me, which I’m not interested in doing. I do take issue when the central point of it is based on a partial figure though. As someone who lives off his reputation, you should too. I understand you’re going to defend your piece.

        And while I can’t stand his hobby myself, Nagashima is far from an okama too (though I didn’t say so in that article as I didn’t want to look like I was trying to spam your site).

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