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After monstrous Fuji TV ratings, Bob Arum wants Ryota Murata to fight at the Tokyo Dome

By Zach Arnold | October 25, 2017

After blockbuster Fuji TV ratings were announced for WBA Middleweight champion Ryota Murata’s latest fight at Ryogoku Kokugikan, we predicted that Murata co-promoters Akihiko Honda & Bob Arum would aim for a big fight at the Tokyo Dome.

Right on cue, Bob Arum told the Japanese press that he is ready to go along with Teiken’s “Top of Top” marketing plan to have Ryota Murata fight Gennady Golovkin (or Canelo Alvarez) at the Tokyo Dome.

Fuji TV is back as a major power player

Ten years after the collapse of PRIDE, Fuji TV is in the driver’s seat for make a major fight with Ryota Murata happen in Japan.

Murata drawing a 20.5% overall rating on broadcast television is an NFL-sized rating that means there is significant room to generate tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship & rights fees to package a Japanese non-PPV TV fight. The money is now possible to achieve a Las Vegas-level pay day.

What makes Murata’s fast rise in Japan all the more impressive is that he gives his promoters (Mr. Honda & Mr. Arum) leverage to do business in Asia. That’s Bob’s bread-and-butter. Murata is now big-time in a heavyweight fight market. Big business can be done in Japan and it carries impact globally.

Mike Tyson fought twice at the Tokyo Dome. He fought Tony Tubbs and Buster Douglas. Booking a fight with Murata vs. Golovkin or Murata vs. Canelo Alvarez at the Tokyo Dome would likely sell 40,000+ tickets and be the biggest Japanese fight on broadcast television in decades.

What’s next?

Top Rank and Teiken Promotions want to get a couple of fights under Murata’s belt before they get to Golovkin. Canelo and Golovkin are going to re-match. If Golovkin wins, will his camp play it safe by wanting a Vegas fight or will they take the risk of fighting in Japan?

Undoubtedly, there is some risk involved in trying to plan 18 months in advance for a fight on paper that looks incredible.

Things are going very well right now for Top Rank. Ryota Murata, Terence Crawford, and Vasyl Lomachenko are all big bets for Bob Arum and he’s winning right now. Murata could end up being Top Rank’s crown jewel.

Topics: Boxing, Japan, Media, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Ryota Murata shatters Fuji TV fight ratings with monstrous 20.5%, creating “Top of Top” plan vs. Golovkin

By Zach Arnold | October 24, 2017

Bob Arum’s big bet with new WBA Middleweight champion Ryota Murata is drawing enormous PRIDE-level Japanese television ratings for Fuji TV.

Fuji Boxing, which produced the Ryogoku Kokugikan telecast for the Hassan N’Dam/Ryota Murata re-match on Sunday, experienced incredible television ratings. According to Video Research, the Fuji Boxing broadcast drew an overall 20.5% rating (22.7% in Kansai area) with a peak rating at 9:04 PM JST of 26.7% (29.4% in Kansai).

The Murata/N’Dam fight drew the highest overall rating for a Fuji TV boxing broadcast in 17 years. 8,500 paid was the sellout attendance at Ryogoku. In regrettable contrast, Disney aired the fight live in America on ESPN2 but gave zero promotion for the bout.

Business for Sunday’s fight was so big that NHK has reportedly offered Ryota Murata a role on their New Year’s Eve mega Red & White Musical Festival show.

The next step

The new marketing pitch for Murata in the Japanese press is a Top of Top mega showdown with Gennady Golovkin in the next couple of years. It is predictable that many business forces will want such a big fight for Las Vegas. That wisdom can and will be challenged with the benchmarks Ryota Murata and his promoters Akihiko Honda (Teiken Promotions) & Bob Arum (Top Rank) are reaching in the Japanese marketplace.

Golovkin can draw 40,000+ versus Murata in Japan. It will be much bigger at the arena/stadium than in Las Vegas. If a fight happens between Murata and Golovkin, it should happen in Japan. There is plenty of money to be made. Between Fuji TV rights fees, a rights fee for a building like Saitama Super Arena or the Tokyo Dome, and gigantic Asian sponsors/money marks willing to pay top dollar to get involved, there is every reason to believe that a Murata/Golovkin fight could generate a similar level of business as Golovkin vs. Canelo Alvarez accomplished in September.

What Bob Arum did right in Japan and what UFC did wrong

Bob Arum’s big bet on Ryota Murata exposed UFC’s struggles in winning over Japanese fans. Why? Because Bob Arum played by the traditional, tried-and-true ground rules a major fight promoter is required to follow to build a Japanese ace and draw significant cash in a world class combat sports market.

What are the golden rules to win big in Japan? A friendly reminder:

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out the formula that works to score big in the Japanese marketplace. UFC had 10 years to make it happen and they failed. Their interest in going all-out has declined in each successive show. Octogenarian Bob Arum played by the ground rules and struck it rich with Ryota Murata. Everything is gravy right now.

Topics: Boxing, Media, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

Bob Arum’s big bet on Ryota Murata exposed UFC’s struggles in winning over Japanese fans

By Zach Arnold | October 22, 2017

Bob Arum is helping to fill the void in the Japanese fight business that UFC should have captured after the death of PRIDE.

Top Rank’s long-term bet on 2012 Gold Medalist Ryota Murata paid off. Murata disposed of Hassan N’Dam Sunday at Ryogoku Kokugikan to win the WBA Middleweight title. Murata should have won the first time but that wasn’t his fault.

