By Zach Arnold | September 5, 2011
If you have not yesterday’s item about UFC’s return to Japan that I posted on the web site, read it first before you continue reading.
Today, UFC Asian marketing director Mark Fischer held a presser in a Japanese theatre to announced what Gong Kakutougi had spilled the beans on. UFC will return to Japan on Sunday, February 26th. The show will air live on US PPV on the 25th. So, what’s the kicker? The Japanese show will start live at 10 AM JST.
Interesting tidbit from the UFC Japan presser: the plan is to make a Japan show an annual event on top of other Asia-based shows. According to Mark Fischer, the plan is to configure the SSA for 20,000 seats. The show is slated to start at 10 AM on Sunday, allowing it to line up in the usual time slot in North America. KID, Fukuda, Gomi, Okami, Akiyama, Omigawa, Hioki, Mizugaki are all possibilities for UFC Japan but are not yet officially on the card. Fischer said it would basically be a Japanese version of UFC Rio. Lots of local fighters and local media events.
Where do we begin with these developments?
First, the comparison of UFC using the same marketing model that they did in Rio and expecting it to work in Japan is asinine. As Lorenzo Fertitta told Ariel Helwani a couple of weeks ago, UFC was able to prime the Brazilian market by having an over-the-air television deal in place.
“In addition to that, we’ve really only been on free-to-air TV here for about two years. Before that, we were on a subscription channel that didn’t have that many subscribers but now we’re kind of reaching the masses. The fight on Saturday night between Anderson (Silva) and Yushin (Okami), we’re expecting between 20-to-30 million people to watch it on free TV so it’s a big event.”
Put the pieces of the puzzle together here. UFC had a great TV deal in Brazil, ran a show in Rio featuring Brazilian fighters at the top of their game (Shogun, Anderson), and they drew big business. UFC has no network TV deal in Japan, is running a show at PRIDE’s old house, and is not booking Japanese talent that anyone can consider championship-level right now. Got it.
@FightOpinion Also a pretty big admission that the UFC can’t make money from a Japanese tv deal.
If you’re holding an event in Japan and your catering to anything but the Japanese audience, you’ve already failed.
Think about how insulting it is to the Japanese fans to tell them that this show is going to start at 10 AM in the morning. The kind of people willing to show up for an event like that for that time frame are really hardcore fans. UFC does not have a substantial hardcore MMA fan base to work with in Japan and the hardcore MMA fans remaining in Japan have a very mixed opinion about UFC as a product.
Let me frame it to you this way — imagine if DREAM held a press conference in Los Angeles and announced that they were going to book the Staples Center, have no network/cable television deal to speak of, and that the card will start at 3 AM in the morning so that the Japanese fans could watch it live on network TV back home at 8 PM. American fans would either laugh their asses off or be horribly & rightfully insulted at the fact that the promoters are treating them as an afterthought.
Have promoters ran Noon or 12:30 starts at Korakuen Hall for Sunday shows? Yes, occasionally, in the past when business as doing better. However, Korakuen Hall is not SSA.
(A possible fix to this issue would be for UFC to push back the PPV start an hour, maybe two hours in the States and give the Japanese fans a break with a true afternoon start for a main card. It would be a productive move on their part.)
Michael Ford brought up the analogy of NFL football games airing on TV at 10 AM. The problem with the analogy is that NFL games on the West Coast live (49ers, Cardinals, Seahawks, etc.) start at 1 PM. Apples and oranges for a comparison.
UFC cannot, with a straight face, look at the Japanese fans in the eye and tell them that the Saitama Super Arena show is all about them when you’re starting the damn event at 10 AM in the morning so Americans can watch it on PPV live. Even Vince McMahon had the foresight to run a RAW taping at SSA a few years ago on delay. It reminds me of a story Dave Meltzer once told on one of his radio shows about Vince where he pissed off the Japanese in the early 90s by showing up late to a press conference for a co-promotional WWE/All Japan show at the Tokyo Dome. McMahon showing up late turned off a lot of people in Japan.
Which reminds me of today’s UFC presser in which a VTR (video tape recording) of Dana White was played to the media. So, why wasn’t he at the Japanese press conference? Because he’s getting ready to do press in Las Vegas for the upcoming Georges St. Pierre/Nick Diaz fight in late October. In our opinion, Dana White sent the message to the Japanese fans that he wouldn’t even show up in Japan to do the presser for his own vanity show.
As for UFC proclaiming that they will return annually to Japan? OK, good luck on that one. Hope you can do a better job keeping that promise unlike the “Super Bowl” promise you made to the Japanese fans after you bought out the PRIDE assets from Nobuyuki Sakakibara. Maybe you can tell the public why Jamie Pollack got the hell out of Japan in rapid fashion after you sent him over there to try to run an office in Japan. I’m sure running live shows at 10 AM in the morning with no network television support is really going to win over some important people.
My takeaway from today’s presser in Japan: I knew it was a vanity show all along and, yet, I was not surprised by the online reaction criticizing me for stating the obvious. So, what am I surprised about? I’m surprised at just how nakedly transparent UFC is in regards to not even making standard concessions to the beleaguered Japanese MMA audience in regards to the production of this vanity show. We’re going to get the standard cookie-cutter UFC production with a 10 AM start time.
If UFC is truly living in a bubble and thinks that what they are planning for this Japanese show will work like it does everywhere else, then they are even more clueless than I thought they were. But you know what? I don’t believe that. Their front office reads this site and has read this site since it first started. They are not dumb. What they are, however, is egregiously arrogant and flippant. As I stated before, UFC has money to burn on a Japanese joy ride and what Dana wants, Dana gets. This is going to be his grand ‘ol party to say screw you to the ghost of PRIDE in PRIDE’s old home arena. This is his message to the Japanese MMA fans that what promoters served them was inherently wrong and that he’s going to show the fans ‘the right way’ to produce an MMA show.
I’m not here to cheerlead for the current MMA landscape in Japan. I’ve made my thoughts very clear about what’s wrong in Japan and what needs to change. However, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and watch a bunch of MMA media outlets shake the proverbial poms poms and tell you that what UFC is doing in Japan is 100% right. It’s not. Not only is this a vanity show, it’s a pretty lazy attempt at one as well — both from a business standpoint and an intellectual one as well. You’re not going to build a foothold in the Japanese marketplace without a major broadcast over-the-air network in Japan pushing the product. UFC is not a Japanese company and they do not allow outsiders to control their matchmaking, two aspects which are mandatory in getting a network television deal with an outlet like Fuji TV. And that’s if a major Japanese TV network is even interested, which they are not right now because of what a dirty cesspool the fight game has truly become in the country.
Unless circumstances change over the months to come, I don’t know how one can classify the current behavior of the UFC’s return to Japan as a serious long-term business proposition. Before today’s press conference, I was on the fence about the show. I know it’s a vanity show but at least I was willing to give UFC the benefit of the doubt in figuring out how to even do a couple of little things right. Instead, that’s all been thrown out the window with a Vince McMahon-style approach to nuance. However, even Vince was smarter about what not to do in Japan when he made his attempt last decade to get a foothold in the marketplace.