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TV deal or not, Dynamite event still on (and why there’s fear about K-1 collapsing)

By Zach Arnold | December 1, 2010

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The public feeling of sadness and bitterness for K-1’s current financial situation compared to the collapse of PRIDE may sound the same but it really isn’t.

When PRIDE collapsed in 2007, the promotion attempted to stay bold and put on large-scale shows that appealed to the masses. In the end, it was a ploy to try to get the highest bidder — which turned out to be Zuffa. Nevertheless, there was a great sense of despair and sadness about the promotion’s demise despite the circumstances that led to its downfall. It died with a passionate fan base still remaining. The same cannot be said about K-1.

With there being an impasse between Tokyo Broadcasting System and K-1 over what to do with Dynamite on New Year’s Eve, the bitterness that fans are tasting has nothing to do with an emotional connection for K-1 as a product. This time around, the sadness is all about the fact that MMA may not make it again onto a major broadcast network in Japan for a long, long time (if ever again). The great fear is that MMA will go back to being a niche sport and suffer the same fate that professional wrestling did last decade. The great irony in all of this is that it was the MMA monster that severely damaged pro-wrestling. With network executives willing to back MMA, pro-wrestling lost whatever television support it had left. Despite being relatively cheap programming in terms of rights fees, Nippon TV dropped NOAH from the late-night network line-up and NOAH has never been the same in terms of popularity. New Japan is still hanging on to their late night TV slot on TV-Asahi because the company is owned by Yukes. Yukes can be both an owner and a sponsor at once. It has saved the promotion from the electric chair.

Currently, the situation right now for Dynamite appears to be on course for a ‘no TV’ show. In other words, it may air on HDNet and on SkyPerfecTV PPV, but perhaps not on broadcast television. The whole point of the New Year’s Eve concept when it was developed and crafted by K-1, DSE, and Antonio Inoki was to stage an assault on NHK’s Kohaku (Red & White Music Festival show) and demonstrate the strength and appeal of the fight game. It worked. Despite finishing second or third at times, the NYE shows demonstrated an erosion in viewership for NHK’s programming.

A decade later, K-1 is in bad shape. They have to put all of their eggs essentially in the Fuji TV basket and hope that their 12/11 Ariake Colosseum show in Tokyo does well for a TV rating. If it does not draw a good rating, then the promotion will be faced with less than three weeks to promote an event at Saitama Super Arena without heavy television money to pay big names for fights that people want to see. Then again, that quandary has plagued K-1 since the collapse of PRIDE — they haven’t been able to develop the kind of Japanese aces that the general public cares about.

Understand that for many of Kazuyoshi Ishii’s enemies, there is a mixed feeling right now about K-1’s demise. Negative because K-1 losing network support means that nobody else will be able to break in for a while. This includes UFC. If a Japanese network won’t support K-1, they sure won’t support a non-Japanese flavored product like UFC. Happy, however, because the Godfather has ran over a lot of people and did what he had to do in order to survive.

The belief amongst some of Ishii’s old enemies and people who have had negative feelings about doing business with him is that it will take a long time for the damage to dissipate but that eventually a new generation of promoters with more reputable backgrounds will come into the fold.

(For American sports fans, an example to think of: college university programs that have gotten the death penalty or close to it, like Miami or Baylor.)

Personally, I wish I could be that positive. However, history tells us that there isn’t a lot of reason to be positive when a major promotion collapses. When WCW collapsed in America, WWE never was able to replace or gain that audience. When PRIDE collapse, K-1 was not able to gain the trust of that fan base. They just faded away. Sure, there will promoters who will try to fill the void should K-1 collapse, but it simply will not be the same. It will certainly have a negative impact on agents and fighters looking for bookings outside of the Zuffa world.

I’m just starting to see some real talk about New Year’s Eve programming plans for the major broadcast networks in the Japanese media wires today. As I alluded to earlier in the week, this week is one of the most critical weeks in the history of K-1 for their survival and for the survival of the Dynamite show at Saitama Super Arena. Either the deal with TBS gets done soon or it doesn’t get done at all. They’re already way too late in the game here.