Murata’s fight aired Sunday on ESPN2 with zero advertising by Disney. Another puzzling and insultingly disgraceful decision by Bristol. The Fuji TV Boxing production in conjunction with legendary promoter Akihiko Honda (Teiken Promotions) at Ryogoku Kokugikan with Jimmy Lennon Jr. as announcer was brilliantly smooth. Everything went exactly to plan.

Top Rank is achieving marketing benchmarks in the Japanese marketplace that UFC should have reached after PRIDE’s death. UFC has squandered away momentum built in 2012 and has increasingly bailed on a historically wonderful combat sports country with highly motivated fans willing to spend money.

Watching a big fight in Japan is fun and, dare I say, romantic.

Compare and contrast the matchmaking strategies involving Top Rank and UFC in Japan. Arum went for the best in Murata and agreed to play the business & political game on Japanese terms. A true cooperation. UFC went with the Vince McMahon “this is how we do business” mindset. The best Japanese prospect on the most recent UFC Saitama Super Arena card is Shuri Kondo and UFC didn’t do a hell of a lot to promote her to the American fans. She’s the best potential Japanese star UFC has and it’s mostly due to her own efforts to build a cross-promotional Japanese brand. UFC is lucky to have her. I am skeptical that UFC will share Top Rank’s mindset in working with Kondo’s promoter (Pancrase) to carefully craft a Japanese-first strategy to score big with Kondo. Right now, Kondo is allowed to wrestle and do her thing. Will UFC kill that golden goose if they want her to fight under their banner long-term? It would be a big mistake to kill the best avenue she has to build an audience.

As for Ryota Murata, he expressed interest in a fight with Gennady Golovkin. The Japanese star trying to attach themselves to a big foreign name is a classic, tried-and-true headline grabbing technique that works. Top Rank is looking to book Murata vs. Olympic rival Esquiva Falcao. Arum seems confident that Murata will be a top player by the end of 2018. A fight versus Golovkin in Las Vegas would be predictable. A fight versus Golovkin in Japan would be a dream come true for everyone… including the financiers.

Topics: Boxing, Japan, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

Allegedly groping female fighters with breast exams under color of law is predatory

By Zach Arnold | October 20, 2017

A public official allegedly violating a female individual by groping her boobs under the guise of legal authority is the textbook definition of sexual harassment. Literally. Read statute 1604.11 of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It’s right there in plain English.

There’s a reason Americans trash the TSA as the spawn of satan. Groping women and children is not OK. Public agencies shouldn’t be allowed to act in such a manner.

It’s especially not OK if a doctor, acting as an agent of an athletic commission, supposedly tells a fighter that they have to undergo a breast exam or else get their fight canceled.

When two high-profile MMA female fighting legends come out and accuse an athletic commission of being groped under the color of law, that’s a story. The problem is that we don’t know enough information to fill in the fact pattern.

What is the current fact pattern?

Right now, there are allegations.

What we don’t know:

The lack of disclosure on really important details makes this an incomplete story. More data is needed before some gumshoe reporting can proceed, especially on Public Records Act requests. PRAs in Massachusetts are relatively easy to file.

I am accepting all tips & leads regarding information on these claims. My e-mail address for this story is zarnold9000@gmail.com. All communications will be kept confidential if requested.

The good news and the bad news

The good news is that Massachusetts has clear instructions for any victim of sexual harassment on what to do and how to fight back. Thumbs up.

The bad news is that Massachusetts, like most other American states, has strict time guidelines in place.

If you’re an employee filing a claim against an employer with EEOC and intend on a Federal court case, you have up to 300 days to file a complaint.

If you’re filing a claim involving state law or a state agency, you have up to six months to file a complaint with the the Massachusetts Committee Against Discrimination. You can also file a damages claim against the state Athletic Commission within six months.

Filing a damages claim against an Athletic Commission goes smoother with an attorney writing the letter but you can just as easily write the claim letter with a little research and some Google Scholar background reading.

The state can either respond to your claims in a timely fashion or ignore the claim. If the state rejects or ignores your claim, you can sue. If the state gives you a pathetic settlement offer, you can also reject it and sue.

The majority of Americans don’t understand that suing a public agency is a different set of rules than suing an individual citizen. Sovereign immunity gives a public agency an advantage in knowing what’s coming and a chance to either reach a settlement or gird their loins for what’s coming next.

Filing a complaint with a state agency costs little or no money. It puts you on the right path and increases your options on what to do next.

You can hire an attorney on contingency or on a limited fee basis if you want to file in state or Federal court.

You can also go to small claims court. The limit is $7,000 in damages per case. The great news is that the state agency you sue in small claims can’t have their attorney representing them. And if you win your case, you got yourself a judgment.

Even a small claims judgment can get a state bureaucrat demoted or fired.

How should future female fighters handle breast exam ultimatums

If you don’t have breast implants… and any agent of an athletic commission orders you to undergo a breast exam (with no specific health/safety rule on the books), just say no. Force the issue. If/when an athletic commission cancels your fight, immediately file a damages claim against the athletic commission and file a claim with the appropriate state agency to start the clock.

Negative media coverage only moves the needle so much. Take action in the courts. Getting the ball rolling is simpler than it appears and it works.

Topics: Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

After ABC debacle of new Unified MMA rules, UFC moves to kill extra weight classes

By Zach Arnold | October 18, 2017

UFC just gave top ally Andy Foster and the Association of Boxing Commissions the Heisman stiff-arm on adding extra weight classes to Mixed Martial Arts.

