The Anatomy of an MMA Show, Part 4
(NOTE: MMAjunkie.com is proud to release the fourth part of our new series, “The Anatomy of an MMA Show.” While just a few organizations dominate the national and international scene, many regional promotions are finding success on the local scene. The Florida-based Xtreme Fighting Championships, which is averaging more than 10,000 spectators per show, has been one of the best. In the fourth of his five-part series, XFC President John Prisco, pictured with the Florida State Boxing Commission’s Tom Molloy, discusses last-minute preparations for Friday’s show, and he also answers questions from MMAjunkie.com readers. Also, be sure to check out Part I, Part II and Part III of the series, and check back next week for the fifth and final installment.)
Well, here we are – only 24 hours away from XFC’s big show at the St. Pete Times Forum (Friday, Dec. 5 in Tampa, Florida – tickets still available!). And I’m nervous. Not a panicky, hysterical nervous – more like a kinetic, tightly wound sense of heightened anticipation.
See, something unexpected will happen just before XFC’s “Salute to Our Armed Forces 6: Clash of the Continents.” Someone will get sick or pull a muscle getting out of the hotel bed. Or a fighter will leave his cell phone on the plane and be unreachable. Or an important sponsor’s cage signage will be the wrong size. Or a piece of production equipment will unexpectedly break down.
Something unexpected always happens before the show, and the only thing you can really do is quickly identify the problem and try to make smart, unemotional decisions.
A live MMA event has literally thousands of fast-moving parts working in concert with one another, and you burn an incredible amount of energy trying to stay atop all of them. It’s 100 percent critical for a promoter to be obsessively organized at all times. But it’s also critical not to lose sight of the human element because these shows are essentially large-scale collaborative efforts between hundreds of diverse personalities with equally diverse egos, goals and expectations.
From the fighters in the cage to the technicians operating the Jumbotron, if just one person is sufficiently unmotivated or apathetic, the entire product is compromised. In my personal opinion, one of the most undervalued qualities of an effective promoter is learning how to keep everyone not just on the same page, but also energized and motivated.
I’ve been around long enough to know that apathetic management breeds apathetic workers, which results in an apathetic product. But if you can find a way to cultivate a dedicated, passionate team of hard-working, ass-kicking coworkers, your probability for success exponentially increases. And a pivotal reason for XFC’s dramatic growth is that I’ve had the unbelievable good fortune of working side by side some wonderfully talented men and women – a group of like-minded workhorses who share the same vision and truly believe that XFC is on the cusp of something special. And the thousands of fans packing the stadium may never know their names or see all their faces, but the show wouldn’t be the same without their tireless support. I’d like to publicly say to all of them: Thank you!
But I’m still nervous. XFC has never produced a stadium show on a Friday night; our past five events were all on Saturdays or Sundays. Will a Friday event draw differently than a weekend event? Will the gloomy economic climate adversely impact our target audience’s spending decisions?
Everyone has his own theories, anecdotes and parallel experiences — but the bottom line is nobody will know for sure until the stadium doors open at 6:30 p.m. So I continue to control what I can control, try to stay a little bit ahead of the curve, and hope for the best. Here’s to a great show!
And thanks so much to everyone who e-mailed me questions after my latest column! I picked four of the best to answer in today’s column, and if I failed to tackle your question, I promise to e-mail a response back to you in the days ahead.
Here we go:
Q: Hey John, great column and congrats on all the success of XFC!!! It’s great to hear about a young promotion like yours doing so well, and I look forward to being able to watch your show personally, either in the stadium or on TV! God knows there’s a need for a promotion like XFC. My question is, how would XFC feel about UFC coming to your home turf of Tampa and doing a show? XFC might be the Big Dog in Florida, but the UFC is, well, the UFC. –Gerald
A: I appreciate the kind words, Gerald. And my answer might surprise you: I would absolutely love for the UFC to come to Tampa! In my professional opinion, Tampa would be an ideal city to host a major UFC event, and I honestly think the UFC would be making a big mistake not coming to Tampa in the very near future.
Look, XFC isn’t competing with the UFC. We’re a young organization that will sink or swim solely on the basis of our own merits. But we do work within the MMA industry, and there’s absolutely no question that nobody has done more to grow this sport than the UFC. The better the UFC does, the more popular our sport becomes – which means there’s a greater pool of candidates willing to give our product a chance.
If the UFC elevates the profile of MMA by coming to Tampa, nobody will be happier than me because they’d be educating hundreds of thousands of Florida sports fans about the greatest, most exciting sport on the planet. And sure, I’ve heard other promoters grouse about Dana White’s sharp elbows or combative style, but the bottom line is that none of us would even exist in this industry were it not for his vision, and we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. A prosperous UFC raises the tide of the entire industry – and XFC is just one of the beneficiaries.
Of course, I also realize that some UFC fans are intensely brand-loyal; they like only the UFC and want all other promotions to fail. And that’s their right, of course, but they’re a small percentage of the overall UFC fan base. Most UFC fans are MMA fans at heart, and they recognize that it’s healthy for the sport – and good for the fighters they care about – to have strong, viable organizations such as XFC developing talent, promoting the game, and offering great MMA action to people all over the country.
Q: I’m an MMA promoter in the Southwest (please don’t publish my name or city) and I’ve really enjoyed reading your series, Mr. Prisco. One of the major challenges I’m dealing with right now is with the fighters and the managers when it comes to money. Many of them have completely unrealistic expectations, unfortunately. They think I’m ripping them off and robbing them blind. I’ve thought about just opening my books to them, but they’ll then either think I’m STILL keeping too much for myself, or that I’m an idiot who gives away too much and lose all respect for me anyway. Any advice for a young promoter? -Anonymous
A: The moment you become a promoter, my friend, you’re instantly perceived as a slimeball. That’s just the nature of the business.
