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PRIDE’s big picture

By Zach Arnold | September 19, 2006

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By Zach Arnold

Note: As stated after PRIDE’s 9/10 Saitama event, the promotion will run their New Year’s Eve show at Saitama Super Arena. The idea with Mike Tyson is to have him fight in another country. That country is now thought to be Macau.

For those who have followed PRIDE’s m.o. on a business level, you know that they have been trying to accomplish two things for the last two years:

  1. Start running shows in America
  2. Start running shows in China
  3. With the promotion losing their Fuji TV deal in June, you can add this third goal:

  4. Get a Japanese TV deal

How is PRIDE attempting to reach their goals in the near future?

Before I break down what their business game plan looks like, let’s take a look at some challenges they face in reaching their goals.

Running in America

With an office that consists of maybe three or four employees, they do not maintain much man power. It is virtually impossible for them to run a show on their own without man power on the ground and heavy money backing them. Furthermore, they have to find a place that can attract a heavy Japanese population and can draw a fair amount of fans for a debut show.

Running in China

PRIDE has been trying to strike a deal to run shows in mainland China for a while, with no success. They aren’t the only promotion trying to do this. K-1 has been trying to get in markets such as Shanghai and they, too, have failed. The key is the Chinese Government and the regulations imposed regarding what can or cannot be run for events. Second, the majority of mainland Chinese citizens simply do not know what MMA is. They know martial arts like Sanda, but the concept of MMA is very foreign to them.

Additionally, it’s difficult for the Japanese (especially fight companies) to try to run in mainland China because of their backgrounds.

Getting back on Japanese TV

There are heavy challenges for PRIDE in getting back on Japanese TV. Outside of Hidehiko Yoshida, they do not have a strong Japanese ace that can draw ratings. Takanori Gomi isn’t going to pull in ratings (despite being a very good fighter with a marketable personality). K-1 just signed Ken Kaneko, a celebrity who worked PRIDE’s 2005 New Year’s Eve show and drew the highest quarter-hour rating. This under-the-radar signing was a kick to the pants by Tanigawa to PRIDE, as not having Kaneko for New Year’s Eve as a “hook” for PRIDE makes it a little bit tougher to get back on TV.

The major issue facing PRIDE getting back on TV is not necessarily their ability to draw a good rating on New Year’s Eve. The major issue is what will the promotion be able to use as a “hook” to attract fans and get the attention of Japanese television executives.

With these challenges laid out on paper, let’s take a look at what PRIDE’s plans tentatively look like to try to come up with a solution or two.

  1. Align with Ed Fishman. As we’ve cited before, Fishman made his name in the casino world (through gambling technology & security) in Las Vegas. He was the guy who created comps. for slot players. He’s also into poker and television (as he was/is a good friend of Dick Clark).

    From Fishman’s perspective, aligning with PRIDE is an easy sell. He would love to bring in Japanese high-rollers to gamble their money away, and one way to attract those kinds of fans would be to do Japanese-themed slot machines (such as PRIDE-themed machines). A deal with PRIDE also allows him to take a product in an industry that is seen as a hot commodity right now by cable executives (MMA) and suddenly try to get back into the TV industry again.

    From PRIDE’s perspective, they see Fishman as the guy who can bankroll their Las Vegas shows. They see him as the guy who can help prop them up as they try desparately to expand their brand name in the United States. It’s a race against time. Furthermore, PRIDE clearly has been watching what UFC has been doing business-wise. They see that Dana White and UFC is backed by casino money from the Fertitta brothers. Gambling money has always been a common staple between the world of Las Vegas and the world of the Japanese (both clean and unclean), specifically with pachinko/pachi-slot machines and parlors. Gambling money is one concept that the Japanese do understand that translates into any foreign culture.