UFC has closely worked with the California State Athletic Commission on new plans to combat the grotesque epidemic of fighters having vital organs shut down as a result of cutting too much weight.

A major component of the California reformation plan involves adding more weight classes. Andy Foster, the Executive Officer at California’s commission, used his perch with ABC to get the trade organization on board with adding more weight classes. This is the first step to get ABC to politick the major state athletic commissions to adopt ABC recommendations.

The politicking strategy has failed terribly so far in regards to pushing a newer, modified set of Unified Rules for MMA. Some states have said yes, some have said no. Predictably, as a result, it has led to mass confusions for fighters and officials who have to memorize two different sets of fighting rules.

The same ABC politicking strategy that failed on pushing new Unified Rules has gotten a death sentence from the UFC on adding more weight classes. Dana White officially delivered the edict.

Even if you buy into UFC’s argument against adding weight classes, there’s a bigger issue at play: title belts. Adding more MMA title belts is bad for business.

So what’s the good news?

The good news is that UFC’s top lobbyists, especially in California, are pushing forward on many different ideas to combat dangerously scary weight cutting.

So far, the results have been… mixed. California pushed for early morning weigh-ins on the day before fight shows and it has resulted in a remarkable increase of fighters missing weight. The logic behind the idea was simple: give fighters more time to regain weight before the night of the fight. 36 hours is better than 24 hours.

Unfortunately, life is full of unintended consequences. Giving fighters extra time to gain weight before fight night has resulted in nutritionists and fighter assistants botching their weight-cutting schedules. Risk management has gone haywire. Crazy things are happening all over the world.

Patience is a virtue and it’s a safe bet that California, in conjunction with UFC, will figure out the right recipe to fix this crisis. It is a crisis when fighters are pushing their vital organs to the brink of shutting down while fighting off staph infections. It shouldn’t be up to the promoters to absorb all the financial cost and responsibility for irresponsible behavior.

Athletic commissions have increased fines for fighters who miss weight. That’s not working. I suspect it would be a much different story if fight promoters increased liquidated damages clauses in their fighter contracts for gross violations of missing weight. We may have reaching that point shortly.

Topics: CSAC, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

UFC may have breached Mark Hunt’s contract but saved themselves from a much bigger lawsuit

By Zach Arnold | October 18, 2017

If I die fighting, that’s fine.”

Mark Hunt’s health admission is a career killer but potentially a life extender. It’s also an opportunity for UFC and Mark Hunt to reach a divorce settlement.

Erik Magraken (@ErikMagraken) of Combat Sports Law recently did an interview with our friend Jordan Breen at Sherdog (listen here to Press Row). The somber discussion revolved around whether or not UFC had a legal leg to stand on for removing Mark Hunt from their UFC Sydney fight card after his Players Voice interview where he claimed to be suffering from slurred speech and sleeping problems. Hunt would later claim that his words were taken out of context.

If Players Voice took Mark Hunt’s word out of context, he should sue them for defamation. Instead, Hunt appears to be preparing a breach of contract lawsuit against UFC. Hunt already has one lawsuit against UFC stemming from his UFC 200 fight with Brock Lesnar.

Breach of contract vs. negligence claims

After the Players Voice interview was published online, UFC removed Mark Hunt from their UFC Sydney fight card. In response, Mark Hunt claimed that he passed medical examinations from Australian regulators and that he had spent $100,000 on his training camp for the UFC Sydney fight.

It doesn’t take a genius to see what causes of action Mark Hunt would be preparing to sue UFC over.

First, breach of contract. UFC booked Mark Hunt. Hunt claims he passed his medicals. UFC backed out of his contractual booking. Hunt suffered economic damages from his fight getting canceled.

Second, breach of implied covenant of good faith. Hunt and UFC have a history of bad blood. His Nevada lawsuit is Exhibit A. Hunt will argue that his Players Voice article was used as a pretext for UFC to retaliate against him for the legal troubles he has caused.

Hunt claims he detrimentally relied on UFC’s word and spent $100,000 in preparation to perform his contractual duties. Hunt will want damages from lost fight money and training camp expenses.

On his breach claims, Mark Hunt probably has a fair chance of winning a financial settlement against UFC.

UFC has a business to run. If they have to pay Mark Hunt to go away, they will. They are less concerned about a breach lawsuit and more concerned about a major lawsuit involving negligence.

When a fighter says he has brain damage, take his word seriously. Erik Magraken highlighted this succinctly in his Press Row interview.

“Contractually, they might not have the right to pull the guy from the fight.

“But if they put the guy on, that becomes the indefensible decision especially if something goes awry for Mark.”

UFC and its venture capital investors want no part of a wrongful death suit. They do not want to see a replay of what happened with Magomed Abdusalamov in New York.

Brain damage is a physical disability. It is more probable than not that Mark Hunt has suffered serious physical damage over his 20 year fighting career. UFC has a duty to care about the safety of their fighters. Letting Mark Hunt fight would be a breach of their duty to care. UFC could let Australian regulators absorb liability but they chose not to.

UFC’s decision to pull Mark Hunt is entirely reasonable. It’s also reasonable to argue that UFC potentially engages in disparate treatment regarding the health and safety of their fighters. It’s the whole point of Mark Hunt’s first UFC lawsuit over the Brock Lesnar fight. Additionally, Daniel Cormier claims that UFC told him not to address Kevin Lee’s staph infection at UFC 216 even after the Nevada State Athletic Commission gave Kevin Lee the green light to fight.

