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The limitations of the CBS/Showtime model for Strikeforce

By Zach Arnold | November 9, 2009

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Over at the Heavy web site, Jonathan Snowden has an interview posted with Scott Coker after Saturday’s night show in Chicago. For all intents and purposes, I thought Coker did a good job with the show. Obviously the scheduling situation with the Mark Miller fight being canceled at the last minute on the undercard is a bad move on their part, but it’s the same type of thing that happened to Jay Hieron on the August show where he wasn’t on TV and ended up losing sponsorship money. Does the heat go on Strikeforce or should it go on CBS & Showtime? Probably the latter.

I wrote an article for MMA Memories talking about the problems that Strikeforce faces by being under the CBS/Showtime business model. There was a reason last week why I transcribed the interview Kelly Kahl did with Fanhouse. He talks a big game in terms of what CBS has done for Strikeforce in terms of promotion and either he’s a total spinner or he’s not looking at the ways to promote Strikeforce from multiple angles. Having 10-seconds ads featuring Choi Hong-Man on top of Fedor is not the way to promote him. I don’t care if you ‘flood the zone’ on NFL or SEC football games or not, that’s not effective advertising. When the whole goal is to try to promote new stars, CBS did the bare minimum on Saturday – no interviews from the fighters, a poor ad campaign leading up to the event, and no sense of either CBS or Showtime doing episodic programming with Strikeforce in the future.

If you want to be event-driven only in terms of promotion, that’s fine, UFC is that way, but Spike TV invests countless hours each week to promote the brand. Roger Goodell likes to say that he protects “the shield” (the NFL logo)… well, Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta do a pretty good job of protecting the UFC brand. Scott Coker, at this point, finds himself at the mercy of what Showtime and CBS want to do. Sure, Kelly Kahl and company can say that Scott is the head matchmaker and that they defer to him on many decisions, but ultimately Showtime and CBS runs the show and not Strikeforce. As the ratings information comes in and we see how things play out both politically and in a business sense, you get the feeling that UFC made the right decision in not immediately giving up control in exchange for exposure on CBS.

Note in the MMA Memories article what Kahl says about the idea of working with UFC in the future.

As for Jake Shields… the only defense I can say for him for his boring fight performance is that he was lucky Chad Dawson was fighting Glen Johnson. Who’s more boring – Shields or Dawson?

Topics: Media, MMA, StrikeForce, Zach Arnold | 156 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

156 Responses to “The limitations of the CBS/Showtime model for Strikeforce”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    “Of course you like it, the UFC is doing it and they’re always correct and never wrong. But you didn’t have much respect for Shamrock-Gracie because Elite did it.”

    EliteXC was pushing Frank Shamrock is one of the best MMA fighters at the time. Which was so far from reality. It is the same reason I said Matt Hughes shouldn’t be getting a title shot after he beats Renzo.

    These fights aren’t bad in themselves. It is when they promote them as meaning something beyond that (which EliteXC did), that it is bad.

  2. Mark says:

    If message boards were relevant, than no one would have bought Shamrock/Tito II or III, or watched Kimbo ever, etc etc etc.

    You’re right, in a lot of cases in the insular MMA world bubble a lot of beliefs carry more weight than they should. But this one is beyond that because there is evidence it is widespread. You could point to the low ratings IFL got and say the fanboyism they got online was inflated, or what the crappy main events of 2006 drew versus the online hate of them is no contest. But if UFC’s fans honestly cared about the old days Unleashed would have huge ratings, they’d put their entire library out on DVD now that the disputes of Lionsgate’s SEG footage and the bad distribution deal the Zuffa stuff was released under are both resolved, and “the old days” wouldn’t be a term for a fighter sucking. Show me proof the fans who cut their MMA teeth on The Ultimate Fighter care about 90s MMA if I’m wrong.

    How does that disprove the belief that he probably isn’t better than fighters from the earliest years of the sport? You’re all over the place.

    I said people compared him and fighters with his limited skill level to guys like Tank Abbott, Kimo and Scott Ferrazo. There is a widespread belief that the fighters in UFC’s 1-9 were littered with wild brawlers who would get murdered by well-rounded fighters of today. And in a lot of fans views, Royce’s record was inflated by going up against a bunch of guys like that.

    Because Matt Hughes won’t fight them for the money that they’re offering. How difficult is that for you to understand? Unless the UFC is going to pay him a significantly (and 25% or so based on *potential* PPV bonuses isn’t enough) higher amount of money to fight Josh Koscheck than Renzo Gracie, it is foolish of Matt to take the fight. Period. Point blank. Matt knows it, Joe Silva knows it, Matt’s manager knows it.

    1) If it’s about PPV bonuses, Renzo is not the guy to get you that as your fellow headliner.

    2) They are not going to let him fight out his contract against less-than-stellar opponents. They’d give Liddell that “retirement tour” treatment if they allowed it. So after this is he going to say “Get me Carlos Newton again or I’m not fighting!”

  3. Alan Conceicao says:

    You could point to the low ratings IFL got and say the fanboyism they got online was inflated, or what the crappy main events of 2006 drew versus the online hate of them is no contest.

    There was fanboyism for the IFL?

    Show me proof the fans who cut their MMA teeth on The Ultimate Fighter care about 90s MMA if I’m wrong.

    Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie’s financially successful fights during this current era show that there’s a high level of recognition for those guys. Its not like the UFC was watched by no one early on. Back then it got crazy buyrates.

    I said people compared him and fighters with his limited skill level to guys like Tank Abbott, Kimo and Scott Ferrazo.