  2. Use Fishman’s influence and connections in Las Vegas to expand into China. The Chinese-owned island of Macau has been a heavy target of investment by the Las Vegas casino players, who have continued to pour money into various projects to make Macau the Asian version of LV. While PRIDE cannot run in mainland China, the next best thing is to run in a Chinese-owned area (such as Macau or Hong Kong). Because of the Las Vegas connection, Macau suddenly becomes their first Chinese destination. If PRIDE can run in Macau, they can spin it back home to the Japanese that they are running in China (without running in mainland China).
  3. Align with Mike Tyson (or mainly, his name value). As reported on this site in the past, there has been heavy discussion that PRIDE looks at Tyson’s name value as something that can get them back on Japanese television. Tyson’s name value in South Africa, Russia, Japan, and in countries outside of America remains strong. More importantly, it remains strong in the Japanese media, which gladly pushes any story involving his name as a top headline. With Tyson not being able to go to Japan due to his felony rapsheet, PRIDE has to figure out where they can best make use of his name value. While Tyson is attracting spectators at the Aladdin in Las Vegas to watch him essentially shadow box and spar, Tyson’s name value isn’t maximized in America. One country that Tyson does have good name value in still is China. Tyson remains a curiousity because of his affinity for Mao Zedung.

    Add two-and-two together and you get the picture. In their best-case scenario, PRIDE would love to have Mike Tyson fight on New Year’s Eve in Macau. He would attract the attention of the Chinese while being backed by the gambling money and connections from Las Vegas. As Burning Spirit notes in comments from Sakakibara, PRIDE would love to see Mike Tyson fight on New Year’s Eve (with the match being aired in Japan live in the arena) in Macau at the 8,000-seat Macau Dome.

    If PRIDE can execute all of these steps up above, their hope is to use the power of Mike Tyson’s name value and Ed Fishman’s money to try to impress upon television executives in Japan to get back on TV. Will TV-Asahi or Nippon TV decide to take the chance and put PRIDE back on Japanese TV for New Year’s Eve, even if it’s a one-show special? The risk/reward ratio has to be weighed by those executives relatively soon.

Topics: All Topics, Japan, Media, MMA, PRIDE, UFC, Zach Arnold | 8 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

8 Responses to “PRIDE’s big picture”

  1. SamScaff says:

    Nice article. Very informative. I always wonder whats going on with Pride behind the scenes. One very important thing I think in Pride’s success in America is the television production itself. Pride went from having the best announcers in the business (Bas and Quadros) to announcers that I am terribly sad to say may be worse than those in the UFC (rogan and goldsomething). Now I hate the UFC announcing, so that is telling you something. On top of that the FSN Pride shows have been subpar at best, edited pieces of garbage. Overall, the American television production of Pride is terrible. This will hinder their success greatly.

  2. Vess says:

    Very good analysis of Pride’s situation.
    Do you have any information of Pride’s yakuza connections? Are these connections just allegations or is there some proof? In North America, if your company is associated with organized crime, alledged or proven, other companies will be reluctant to do business with you. Is this also true in Japan? Wouldn’t this have some bearing on a network’s decision to pick up Pride’s NYE show?

    Ratings(money) vs. Bad PR (doing business with a company that has organized crime connections)

    Last question, why hasn’t Pride sued anyone for defamation?

    Sorry for all the questions, but this is a very murky and complicated issue where information is very scarce.

  3. TorontoMike says:

    Very interesting article… thank you.

    What a coup if Pride can pull this gameplan off.

    Having a headstart in to the Chinese market would be huge for any MMA organization.

  4. urbanraida says:

    This may be a stupid question but a lot has been made of Mike Tyson not being able to fight outside of the US because of his criminal record, but Tank Abbott was able to when PRIDE signed him last year and I would imagine that his rapsheet is twice as long as Iron Mike’s.

    Or is it case of what’s actually in the rap sheet rather than the size of it?

  5. I beleive it is because Mike Tyson has a felony on his rapsheet, while Tank Abbot does not. Looking at Abbott’s Wikipedia entry, I don’t see any information regarding serious criminal issues or jail time, and in fact it looks like Tank is more structured than many think, with years of formal boxing and wrestling experience, plus a university degree in history

  6. […] A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a definitive article about what I thought PRIDE’s attempted business plan would be in regards to Las Vegas and China. You can read that article here. Read it first, as it lays the ground work for what was reported in Daily Sports on Thursday. […]

  7. […] Fight Opinion writer Zach Arnold predicted this move by Pride awhile ago. He outlined Pride’s future in a piece you can find here. […]

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