Hypocrisy never moves the needle but it’s a solid legal argument to make.

The big money behind UFC has every right to be risk averse when it comes to Mark Hunt. Negligence is “the failure to use reasonable care to prevent harm to oneself or to others.” Letting Mark Hunt fight would be the textbook definition of reckless: substantial and unjustifiable risk. It would be unconscionable.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Liability panic for California commission, fighters after Jerry Brown signs Scott Wiener no-felony HIV bill

By Zach Arnold | October 11, 2017

Want to know what kind of health & safety law sends a chill down the spine of law enforcement and regulators such as the California State Athletic Commission?

KNOWINGLY exposing others to HIV will no longer be a felony in California

Do you feel safer knowing that someone in California can intentionally give you HIV on purpose and not be convicted for a felony?

Outside of traumatic brain injury and paralysis, the highest health & safety risk concern for an Athletic Commission is the transmission of a virus or disease such as HIV and staph. Except if you’re Nevada’s athletic commission and you let a fighter like Kevin Lee compete with staph. Combat sports is legally classified as ultrahazarous for a good reason.

Athletic Commission liability for issues relating to transmission of viruses such as HIV is high. Really high. In 2005, veteran California boxing referee Ray Corona worked a fight in which one fighter had HIV and the fighter in question had shed blood. The Athletic Commission sent Corona a letter to advise him on getting tested for HIV. Corona sued the Athletic Commission for negligence and had to win a fight in the 4th District Court of Appeals in order to prove that the Athletic Commission didn’t have immunity. Google Scholar has the easy-to-read appeals decision here.

The Attorney General fighting Ray Corona in 2009 was Jerry Brown. Eight years later, Governor Jerry Brown signed the most explosive HIV public policy law in the country.

What California’s new HIV law covers

Senate Bill 239 modifies California’s Penal Code to make willful and intentional transmission of HIV through sexual intercourse from one person to another (or a third party) a misdemeanor instead of a felony. The legislation intent behind SB-239 is largely about prostitution.

SB-239 modifies California’s Health and Safety Code regarding general HIV transmission:

SEC. 5. Section 120290 is added to the Health and Safety Code, to read:

120290. (a) (1) A defendant is guilty of intentional transmission of an infectious or communicable disease if all of the following apply:

(A) The defendant knows that he or she or a third party is afflicted with an infectious or communicable disease.

(B) The defendant acts with the specific intent to transmit or cause an afflicted third party to transmit that disease to another person.

(C) The defendant or the afflicted third party engages in conduct that poses a substantial risk of transmission to that person.

(D) The defendant or the third party transmits the infectious or communicable disease to the other person.

(E) If exposure occurs through interaction with the defendant and not a third party, the person exposed to the disease during voluntary interaction with the defendant did not know that the defendant was afflicted with the disease. A person’s interaction with the defendant is not involuntary solely on the basis of his or her lack of knowledge that the defendant was afflicted with the disease.

SB-239 is oriented towards prostitution but the impact of this bill will be far-reaching into many high-risk social activities. Like combat sports.

Current HIV testing rules for Athletic Commission

California Business and Professions Code Section 18712 specifies that any fighter applying for a license or license renewal provide proof of HIV & hepatitis testing up to 30 days before application submission.

Once the license is granted, a fighter has up to 180 days (six months) to get tested again for HIV & hepatitis.

If a fighter isn’t licensed because they test positive for HIV or hepatitis, this information is not disclosed to the public and the appeal is held in a closed hearing. The Athletic Commission cannot disclose to other athletic commissions which fighters test positive for HIV.

Who should be concerned or panicked?

First, the Athletic Commission. The current HIV testing law has a loophole that you can drive a truck through once someone gets licensed. The original push in the Legislature when the BPC section was negotiated involved testing every 90 days. Sacramento said no and demanded a softening to every 180 days.

An increase in exposure to HIV is terrible for referees, judges, photographers, doctors, and fans at ring side. You can’t develop a bulletproof system of protection but it’s hard to minimize risk when you pass a law that gives an opening for fighters to intentionally give others a costly disease like HIV.

Second, fighters — especially poor or minority athletes. Vulnerable is a strong but accurate word to describe the situation. Many are uninsured and cannot afford out-of-pocket to pay for their own HIV testing. If someone contracts HIV and doesn’t know it, they can give it to another fighter or athletic commission staff member. If someone contracts HIV and knows it and decides to spread the virus to others, there’s no longer a stigma or fear of criminal punishment. This could disproportionally impact those who are the least protected.

What can the Athletic Commission do to mitigate SB-239 risks?

The Athletic Commission cannot pass a rule or regulation that conflicts with the Business & Professions Code statute regarding the 30/180 day testing rule. In an ideal world, the AC would pass a regulation to have fighters tested more frequently.

So now what?

Given the political temperature of the Sacramento Legislature, the Athletic Commission needs help from their Medical Advisory Committee (AC doctors) and UFC-backed lobbyists at Platinum Advisors to amend the BPC code on testing. The most reasonable proposal would be to amend the BPC code to keep the 30/180 day testing rule in place but to add a section requiring fighters to take an additional test a week before they fight. This would give the front office time to process test results in a timely manner.

Every stakeholder is impacted by SB-239. I’m not happy at all if I’m UFC or Bellator. It’s not good for business to have an increased risk of HIV transmission. I’m scared to death if I’m the athletic commission because the fighters and employees are at an increased risk. Nobody wins here except trial attorneys.

