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Volume 21 No. 13
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NBC ready for another round with revamped MMA property

When NBC Sports Network first signed a deal with the World Series of Fighting in 2012, it ran into a series of what NBC Sports Programming President Jon Miller generously described as “speed bumps.”

Six years ago, the mixed martial arts group picked the wrong venues in the wrong markets to stage fights, Miller said. Oftentimes, fights would be held in nearly empty arenas, which produces the worst possible visuals for television.

“They were trying to punch above their weight,” Miller said. “Some of the early deals didn’t work out as well as anybody had hoped. There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen in the early days of the property.”

Last January, a Washington, D.C.-area group called MMAX Investment Partners bought a controlling stake in the WSOF, renamed it the Professional Fighters League, and changed its behind-the-scenes executive ranks and overall structure.

Miller re-engaged with the league as soon as he saw who was running it. He already had relationships with the group’s top executives: PFL Executive Chairman Russ Ramsey and PFL President of Event Production Carlos Silva. Miller applauded the PFL’s decision to hire new CEO Peter Murray, an executive Miller had gotten to know during stints at the NFL and Under Armour.

The group also added big-time sports names as investors, including Washington Wizards and Capitals owner Ted Leonsis and members of the Lerner family, who own the Washington Nationals. It added former Fox Sports head David Hill, who is on the league’s advisory council.

While Miller was sold on the management moves, he especially liked the group’s concept of turning the PFL from a series of fights into an actual league, complete with seven regular-season events, a bracket-style playoff competition and a championship.

“That had never been done before,” Miller said. “They put together what we thought was a compelling concept and presentation. We knew that these guys knew how to deliver good, compelling product because we had worked with them before.”

The old World Series of Fighting format failed to generate much buzz.
Photo: Getty Images

NBCSN signed a one-year revenue-sharing deal to carry PFL fights in 2018, ending with a championship on New Year’s Eve that will be worth $10 million to winning fighters in six weight classes. NBCSN has committed to carry fights on Thursday nights from June 7 through the end of the year. If it’s successful, Miller said he hopes to extend the agreement beyond one year.

“There are a lot of different MMA businesses out there, but they are all promotional,” Miller said. “The idea of setting up a league where you’ll see the same fighters every six weeks or so, and you can start to build some real storylines, that’s very consistent with what we do really well. … It’s good third-quarter programming for us to have live content during the week on NBCSN.”

Facebook signed on to pick up the streaming rights for all events that don’t appear on NBCSN. Facebook will stream up to six hours from each event, not including 30-minute pre- and post-fight shows. Domestically, Facebook will carry the first three hours of each event before NBCSN takes over.

“We have a global opportunity with Facebook to provide an incredible unlock to distribute and activate live PFL fights and programming around the world on all devices,” Murray said.

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.