See, lots of fighters and MMA fans simply look at the size of the gate, multiply it by the ticket price, and then question why the promoter doesn’t earmark a greater percentage to the athletes. And that’s not an unreasonable question to ask, especially since the fighters are the ones taking a personal risk in the cage – and I’m standing on the outside, far away from all the carnage. But it’s a question based on faulty mathematics because it overlooks so many other costs and expenses.
You’ve got to factor in the taxes (ugh!). And insurance (double-ugh!). The venue fees. The sanctioning fees. The medical fees. Travel and lodging. There’s the cost of promotion, advertisements and event security. There’s the cost of audio/visual production – at the event and in post-production, and this cost is particularly steep if you’re actively building an inventory of television-quality fight footage. All this is just the tip of the iceberg; even the cage itself must come from somewhere, needs to be shipped to the stadium, assembled, tested, dismantled, repackaged, etc.
But these are all unemotional arguments, and they don’t resonate as powerfully as someone screaming: “You’re just a greedy promoter who’s profiting off the blood of the fighters!” I don’t like this aspect of the business, but I like enough other aspects to accept it as a necessary evil. And to be fair, there have been quite a few unethical promoters in the fight business, so I can’t really blame people for being suspicious – even when their suspicions are unfounded.
My advice is to be completely truthful with the fighters. Try to explain to them the size of your hard costs. Tell them that you and your team invested months of time and lots of money to provide them with a platform to earn a livelihood. And if that falls on deaf ears, sometimes it’s best to simply agree not to do business anymore.
That’s my personal approach; I tell the fighter that I respect and appreciate him, but given XFC’s current business model and my expectation of how his inclusion on the fight card will impact the gate, I can only afford to give him $X per event. If he (or she) can make more money fighting for someone else with a different business model, God bless him for it. No hard feelings, and I would never fault a fighter for operating out of his personal best interest. After all, he has his own family to think about. But so do I – along with the families of all the people who are depending on XFC to remain their employer, and I’m not doing my job if I’m unnecessarily putting their jobs at risk.
Q: I’m greatly enjoying your editorials, John, and I like what I’ve been reading about XFC’s strategy and business acumen. Sounds like you have a smart plan and are doing real well. My question is a selfish one, though. I have a little bit of money that I’m planning to wager later in the month, and I was wondering, in your expert opinion, who will win the Forrest Griffin vs. Rashad Evans fight at UFC 92? Any other “insider” tips? –Shawn
A: Sorry Shawn, but I’m honestly not the best person to answer that question. It’s funny – I could actually evaluate pay-per-view matchups better before I became a promoter. Back when I was your typical armchair MMA fan, I had much more time to watch all the fights, replay bouts at home, and (of course) argue about who’d beat who. That’s the fun of being a fan, right?
But now, I’m so preoccupied with the development of my own fighters and my own promotion, I don’t always see the late-breaking news that could impact another fighter’s training or preparation. I hear lots of industry gossip of course, but I tend to focus on the gossip that’s most meaningful to me, such as which networks are looking to land MMA properties or which emerging fighters XFC should target in the near future.
I tune out most of the gossip about fighters with long-term deals with other promotions, and I’d hate to have you blame my lousy advice if your bet doesn’t pay off. Sorry I couldn’t be more helpful – but ya know, given today’s economy, putting your money in Vegas actually isn’t the craziest venture you could make! Good luck.
Q: When it comes to landing corporate-sponsorship dollars, do you find that the UFC’s old image as a bloody and barbaric sport makes it difficult to finalize a lucrative deal with a mainstream company? What’s the best way to land a sponsor? –Anonymous
A: All that MMA organizations need to keep in mind is that corporations don’t care about cage fighting; they care how you can help their corporation. And there are only two things we can fundamentally do for a brand: We can draw the eyeballs of a certain demographic to their product, and we can help a brand develop a unique identity via its affiliation with us.
So figure out what’s distinct and special about your product – and how those features will benefit that particular corporation. Try to be creative with your proposal and concentrate on how your ideas will ultimately ring the corporation’s cash register.
I’ll give you an example. XFC’s live events draw approximately 10,000 fans, the majority of which are in the 18- to 34-year-old male demographic. On top of it, our fans tend to spend money on entertainment, try new things, and enjoy going out to social events – the free-spending young adults that many brands target. XFC’s desired brand identity is as an innovative, grassroots MMA organization that’s patriotic, fan-friendly, and the ultimate steel-cage proving grounds for the “champions of tomorrow.”
If we determine that a potential sponsor values our fan base and would benefit by being affiliated with our brand identity, we then try to develop a personalized proposal that maximizes the qualities the company most covet – because if the deal doesn’t make financial sense to the sponsor, an agreement is doomed to fail. Nobody spends money just to spend money.
As for MMA’s image being too bloody, the facts are on our side: Since 1993, there has been one single fatality in a sanctioned North American MMA bout. For comparison’s sake, between just 2006 and 2007, there were 22 deaths from high school football alone.
MMA is a great sport, but there’s still an educational gap between where we once were and where we are now. So be patient, take your time, and simply tell the truth to the potential sponsor. If you have a quality product that truly benefits his business, make your most well-researched argument, and then trust the sponsor to be smart enough to make decisions that are in his own best interest.
Thanks again for your questions. And for all of you in Florida, I hope to see you on Friday night!
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John Prisco is the president of Xtreme Fighting Championships, one of MMA’s most successful regional promotions. In his new series for MMAjunkie.com, he takes readers behind the scenes as XFC prepares for its Dec. 5 show in Tampa. For more on the promotion and the upcoming show, go to www.mmaxfc.com.