The impact of SB-239 on the Athletic Commission

You have to be a little reckless in order to be a fighter in a sport that is legally classified as ultrahazardous. There are lots of smart, law-abiding participants. There are also lots of fighters who are reckless in and out of the ring. Recklessness is engaging in substantial and unjustifiable risk. Not every fighter is a member of a seminary.

The impact of SB-239 is instant in the news headlines it generates. It’s a giant neon sign to lots of careless individuals that you can intentionally inflict a lifetime of emotional distress and financial hardship without much legal consequence. The poster child for this behavior is Thomas Guerra, convicted in San Diego and sentenced to only six months in prison by a judge who really wanted to throw the book at him.

HIV isn’t the death sentence that it once used to be (thank God). However, you would be hard pressed to find a District Attorney who would refuse to prosecute a person for murder/manslaughter if their intentional transmission of HIV resulted in a victim’s death. The cost of HIV drugs is expensive.

California has a significant base of boxers and MMA fighters. If the stigma of transmitting HIV to a third party is gone because of SB-239, what can the Athletic Commission do to decrease the risk of HIV transmission to other fighters, officials, inspectors, and even fans at ring side? An emergency plan is needed.

Topics: Boxing, CSAC, Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Can Bob Iger save ESPN’s cable future by acquiring UFC before he leaves Disney in 2019?

By Zach Arnold | October 4, 2017

Intrepid MMA veteran writer Damon Martin is reporting that Fox Sports’ exclusive negotiating window with UFC has expired. UFC is now free to negotiate with other television networks. Fox will undoubtedly be given a right to match any offer. The network views UFC programming as critical to the future of Fox Sports given MMA’s product format of quick action and tight time windows.

A lot of things have changed in the television landscape in the last four months.

First, Bob Iger is leaving Disney in the middle of 2019. Iger has branched out into politics and those who have speculated a political run in his future aren’t looking so stupid right now. Iger, along with John Skipper, have been driving forces behind turning ESPN into a rabid political machine. With ESPN’s core cable business in decline and Trump television ratings hot, ESPN management embraced America’s political civil war. Trump is the raging topic in NFL and NBA social circles. Going to war against Trump is a pyrrhic victory for ESPN that will lead to long-term ratings erosion.

Disney is pushing ESPN into the world of streaming in 2018. The problem for ESPN is that they can’t air 100% of their cable content on their OTT platform due to contractual obligations. ESPN needs content that they can both own and stream without legal obstacles in the way. ESPN will be competing with both legacy cable networks and Silicon Valley pipelines (Amazon, Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, Hulu/Roku, Playstation Vue).

A collapsing ESPN would be a permanent stain on Bob Iger’s business legacy. Trump has already managed to weaponize ESPN as a tool in America’s cultural wars and has played a winning hand so far. Iger was on Trump’s business council but resigned over the Antifa vs. White Nationalists battle in Charlottesville, Virginia. Bob Iger admitted on Tuesday at a Vanity Fair summit that he personally got involved in ESPN personnel matters when ESPN host Jemele Hill called Trump a white supremacist.

The media coverage in 2017 about ESPN has been everything except sports. The latest salvo involves ESPN vs. Altice (Cablevision) in New York City. Conditions are deterioriating for ESPN and Disney is in the crosshairs. Disney needs to stop ESPN’s bleeding.

The best way to stop the bleeding is to take away the original cornerstone of Fox Sports 1. A marriage between ESPN and UFC seemed unthinkable as recent as six months ago. Not any more. Because…

Second, Amazon and Twitter are compiling huge amounts of video viewership data from their customers on streaming NFL programming. After two weeks of airing NFL games produced by CBS & NFL Network, Amazon executives are publicly stating how aggressive the appetite is for professional sports content on Amazon Prime.

This is disastrous news for ESPN. Amazon was already interested in obtaining the British video rights to the English Premier League. Amazon is in bed with the NFL. The NFL won’t be their last sports programming deal. WWE will be available in the coming years. ESPN has long-term marriages with the NFL and NBA that are costly and deliver much less bang-for-the-buck when compared to Twitter & Amazon. Not only has Silicon Valley swallowed up sports rights, they’ve managed to do it in a way where they aren’t putting out major expenditures on production.

The biggest, tastiest sports property on the market right now is UFC. UFC means a lot to Fox Sports. It’s hard to justify Fox Sports 1 surviving long-term as a television network without the channel being the home of major UFC events. The value is too great.

Keep in mind that Amazon has as many Prime subscribers as ESPN has households on American cable bundles. Amazon obtaining the rights to some, if not all, UFC programming along with managing Fight Pass would be a huge win for Amazon, UFC, and Reebok. It could create explosive merchandising growth opportunities for UFC.

ESPN needs to sign UFC to fend off both Fox Sports and Silicon Valley. Disney received a giant gut punch two months ago when Netflix poached away prolific American television power broker Shonda Rhimes. Disney is still very profitable and in good shape but ESPN is the albatross. It’s unlikely that Disney will be able to sell ESPN to venture capitalists given its monster television contracts with the NFL and NBA. Disney needs to give ESPN CPR and the best way to do it is to go all-in for UFC. Otherwise, ESPN will continue to bleed thanks to a death by a thousand paper cuts.

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 3 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Will ESPN or Fox Sports buy UFC or WWE to survive on cable?

By Zach Arnold | September 26, 2017

The financial collapse of ESPN is a direct result of escalating television contracts with the NFL, NBA, and college football. ESPN builds shoulder programming around these television properties that they rent but do not maintain a piece of ownership in.