As for how K-1’s PR machine is handling the situation, all hands are on deck to promote the Ariake Colosseum event. They are all-in right now. Mr. Tanigawa will appear on Samurai TV to do some PR soon. I was also told by one source that K-1 plans on having the Dynamite show (TV deal or not) and that matchmaking will start after the 12/11 Tokyo show takes place. The period of time compression will be unbelievably stressful.

Regarding Mr. Ishii, he penned a column today that has nothing to do with K-1 but is quite… unique.

Topics: DREAM, Japan, K-1, Media, MMA, Zach Arnold | 26 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

26 Responses to “TV deal or not, Dynamite event still on (and why there’s fear about K-1 collapsing)”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    Japanese MMA is a great example of how important it is to build a MMA organization with a solid foundation. Despite great viewership, both K-1 and PRIDE never established a core business plan that would be able to sustain if they lost their big TV deal.

    When K-1 collapses (not if)…. I would really like to see the smaller organizations such as Shooto, Pancrase, and DEEP establish a stronger relationship with companies like the UFC and Strikeforce in order to bring their best talent to the next level as seemlessly as possible. I don’t know if it would be possible, but in a perfect MMA world it would be ideal.

    For K-1, I think their demise will be very much like PRIDE’s. They will make it past the new year and try every last effort to stay around. They will put on a few shows before going completely bust before July 1st…

    They have about 10 to 15 fighters that would be of some interest to the UFC or Strikeforce. Should be interesting to see how that happens….

    • Moreorless says:

      I wouldnt say that Pride and now possible FEG’s collapse due to lost TV deals is down to a lack of planning so much as it is the enviroment in Japan.

      Mainstream TV deals have been the mainstay of pro wrestling and fightsport for decades, no signifcant PPV or prenium TV market has ever devolped.

      • Zach Arnold says:

        The promoters are dealing with the (card) hands they’ve been dealt with and that means a landscape where the culture doesn’t buy into the PPV model or pay TV.

        Yes, cable is slowly rising, but the majority of TV viewers are watching on their phones or antenna. Plus if you use a small satellite dish and Ku LNB, you can pick up the network’s versions of satellite channels for free. (BS-Asahi, etc.)

  2. It should be noted that the last time there was a big promotional crash in Japan (PRIDE) in the MMA business, there was an effect in terms of where fighters next went to compete. There was a huge shift of talent to compete in the Cage Force tourney and away from ring based MMA events among guys long considered to be some of the top prospects in Japan. When DREAM came onto the scene in 2008, that short lived exodus of fighters pretty much came to a screaming halt.

    I expect much the same scenario now.

  3. Zach Arnold says:

    I think I need to get the AED to wake up everyone who’s fallen asleep from all the K-1 talk this week.

    • David M says:

      It is really hard to care at all about Japanese mma. Pride was their last stand; nowadays it is pretty much understood that all the best fighters fight in the US. There are some good fighters who have been competing in Japan that I would like to see move down a weight class or two and compete at 145 or 135, such as Aoki, Hanson, Kawajiri, etc, but that’s about it.

      I have no access to Japanese mma on TV, and I don’t have any particular desire to seek it out; we get enough mma here with the UFC on constantly as well as Versus showing WEC matches and Strikeforce on Showtime.

      • edub says:

        I don’t think Kawajiri could make 145, but I like where your going. Bringing over guys like Aoki, Hioki, Omigawa, Sandro, Fernandes, Takaya, Hanson, Kanehara, Kid etc… would be great.

        Even if all of them just went to Strikeforce it would be awesome.

        • Chromium says:

          StrikeForce has no Featherweight or Bantamweight division, so I don’t see them taking a lot of those guys.

          Also some of those people you mentioned are still in Sengoku (Kanehara and Sandro at least).

          DREAM might last past NYE, but I have a feeling that some fighters aren’t going to wait for the promotion to completely collapse to start jumping ship. If Omigawa wins at NYE (assuming he even has a match), he’ll likely be signed to the UFC by the end of January.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      The more organizations that fall, the less message board discussions we are going to see in MMA.

