By Zach Arnold | February 18, 2011
A good interview on Press Row this week for Sherdog between Jordan Breen and Ariel Helwani. Worth your time to listen to. The discussion was Strikeforce-centric and gave a good feeling about what it’s like to be at an SF event, to cover it, and how the operation works.
I got three passages for you from the radio interview here that I want to focus on. The first passage deals with internal Strikeforce reaction to Fedor losing last Saturday night.
JORDAN BREEN: “Ben (Fowlkes) offered the idea that maybe it’s actually better if Alistair Overeem wins. He’s a bit younger, a bit more dedicated to the cause of fighting and fighting actively, he’s certainly got an appeal, an aesthetic and cosmetic appeal that’s very easy to sell as if you see Alistair Overeem his physique screams, ‘yeah, of course, this guy’s the best heavyweight fighter in the world, just look at him!’ It seems so apparently and so self-referential that maybe’s the guy that they should be putting concentrated efforts behind. Naturally, he needs to beat Fabricio Werdum in April for that to happen. But, do you think there’s a real sense of joy and relief from Scott Coker and company that maybe they can go full-speed ahead on Alistair Overeem and maybe put the nightmarish dealings with M-1 behind them?”
ARIEL HELWANI: “Like I said, I don’t think that they will admit this to us on the record at least but, trust me, I’m not going to call anyone out but I spoke to a few people in Strikeforce who, when I said ‘what does this mean?’, a smile instantly appeared on their face. I mean, I’m not saying that they’re rooting for Fedor, obviously not, but let’s be honest, I mean, everyone knows that it’s very hard to deal with M-1. So, now, April 9th it’s not an M-1 Global & Strikeforce event. That’s just a Strikeforce event. This one had to be an M-1 Global event because Fedor was on the card. April 9th isn’t. … So, just think of that. Whatever their deal is with M-1 Global and, you know, they have to share part of the profits and all that stuff. They don’t have to do that any more. And now, fine, you know, Fedor’s going to come back and he’s going to fight, but I just think it opens up a lot of, imagine if they are going to do PPV for the second round. Well, now, Fedor’s not part of the PPV show. He still might be on the card, you know, that could switch things up, but I think it just opens a lot of things up for Strikeforce. They can deal with their own brand, they can make the decisions that they want, they can promote it how they want, they don’t have to deal with any politics behind the scenes, and we all know that it’s been hard to deal with M-1 Global. Everyone from Dana White to Scott Coker and anyone else will tell you that. Now they’re in the clear and they can do whatever they want.”
Perhaps some in Strikeforce were happy, but listening to Scott Coker’s answers this week on various media platforms indicates to me that he may not exactly be in that camp. Plus, M-1 now has a TV deal with Showtime.
The second passage is a transition from the first (talking about Fedor losing). With Fedor’s loss, how does it alter the company’s plans to go onto PPV?
JORDAN BREEN: “So at this point in time, do you think that, like, how far do you see them away from being on a PPV? What do you think would be an appropriate timeline and setup for them to get on PPV? Is the return of Gina Carano good enough or interesting enough to make it without a Fedor/Overeem fight on the immediate horizon? Is there something they can make do with to break into PPV?”
ARIEL HELWANI: “I thought, you know, Scott Coker said on Bloomberg last week that by Fall 2011 they hope to be in the PPV business and obviously that was before Saturday night. I think what happened on Saturday night definitely delays things. I was going to say kind of delays things, it definitely does. I definitely think that, as you mentioned, Overeem vs. Fedor that’s a PPV main event. Would they get 500,000 buys? I don’t think so. Would they get 200,000? Maybe, and I think that would be a success. I mean, let’s not forget, the UFC name on its own, in my opinion, gets around 200,000-250,000 buys. You know, even their worse show will get that much just because people think, ‘oh, it’s a UFC show, we know what we’re getting.’ Strikeforce isn’t a known PPV brand just yet. So, that kind of delays things for them. So, now you have to see how the tournament plays out. If things where it’s a match that everyone wants to see, you know, I don’t know if Overeem vs. Barnett is really a PPV fight that people will actually pay $30 or $40 for but if things play out and you can sell the tournament and its been some epic fights along the way, I think you can do that.