Fox Sports is in the same boat. It has a very close relationship with UFC but does not own a piece of the company. It has not created its own sports properties. It rents programming from the major sports leagues.

With Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, Facebook, and other technology companies racing to outbid the big boys for content deals, content ownership means the difference between survival and life support.

ESPN skeptic Clay Travis recently noted a business dispute between ESPN/Disney and Altice, the new owners of Cablevision and Suddenlink. ESPN is fighting to stay on Cablevision in the New York market. With cord cutting and cord shaving, the price of keeping ESPN on everyone’s monthly cable bill is becoming burdensome. A significant amount of cable customers would prefer a skinny bundle without ESPN. This has pushed Disney into forming their own OTT (over the top) platform in 2018 for ESPN. The flaw with this platform is that ESPN cannot air all of its cable programming on this channel due to various contractual obligations.

Twitter has rights to NFL games. Amazon is aiming for British rights to Premier League contests. Tech companies want to get into the distribution game, especially if they can offload the production costs to the leagues producing the content or to a third party to minimize financial risk.

UFC is currently negotiating with Fox Sports. It is very likely that this marriage will continue because Fox Sports 1’s future would be vulnerable with cable/satellite providers if FS1 wasn’t the primary home of UFC content.

UFC has reportedly requested a significant increase in rights fees. If Fox Sports agrees to a new rights deal, they will be substantially increasing their costs to rent programming. If UFC gets their rights fees extended, is the trade-off giving up a piece of ownership to Fox?

Clay Travis argues that ESPN and Fox Sports will need to start purchasing programming vehicles in order to survive the changing media landscape:

“[ESPN’s] ratings are already collapsing. They don’t produce original content that people care about and they’re in the process of having to wildly overpay or lose the rights that they do have. In the years ahead, ESPN is a shell of a company. They are dead. I believe that Amazon and Facebook and Apple and some of these companies actually decide to come in. That they’ll make a massive impact.

“Here’s the other thing. Why would anybody buy ESPN? They have a distribution model that’s rapidly collapsing and they don’t actually own anything. If I were in the business right now, what I would be trying to do is buy up the UFC. If I were Fox, I would have bought the UFC so we don’t have to rent it forever. I would go buy the WWE.”

One of the great mysteries about Fox Sports is why they didn’t build Fox Sports 1 around a sports league or company that they had ownership in. Most cable sports networks in America have built around programming such as professional wrestling. It was the template that Spike TV ultimately used to build UFC into the juggernaut it is now.

If Clay Travis is right about ESPN needing to buy UFC or WWE in order to survive, will Disney convince shareholders it’s the right path for survival? If you buy UFC, you’re buying a high-risk business that would require keeping Dana White around. Plus, Disney ownership of UFC would be harder to maintain if the Ali Act eventually gets amended to cover Mixed Martial Arts.

The more solid argument for a Disney target acquisition would be WWE. WWE is a medium-to-high risk industry but it is also an industry with a built-in streaming platform that has 1.5 million subscribers. It’s the kind of acquisition that works both on tradition cable television and online. WWE is in the cat bird’s seat.

Topics: Media, Pro-Wrestling, UFC, WWE, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

UFC had 10 years after PRIDE’s death to make Floyd Mayweather-level money in Japan and blew it

By Zach Arnold | September 25, 2017

There is no stronger cultural stereotype in Japan than that of a mercenary, invading foreigner taking over a business or institution that has no respect for core societal values.

The collapse of PRIDE in 2007 gave UFC a clear and present opportunity to take over the second most profitable Mixed Martial Arts market in the world. At its peak, PRIDE made around $50 million USD a year. Even if you conservatively downgraded estimated year-to-year revenue at $30 million USD, a ten-year market run could have produced $300 million USD.

UFC blew their chance at making hundreds of millions of dollars in Japan because they wanted to run Japan on their own terms and conditions.

The vacuum that exists in Japan for Mixed Martial Arts has never been greater. The verdict from Japanese fans to the current UFC product is a gigantic thumbs down.

What UFC could have done to win in Japan but refused to do

UFC made a smart deal with Dentsu, one of the major Japanese advertising/marketing players, to run several years worth of events. Whenever PRIDE ran major events on New Year’s Eve, they relied on the marketing muscle of Dentsu and other agencies in conjunction with Fuji TV to bring home the cash.

UFC 144 was held at Saitama Super Arena in the early hours of the morning. Because of the novelty appeal, UFC drew quite a large crowd — in the 20,000 range. How much of it was paid vs. papered is up to speculation.

It was a card with mostly foreign fighters but at least some names that the Japanese fans knew and cared about – Mark Hunt, Rampage Jackson, Yoshihiro Akiyama. For a one-shot deal, it worked OK. It produced enough momentum that UFC should have been able to build upon and progress into making Japan a sustainable big-show market.

Instead, UFC decided to treat the Japanese market as a pit stop. Perfunctory events at Saitama Super Arena in successive years with declining attendance. Two years ago, there was Josh Barnett vs. Roy Nelson. This year, it was Ovince St. Preux vs. Yushin Okami (replacing Mauricio Shogun).

Friday’s card at Saitama Super Arena featured one interesting Japanese prospect — Shuri Kondo. Kondo fits all the characteristics of what a successful PRIDE fighter would have been. A top professional wrestler. Charismatic. Tough. Aggressive. Cross-marketability. Finding Japanese fighters with these characteristics is currently a challenge.