    Which is deserved, because that’s the level of fighter he is. And because he’s a crappy fighter, he will lose to even mediocre fighters, and get bounced from the UFC once his ability to make money disappears along with his image. These are not ideas that are independent of one another. Rather, they’re irrevocably entertwined.

    1) If it’s about PPV bonuses, Renzo is not the guy to get you that as your fellow headliner.

    Renzo is a safe bet because of his family name, and because Matt Hughes can beat him. Koscheck, Johnson, etc. have never sold PPVs either, and unlike Renzo, Matt Hughes cannot beat them. They represent financial suicide for him.

    They are not going to let him fight out his contract against less-than-stellar opponents.

    You’re wrong and right. He will fight past their prime names. He will also fight championship level guys he doesn’t belong in the ring with because he can bring buys. He will not fight prospects with no name for awhile.

    They’d give Liddell that “retirement tour” treatment if they allowed it.

    Who do you think Liddell is likely to fight in a comeback: Houston Alexander & Mark Coleman, or Lil’ Nog & Jon Jones?

  4. Mark says:

    Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie’s financially successful fights during this current era show that there’s a high level of recognition for those guys. Its not like the UFC was watched by no one early on. Back then it got crazy buyrates.

    It was the marketing, not just the name recognition. UFC had an agenda to get false hopes up for Royce against Hughes, as that fight was clearly a “Zuffa > SEG” moment, which was safe to do because absolutely no one honestly believed Royce could survive Hughes’ power. Shit on the king of the early UFC’s legacy and people stop talking about those days. And TUF 3 was what legitimized Ken Shamrock. If all they had to show were clips of Ortiz beating the shit out of him from UFC 40 the show never would have reached the height it did. And I’d argue far more of his fanbase came from the WWF than stuck with him from UFC’s 1-9. Unless they plan on having Renzo coach against Hughes on a TUF season (that’s an awesome idea actually) there is no comparison. Otherwise they’ve got nothing but Sakuraba snapping Renzo’s arm and various Japanese fighters laying on top of him for a half hour in the PRIDE vault.

    And I wouldn’t call the buyrates “crazy”. I can’t find the Observer issue that listed what some of the pre-cable ban shows got, but none of them reached near 500,000 or anything. I don’t even think they reached 300,000. Which was quite good for having no television and having most of your advertising being negative news pieces, but even if all of the fans from back then are still watching today (and they’re not, even though a million people claim they ordered UFC 1 when it got 75,000 buys) they’re a tiny minority.

    Renzo is a safe bet because of his family name, and because Matt Hughes can beat him. Koscheck, Johnson, etc. have never sold PPVs either, and unlike Renzo, Matt Hughes cannot beat them. They represent financial suicide for him.

    We’re never going to agree on whether Gracie means much so continuing that argument is pointless. But Josh Koscheck is a far bigger name than Renzo Gracie is in America. Everybody from the first TUF season is. I mean just think about the sales pitch of Renzo “Hey, Matt, you beat the son of my grand uncle 4 years ago so I’m coming out of retirement to beat you even though I’ve had years of sitting around doing nothing, now is the time!” You really think people care about that? Brother, maybe. 2nd cousin? No. Is Royce’s neighbor next?

    You’re wrong and right. He will fight past their prime names. He will also fight championship level guys he doesn’t belong in the ring with because he can bring buys. He will not fight prospects with no name for awhile.

    Okay, so he’ll fight championship level guys but you think Koscheck, Fitch and Johnson are no names? Then who is left in the division? A 4th GSP fight? Getting destroyed worse than any WW would destroy him by Anderson Silva? (which should be saved for his last fight if they’re doing it.) He says he’s probably not going to actually finish his contract, so that’s 3 or 4 fights. 1 is Renzo, the next 2 or 3 have to count. It can’t be a 3rd Trigg fight.

    Who do you think Liddell is likely to fight in a comeback: Houston Alexander & Mark Coleman, or Lil’ Nog & Jon Jones?

    I don’t think he’s coming back unless they’re really desperate for a title challenger and even then it’s iffy. But regardless, Liddell has made his stars. He legitimized Shogun into a title contender, he single handedly made Rashad Evans a superstar (or actually Rashad’s hand single handledly did…) and although Keith Jardine couldn’t sell a PPV if he offered to split the cost with you, he made him as credible as possible. So if he fights Coleman in the last fight on his contract, it really doesn’t matter. Hughes made GSP a star while he was still a serious contender but he still hasn’t done what Liddell (and Randy) did in the (temporary) end of their careers.

  5. Ivan Trembow says:

    Here’s an article from my blog with minute-by-minute ratings for the Strikeforce broadcast on CBS: http://www.ivansblog.com/2009/11/minute-by-minute-ratings-for.html

  6. The Gaijin says:

    “And I wouldn’t call the buyrates “crazy”. I can’t find the Observer issue that listed what some of the pre-cable ban shows got, but none of them reached near 500,000 or anything. I don’t even think they reached 300,000. Which was quite good for having no television and having most of your advertising being negative news pieces, but even if all of the fans from back then are still watching today (and they’re not, even though a million people claim they ordered UFC 1 when it got 75,000 buys) they’re a tiny minority.”

    I think the thing that people often misconstrue (not you but those people who think that UFC did mega-buys back in the early days) is that while they were wildly successful ppv’s at the time, they didn’t do these enormous real number buys. The ppv universe was monumentally smaller in the early 90’s than what it is today. So while the ppv buys at the time were very “big”, they aren’t big in terms of actual raw numbers (like say compared to UFC 92 or 100’s numbers).

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