Mixed Martial Arts and Television

By Tom Donelson
Updated: June 4, 2008

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Mixed Martial Arts is taking advantage of the increase in television broadcasting through cable to grow. The sport began its growth in the early 80′s when it it was essentially kicking boxing and ESPN was just beginning its own run.

The biggest single factor in the growth of the MMA was the new media and proliferation of various sports programing.

In the 1970′s, there were just three major broadcasting stations and they determine what sports to cover and what to ignore. Today, stations are begging for sporting events to cover and the supply is creating its own demand.

CBS, a network that has fallen behind in both sports and news programming , took advantage of the popularity of MMA and broadcast the recent Elite XC card featuring Kimbo Slice.

And they were rewarded with good ratings for its Saturday night programing.

Mixed Martial Arts has engaged in unique strategy and we are seeing the seperation of various MMA organizations, each allying itself with different networks.

WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) found a home on Versus, UCF and Spike TV joined forces, Fox broadcast International Fight League and Showtime along with CBS produced Elite XC cards.

The Mixed Martial Arts along with boxing gave both Versus and Spike credibility in their own marketing plans. Versus decided to move beyond being just the Outdoor station and Spike used the UCF to better establish itself as the “man station to watch cool television.”

Showtime’s alliance with Elite XC expanded upon its puglistic brand along with boxing, allowing it to compete more forcefully with HBO and CBS simply needed something just to stay in the game with NBC, ABC and even Fox.

The once great Tiffany station found itself behind in both news and Sports but with Elite XC, they will have one additional rating star.

Interesting, these stations gave rise to various MMA organization and it would appear that MMA is repeating the mistake of boxing. Boxing popularity shrinkage occurred at the same time that many sanctioning bodies profilerated.

As many boxing fans or former boxing fans told me, “I simply don’t know who is the champion or even care.” Boxing, steep in tradition, have upset its core fans and fail to move beyond its core for popularity.

MMA is a newer sport and fans are more tolerant of the various organization and simply want to see some good fights as well as see their favorite stars. They don’t care if they fight for the WEC or UCF.

What the MMA has shown is that if you produce good cards with talented stars, you will get ratings. In the movie, Field of Dreams, the main character was told, “Build it and they will come.”

In the MMA, Supply has created demand and the promoters have built their intrastructure and the fans have filled the arena. That is the lesson to be learned.