      There isn’t much fun just talking about just the UFC 24/7. Doesn’t mean people still won’t love watching it…. But there is really less to discuss.

      The WWF/WCW feud peaked interests and is a perfect example of how competition got fans talking. So do sports rivalries. And while to the casual fans the UFC vs. SF or DREAM isn’t a reality…. To the hardcore internet fans it is….. So when these organizations crumble…. Many won’t be too interested anymore….

      • Tooth and Nail says:

        I agree that having at least 2 big promotions is an ideal scenario in many ways, but I don’t like how FEG has been running things lately. The UFC will go on to dominate the MMA landscape, but only at the very top. There will always be the multitudes of feeder shows all over the world for fans to discuss, including many very important Japanese shows like Pancrase, and Shooto.

        What I really hope is that Zuffa can break into the Japanese market in some way…and bring the fans over there some high level MMA in the near future, and give the big Japanese stars a place to fight and make the kind of money they are worth.

      • David M says:

        Your analogy is kinda right but the timeline in MMA is way different. Pride and UFC were 1A and 1B, and yet the sport didn’t start to get any mainstream notoriety in the U.S. until Forrest-Bonnar I (I think early 2005) and it didn’t blow up in America until right before Rampage-Liddell 2, which was right after UFC bought Pride and basically eliminated all legitimate competition in the marketplace.

        In terms of message boards and whatnot, I would imagine that there is more traffic on sherdog and similar sites now than there was when there were 2 top dog organizations. I also would imagine that Zach gets about 10x more traffic on fightopinion than he did when the few hardcore fans were checking out puroresupower for insider news on Japanese mma (Zach, confirm/deny?).

        I also think your assertion that hardcore fans will lose interest because of the lack of a legit 1B promotion is baseless, given that mma is much bigger now than ever, and that hardcore fans have plenty to still talk about. I also have never heard any other hardcore fans talk about UFC v Strikeforce or Dream as a rivalry, because it is not. It is a 5000 pound gorilla against a German Shepherd.

        • 45 Huddle says:

          I think you missed my point. First, I’m not talking about the newer fans. All I’m talking about are the internet fans, which is a real small fraction of the overall fanbase.

          But within that internet fanbase, a lot of the discussions online are centered around the various organizations pitted against each other. Fedor going to the UFC and UFC vs. SF are both topics that get huge amount of comments on various blogs and message boards.

          Once those issues are no longer in the sport…. What are the internet fans going to talk about? Outside of the once in a while “UFC mini drama” that they make up…. There is little discussion.

          Which is why as thee organizations start to go out of business, the amount of interesting topics for online fans to discuss with a passion is limited.

          Online traffic going up is just a result of the sport becoming more popular. But the topics being discussed are quickly going away with the demise of organizations.

        • Zach Arnold says:

          In terms of message boards and whatnot, I would imagine that there is more traffic on sherdog and similar sites now than there was when there were 2 top dog organizations. I also would imagine that Zach gets about 10x more traffic on fightopinion than he did when the few hardcore fans were checking out puroresupower for insider news on Japanese mma (Zach, confirm/deny?).

          It’s increased, but it’s also dramatically changed.

          I’ve always remarked that when PRIDE died that all the critics I had to deal with who made personal attacks on me never bothered to say they were wrong or that they were sorry. In the end, the majority of those people literally vanished from MMA fandom both online and offline. The readership make-up today is vastly different than it was 3 years ago. I used to hit about 10% Japanese readers, 5-10% British readers, 5-10% Canadian, etc. Now, the virtual majority of readers are from the US, with Canada in second and the UK in third. I get a few Japanese readers, but the majority of people who follow me who are based in Japan are people directly in the business.

          I think Beer Monster (his pen name) at Bloody Elbow said that business has gone down here. I don’t think that’s accurate to say, but I will say that I’ve always had a very passive audience for interaction. Most of it is, believe it or not, not by design. I have quite a few readers but most just don’t want to interact.