Naturally, UFC booked her as the third fight on the Saitama Super Arena fight card despite the fact that she’s significantly more relevant than Takanori Gomi and Yushin Okami. Both men are beyond their expiration date and should have never been booked in the first place.

The complete lack and total development of Japanese fighters with true Japanese-style marketing is UFC’s fault. If UFC decides to sign Kondo to a long-term deal (which they should), then they will force her to give up professional wrestling. That would be a terrible decision. It is professional wrestling that has served as the most successful backbone to stardom for Japanese MMA fighters. UFC has no problem with Brock Lesnar going back and forth between WWE and UFC because of the PPV buy rates he attracts but they have a real problem with it when it comes to booking prospects who could make them a lot of money.

UFC failed completely to obtain a major Japanese television deal. Japanese fans want to support a Japanese company or, at the very least, a company that embraces some Japanese culture. After years of failing in Japan, WWE figured out that if they poached stars like Shinsuke Nakamura, Kana (Asuka), and KENTA (Hideo Itami) that they could run events in Japan a few times a year to promote the WWE Network. What do you know? It’s working. New Japan is still the dominant wrestling player in Japan but WWE recognizes it and understands its importance in the fight ecosystem.

UFC has turned into the vanilla ice cream of marketing. It’s the same damn matchmaking formula on every show. The same cage. The same advertisers. The commentators come and go but it’s the same televison production format. The only time UFC went bold was that ROMANEX-ugly mustard cage canvas for UFC 200.

The formula to win big in Japan has never changed.

UFC promoting a non-cage event? Sacrilegious? Hell, it would be a great marketing trick for Zuffa to make their Japanese shows feel special by promoting events in ring only for the Japanese.

None of this is hard to do. Given UFC’s talent pool and cash on hand, they should be swimming in hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue in Japanese shows. Instead, business for each successful Japanese UFC show has declined! This should have never happened. It’s a dark stain on UFC’s legacy. They wanted PRIDE out of business and bought the PRIDE assets to do it. They encountered hostility when they tried to run PRIDE with Dream Stage employees. That happens. UFC encountered individuals who were angry and pigeon-holed Zuffa into the white imperialist stereotype of gaijin who never intended on embracing cultural values but instead were vulture capitalist mercenaries.

That doesn’t mitigate the fact that UFC, under their own brand and auspices, had a responsibility to the Japanese market to keep Mixed Martial Arts alive in the country. When a market is worth hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue, you do what you have to do to make it work — not just for UFC’s bottom line but also for the health of the sport on a world stage. When the Japanese MMA market is red hot, the sport is a lot more interesting and a lot richer for fighters.

Topics: Japan, Media, MMA, PRIDE, UFC, Zach Arnold | 7 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

A simple four-point Battle Plan to upgrade officiating in boxing & mixed martial arts

By Zach Arnold | September 22, 2017

There is a American crisis of confidence when it comes to officiating of boxing and Mixed Martial Arts, especially for high-profile championship fights.

There’s two ways to address the problem: 1) Personally go after the people in charge or 2) Create a plan simple enough for regulators to adopt that they can take credit for and not screw up.

In response to recent controversies, some behind-the-scenes boxing industry influencers are brainstorming a rough draft of a new four-point reformation plan on regulating officiating in combat sports. The idea is to increase transparency and cooperation among promoters and officials. The four-point plan would give current regulators a chance to significantly upgrade officiating without costly or time-consuming protocol implementations.

Based on our conversations with these individuals, the four prongs of the proposed reformation plan would implement the following changes:

First reformation prong: Referee and judge selection

Currently, athletic commission select their own officials from a broad pool of licensees. At athletic commission meetings, fighter camps can attempt to engage in a quasi voir dire process to strike an official from a fight. However, the final say goes to the Executive Officer/Director and the athletic commission board members.

The new proposal would be modeled on arbitration. The sanctioning body would provide two fighter camps a list of officials. Each camp can strike a couple of officials from the list, then give a numerical rank to the remaining judges and referees. The weeding out process would create an eventual list of officials to work the championship fight.

The list of officials agreed upon would be added to the bout agreement and approved by the athletic commission.

If neither camp can come to an agreement, the selection of officials would default to the Executive Officer/Director.

Second reformation prong: Backstage judges

NBA games have three on-court officials with an official in Secaucus, New Jersey working replay. Leagues like the NFL and NHL have a similar concept.

The new process, for championship fights, would involve athletic commissions having two options:

The judge backstage would have access to a television monitor with three main camera angles but no audio commentary. A commission official would be next to the backstage judge and report their score after each round.

Example: In the Canelo vs. GGG fight, three judges had different score cards but ultimately produced a draw. The fourth backstage judge would then have their score card act as the de facto tie-breaker (or cement the fight as a draw).

Third reformation prong: Mandatory post-fight media availability for officials

There is nothing worse than professional sports league shielding officials from the press after controversial decisions. It’s especially disgusting for championship prize fighting when athletes are sacrificing years off of their health only to get dump-trucked by a decision with no accountability.

The proposed plan would encourage athletic commissions to escort officials after a championship fight into a secured room with no friends, family, or press. The officials would then be transferred to the media room for a time period of 30 minutes to answer any and all questions about the fight they worked. On the record.

Fourth reformation prong: Peer review sessions

Hospitals have peer review committees where doctors are reviewed by a board of officials on their work. Each state has different levels of protected & privileged communication regarding what is said or written at such meetings. Nevada spells out their protected peer privilege laws here.

This fourth proposal has two routes: a public option and a private option.