“As for Gina, I actually thought that the return of Gina Carano could definitely help. I mean, I was trying to think of what their first PPV could be. And I was like, OK, Fedor vs. Overeem and then, you know, let’s say Barnett vs. Kharitonov or Arlovski, the return of Gina vs. fighter X, doesn’t have to be Cyborg, and you throw in like Herschel Walker versus Kimbo Slice or Batista and I know hardcore MMA fans would hate that but I think you would get a lot of mainstream attention for that stuff. I think that’s a PPV card they could probably sell. Now, things changed a little bit. Plus, I thought the reaction to Gina Carano was very mediocre. I mean, the fans they kind of met it with indifference and I think part of was because of her interview on Showtime. She almost seemed like she didn’t really want to be there. I thought they dropped the ball on that greatly because they needed her to come out and be like ‘I’m back, I’m ready to prove that I’m the best, blah blah blah’ and then they needed to bring out her opponent and I think it should probably be Julia Budd if you look at their history and their 145 pound division is kind of weak and then she says, “I beat you once, I’ll beat you again,’ etc. etc. I think they dropped the ball. So, now I think you need to have her win on Showtime, build her up, and then maybe build towards the Cyborg rematch because Cyborg doesn’t even have any, you know, real contenders lined up for her now. I mean, Amanda Nunes, I don’t think she’s really just yet. So, I definitely think that now things have been delayed and maybe 2011 isn’t the time to go into PPV.”
I’ll close out this post by bringing up one final passage from the interview that made me angry. On this site, I’ve pointed out before that fighters who participated on the Strikeforce card(s) in St. Louis reportedly sold tickets to get booked. That would be sleazy and a joke. This is something you would expect from a rinky-dink, low-importance, rank-amateur operation that is running a fly-by-night independent show and has no money to pay fighters. And, yet, as you will see in this quote from Ariel, the practice of having undercard fighters sell tickets is apparently alive and well.
(Read the end of the post for an update on this passage.)
It’s completely inexcusable. For all the talk about UFC not treating their talent right in negotiations, one thing you can never say about UFC is that they have their undercard fighters physically sell tickets in order to get booked. Fighters fight and sell tickets, proverbially speaking. It shouldn’t be their job to be Ticketmaster because you’re too lazy to do your job of actually promoting fighters and acting like a carny who doesn’t want to do the right thing. My opinion, of course.
This point about undercard fighters having to physically sell tickets in order to get booked was brought up as part of a conversation about the way Strikeforce/Showtime handles the booking of undercard fights.
ARIEL HELWANI: “I will give them credit for, you know, coming up with this model where, OK, you bring the big names to town and then you have all the undercard guys sell a good portion of the tickets. I mean, I was talking to Cholish, I spoke to Gian Villante. I mean, those guys sold, you know, between them maybe 500-600 tickets and how many undercard fights where there? Six I believe, 12 fighters? So those guys are doing their work and, you know, that helps Strikeforce and, you know, you saw those articles that came out last week about their profits. So, you know, I like to think that, OK, it makes sense from a business perspective, but it’s a very, it’s very much a present way of thinking where you’re not thinking long-term, you’re not building towards the future, and then you get stuck in six or seven months when you don’t have a contender for a Cris Cyborg because you’re not putting, you know, solid 145 talent on your undercard to build up these people…”
To close out the interview, Ariel was asked what Strikeforce needs to improve or focus more on in order to keep momentum going. His suggestions: doing a better job with social media and with standard public relations, fixing their approach to booking female MMA fights and treating it with the same respect as the men, sending Strikeforce/Showtime staff members to go to UFC events to take a look at why UFC is #1 at what they do, and improve on the production for live events. Ariel stated that Showtime largely treats production for live events as what looks best on TV and not necessarily what gives fans the best live experience at events. As far as the ‘new’ production set-up that was used at the Izod Center event, Ariel claims that he was told that this set-up would only be used on Heavyweight tournament shows.
I have no problem with a promotion like Strikeforce having an undercard based on big-ticket sellers. But one thing should be made clear (which I don’t think is clear from the article): for this New Jersey event, fighters didn’t have to “buy” their way onto the card with the promise of selling large amounts of tickets (as is implied). They were, however, welcomed onto the card based on their local appeal. As an example, one undercard fighter was booked who was mistakenly thought to be a local draw, but to the dismay of some, it was later revealed that he was an out-of-towner with zero New Jersey presence. He still fought on the card, though.
From what’s implied in the article, that out-of-towner would have had to have promised to mondo tickets to fight. That wasn’t the case.
This was actually revealed by Villante in Helwani’s interview. Helwani flat out asked him if he was required to do so, and Villante said no… teammates at his camp simply wanted to support him along with family members, etc.
If a fighter is selling tickets by having friends and family come to support the promotion and those tickets aren’t in the form of a salary or bonus payment, then there is nothing wrong with that at all. However, if tickets are used as ‘currency’ then obviously that would be not such a good thing.
I posted what our site commenters had to say in order to clarify the passage. I wanted to do this because if the passage was misinterpreted, that’s my fault 100% and it goes on me. No excuses. I owe the promotion a public apology for such a mischaracterization.