          In many ways, the active commenters I have here today are the same ones I’ve had for many years in the past. I had a former regular reader remark to me (for the first time in a long time) recently that when he came back to see the site, he saw the same commenters as he did 3-5 years ago and was shocked.

          With all of that stated, what 45 and Jonathan have said here is exactly right. Half of the major online discussion in the last decade was about UFC vs. PRIDE or which fighter from which era was better. When PRIDE died, those discussions largely died down. People don’t really care to talk about steroids or organized crime. They want to talk about fights. A lot of the people who just vanished and went away legitimately are bored to death by UFC — whether it’s the fact that they use the cage or don’t use PRIDE rules or whatever. It’s like when WCW vanished and instead of embracing WWE, those fans went onto to become UFC fans or moved onto something else.

      • Jonathan says:

        I agree with 45 Huddle here. Look at how many comments Zach gets when he lists a UFC event. From my memory, not a whole lot….a UFC card is a UFC card, not any real drama in it.

        But if posts something about SF or Fedor or K-1 or JMMA…..he gets alot of responses. If UFC is the only game in town, expect less conversation in the comments.

    • What is there to discuss though? K-1 might be dead. It might not die. DREAM will probably be dead.

      Given the fact that I don’t really care if there’s a second top promoter in the business nor do I care if they’re from Japan, from a personal perspective I can’t admit to be too broken up about this series of events. Ultimately SEG put its faith in Masato, Kid, and to a lesser extent Hari to carry the promotions through a rough time: Kid lost a bunch. Masato retired. Hari’s been running from the law. Now they’re screwed.

  4. Garret says:

    They’d be insane to announce Dynamite without negotiating with fighters beforehand. However, this is Japan and time and time again we have seen promoters scramble to the last minute to finalize cards.

  5. Dave says:

    Yeah, I’ve heard the same. Dynamite!! by hook or by crook so they don’t lose face.

    From what I’ve heard, Ishii really wants to salvage K-1 and will do anything he can for that, but the fate of DREAM has more or less been sealed.

    FEG agreed to go on the record last night about this stuff and changed their minds, don’t expect shit from that Tany appearance, either.

  6. Chuck says:

    It probably would be for the best if DREAM dies and K-1 stops doing MMA. But their kickboxing? It would be a fucking tragedy if that stops too. I would love to see K-1 stay alive, but to get rid of MMA. That, or It’s Showtime to get bigger, one or the other…

  7. […] dire, as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, there are massive problems with Dynamite!! 2010. Dynamite!! will happen, that much is clear. It looks like at the K-1World Grand Prix on December 11 we’ll start […]

  8. Bryan says:

    Zach, what are you thoughts on the news that It’s Showtime is looking to expand into the U.S. (and maybe more countries on top of that)? If FEG really does go under, would that be a wise move? What would actually be a good way of breaking the U.S. market, aside from getting a legit TV deal of some sort.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      It’s going to be tough for Simon to replicate here what he does in Amsterdam. His best bet, or at least the one that would lose the least amount of money, is to try to make in-roads with casino players outside of the Zuffa realm and start to work his way internationally through that route. It would make his life easier to run in the States, Singapore, and Macao.

      • The Gaijin says:

        That sounds an awful lot like the business plan Ed Fishman had for bringing PRIDE to the U.S and places outside Japan.

        Whatever happened to that guy anyways Zach? A lot of fight fans (myself included) held out hope (extremely naively in retrospect) that he’d be the white night to keep them in business after the yakuza scandal.

    • Steve4192 says:

      At present, there is no market in the USA for kickboxing.

      If It’s Showtime wants to build a successful business over here, they are going to have to build the market from scratch. That is an expensive proposition.

  9. Bryan says:

    Here’s a pretty good article about Fishman and why his attempt at the purchase of PRIDE fell through. I don’t know what he’s up to these days though. Maybe Zach does.

    Ed. — He’s on the sidelines in Malibu.

    • Bryan says:

      Thanks for the info Zach. Do you think he is looking to get back into the MMA scene at some point or does he have other ventures going on which are more important?


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