The public option for peer review would involve athletic commissions creating their own sub-committee with active & retired licensees — fighters, referees, judges. The sub-committee would allow honest and open discussion between current officials and regulators without fear of punishment. The sub-committee could hold their own additional meetings with stakeholders.

The private option would involve all officials (judges & referees) working a fight card to attend post-fight informal peer review meetings. No other regulators from the athletic commission, fighters, press, or family members would be allowed to attend the meeting. A players-only type meeting. It would be a strictly off-the-record conversation. All officials would be required to leave audio & video recording/writing devices outside of the designated room. Nothing would be recorded. No Facebook photos. No social media selfies. No pen and paper.

The general theme is to create an environment where all officials hold each other accountable but do so in a way where regulators aren’t breathing down their neck or having moles/spies infiltrating the evaluation process.

This idea is only successful if the Executive Officer/Director rotates officials in-and-out of events rather than sticking with a regular crew. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and a clique mentality breeds when it’s the same officials booked over and over. Nobody ends up learning anything other than to backstab outsiders. It is currently a big problem with the major athletic commissions. It has to change.

In summary: Dramatic changes need to be made by American state athletic commissions in the way officiating is being handled. More power needs to be given to fighter camps and to other officials to discover who the best qualified candidates are.

There is no substitute for judging fights at ringside but it is only one location angle and perspective. With a backstage judge having access to multiple camera angles and less influences from outside the ring, a different much-needed perspective can be added to the mix.

Officials who work championship fights are paid more than standard undercard officials. With great power comes great responsibility and a need for greater accountability. There is no greater accountability than answering questions from an interested and energized press. There is no greater accountability than answering questions and receiving honest feedback from your peers. Peer responsibility, not peer pressure is what is needed. A diverse group of officials analyzing and reviewing performances after fight cards will increase learning and create a sustainable environment to train the next generation of officials.

Topics: Boxing, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 2 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

Undefeated Andre Ward’s boxing legacy is full of what ifs, could & should ofs

By Zach Arnold | September 21, 2017

Andre Ward was one of the greatest pound-for-pound American boxers of all time who managed to waste years of his athletic prime.

Ward’s retirement announcement Thursday is surprising but not shocking. His HBO contract reportedly ended. After two wins against Sergey Kovalev, Ward called it quits.

Andre Ward’s career was defined as much outside the ring as it was inside the ring. Inside the ring, he was flawless. Outside the ring, a different story. Andre Ward and his business manager, James Prince, engaged in a disastrous multi-state legal battle with promoter Dan Goossen that shaved years off of Ward’s career due to inactivity.

Andre Ward and his camp embraced futility by going to war with his promoter Dan Goossen of Goossen-Tutor. The late Goossen went all-in on Ward as his top fighter, promoting him aggressively in Oakland and Ontario (California). Ward’s appeal proved to be regional. Even with that marketing handicap, Ward was blessed to be in a major media market — Silicon Valley. Ward and his team should have been able to parlay major tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google into promoting his brand like many of his Golden State Warrior friends have done. It never happened.

Instead, Andre Ward and James Prince went to war with Dan Goossen. They thought the grass would be greener with Roc Nation.

One of James Prince’s associates, a man named Antonio Leonard, tried to sue Goossen in Texas claiming that he was unofficially a co-promoter of Ward but was “iced out.” Both Ward and Goossen were based in California and entered into valid California contracts approved by the California State Athletic Commission. Leonard was never legally approved as a co-promoter nor was he allegedly licensed in California at the time of the deal.

This was the first of many legal battles to pry Ward away from Goossen. Goossen’s legal team quickly fought back and repeatedly beat Ward & Prince in court. Andre Ward tried to get out of his Dan Goossen contract via arbitration with the California State Athletic Commission and failed. Ward then turned around and sued Goossen in Los Angeles Superior Court under a theory of violating California labor law. This lawsuit was filed while the Antonio Leonard lawsuit was filed in Houston under a theory of Texas law applying. Ward had his case tossed out in Los Angeles. A second arbitration hearing with the California State Athletic Commission ruled that Ward was under contract with Goossen until November of 2016. Ward then filed an Ali Act lawsuit against Goossen in Federal court. Goossen would die from liver cancer in October of 2014.

All of this legal fighting potentially cost Andre Ward fights worth millions of dollars. It shaved years off of his in-ring career. It damaged his ability to become a powerhouse box office draw. His two fights against Sergey Kovalev drew underwhelming PPV numbers. 165,000 PPV buys for the first fight and 130,000 PPV buys for the re-match.

Andre Ward’s in-ring perfection was overshadowed by legal and business decisions I would classify as horrific. One of the all time great “what if” careers has come to an end. It should have never been like this. He blew it.

Topics: Boxing, Media, Zach Arnold | 1 Comment » | Permalink | Trackback |

The one interesting prospect on UFC Saitama Super Arena card, Shuri Kondo, isn’t booked for TV

By Zach Arnold | September 20, 2017

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A horribly uninteresting UFC fight card at Saitama Super Arena has one shining light — super charismatic and athletic Pancrase champion Shuri Kondo. She has a unique deal where she will be able to wrestle 30 days after her UFC bout happens. At least that is the plan.

Barring a catastrophic fight result, I don’t see how UFC will be able to resist signing her to a long-term deal. The question is whether the top-ranked Japanese women’s wrestler will give up professional wrestling (short answer: no). Will UFC play ball? They should…

Topics: Japan, Mike David, MMA, Pancrase, UFC, Zach Arnold | No Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

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