SBD/Issue 174/Sports Media

MMA's Network TV Debut On CBS A Milestone Moment For Sport

Slice Headlining Saturday's EliteXC Card On CBS
CBS Saturday night at 9:00pm ET will broadcast the debut of CBS EliteXC Saturday Night Fights, the first MMA event ever broadcast on network TV in primetime, and while the move is a "risk for CBS, it's [a] major milestone for MMA, whose growth has been one of the decade's most stunning sports business success stories," according to Sean Gregory of TIME. EliteXC parent company ProElite Inc. Chair Doug DeLuca said, "This is hugely important for the sport. MMA has done a great job reaching a hard-core, niche audience. Now, it's time to take it to the next level. All eyes will be on us." Gregory writes the "biggest potential challenge is probably also its biggest appeal -- the level of violence itself." By exposing MMA to "kids who are channel surfing, the network, and advertisers like Burger King and Miller, are risking a backlash." SportsCorp President Marc Ganis: "Anyone who thinks CBS will not come out of this with some kind of black eye is fooling themselves." But CBS Senior Exec VP/Programming Operations Kelly Kahl said, "Yes, it's violent. But so is pro football and boxing" (TIME.com, 5/30).

 
A GOOD REPRESENTATION OF MMA? YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote MMA "long ago deserved network attention," but if Saturday night's broadcast is the "most important card in the history of the sport, wouldn't it be nice if it actually had some of the best fighters and best representatives" of MMA? EliteXC fighter Kimbo Slice, who will headline the event, "isn't the best and brightest in MMA." EliteXC is a "desperate promotion that's hemorrhaging money. It's willing to sell anything, even a false portrait of its sport, to succeed." CBS is "so focused on quick television ratings, it will present a cheap trick, lowest common denominator show. This, rather than an introduction to a sport that if treated with respect and patience could grow into a powerful property" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/29). Slice is featured on the cover of the current ESPN The Magazine and in a one-page spread in the May 30 issue of Entertainment Weekly, and SHERDOG.com's Jake Rossen wrote the "banner of mainstream MMA, in short, is being pinned on a guy with exactly 62 seconds logged in the ring" (SHERDOG.com, 5/26). But in L.A., Tom Hoffarth writes in Slice, "who has created a buzz with his quick Mike Tyson-like beatdowns, CBS has latched onto a marketable TV character, rather than someone who may be more well known in the MMA world" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 5/30).

LOW RISK FOR CBS: On Long Island, Neil Best writes the risk of broadcasting the event is "low for CBS, because in recent years broadcast networks have all but stopped trying to draw big audiences on Saturday nights" (NEWSDAY, 5/30). In Philadelphia, Bernard Fernandez wrote CBS "might have tried anything within reason to pull in ratings on a night that has become TV's skid row." Kahl: "We're putting it on Saturday nights, a night that has been underserved by all the networks for quite some time. So it's a low risk and potentially large reward" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 5/29). USA TODAY's Robert Bianco writes, "Hey, it's summer, and at least the network is trying something on a Saturday night, instead of using the evening as a dumping ground for faded hits and repeats" (USA TODAY, 5/30). Kahl: "It's a case where need met opportunity. The sport is so popular right now" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL, 5/27). In Chicago, Teddy Greenstein wrote the event for CBS is "not much of a gamble when you consider the ratings Spike TV has garnered for 'The Ultimate Fighter' or NBC for the non-prime time 'Strikeforce' series or Showtime for its foray into MMA" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/27).

MAKING A MISTAKE: In Miami, Greg Cote wrote under the header, "CBS Is Now Legitimizing Barbaric Sport." Cote: "Can the combination of network backing and the fleeting flare of Kimbomania legitimize MMA or make it mainstream? If the question is necessary, the answer begs a good laugh or at least an incredulous harrumph. Something does not achieve legitimacy simply because it is widely seen. ... Nor does something achieve legitimacy simply because it might entertain the more depraved among us" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/29). In Utah, Scott Pierce writes CBS "should be ashamed." MMA is "more like the Christians vs. the lions in the Roman Coliseum than a legitimate sporting event" (DESERET NEWS, 5/30).

BIG MOMENT FOR MMA: EliteXC President Gary Shaw said the event being broadcast on CBS in primetime is "probably the biggest thing ever to happen to MMA. These fighters will be like the people on 'Survivor' and 'American Idol.' They'll be recognized at airports and Burger Kings." FOXSPORTS.com's Mark Kriegel wrote Shaw with the primetime coverage envisions a "new kind of fame" for the company, as the biggest PPV audience "represents a tiny fraction by the standards of prime time" (FOXSPORTS.com, 5/29). In Baltimore, Mark Chalifoux wrote Saturday is EliteXC's "moment of truth." If viewers "don't tune it, it could pretty much mean the end of the company. The entire MMA-world has a lot riding on this event as it will be the first exposure to MMA for a lot of casual sports fans" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 5/28). CBS announcer Gus Johnson, who will call Saturday's event, said, "Once we can make terms like 'triangle choke' and 'rear-naked choke' and 'arm-bar' household words like a jab or a cross or an uppercut, that's when MMA will really, really hit a point that will allow it to become one of the big sports in the country" (BALTIMORESUN.com, 5/28).

UFC's White Calls
EliteXC Farm League
MAY THE BEST LEAGUE WIN? USA TODAY's Beau Dure in a sports section cover-story wrote under the header, "UFC Has Fight On Hands. CBS Event Latest Challenge To MMA Leader." UFC President Dana White said of EliteXC, "Whether they like it or not, they're the farm league." UFC this week hired a lobbying firm to "promote the sport on Capitol Hill." White: "There's so much work to do. And I'm the one out here doing all the work. Everybody else is riding in our wake" (USA TODAY, 5/29). Shaw said of White, "If he wasn't an idiot, May 31 would have been the UFC instead of EliteXC" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 5/29). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes ProElite in the three months ending March 31 posted a $5.6M loss, and the company in its most recent filing said that it "had $3.7[M] available for its expansion plans, but needed more financing." Shaw: "We're a start up. If you're not prepared to bleed and take it on the chin for a while, you shouldn't be in the game" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/30). Meanwhile, the N.Y. POST's George Willis writes while boxing "knocks at the door hoping someone from the broadcast networks will answer, CBS clearly has an interest in MMA" (N.Y. POST, 5/30).

TAPPING OUT: The N.Y. POST reported several CBS affiliates will not carry Saturday's event. Ads for the show appearing last weekend in various newspapers read, "This program will not be seen in this area." Fans in Pennsylvania were "among the first to complain that the show was being blacked out there" (N.Y. POST, 5/27). Meanwhile, in San Jose, John Ryan noted one of EliteXC's main sponsors, Reality Kings, "will not have its logo in view Saturday night" because of a "rule against promoting porn sites on network television" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 5/29).

BE ALL THAT YOU CAN BE: In N.Y., Michael Brick writes the U.S. military, "acknowledging the phenomenon and the suitable demographics, are using the sport not only as a way to build morale and aid in recruiting, but also as a training aid to enhance the skills of soldiers." The Army has conducted MMA tournaments among soldiers, and the military has "produced fighters for the professional leagues." Modern Army Combatives Program Dir Matthew Larsen has been "trying to coordinate a tournament in Baghdad for broadcast on ESPN" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/30).

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