Last week it was announced that World Series of Fighting would be joining UFC as mixed martial arts promotions that air nationally televised cards on one of the big four networks. In this case, it’s NBC that appears to be reaching for a bigger piece of the MMA pie.
The network is already broadcasting WSOF cards on NBC Sports Network, but appears to see bigger things in the promotion’s future with their newly-signed deal being through 2017.
An MMA promotion and television network being ambitious about the promotion’s future can be a good thing, but it’s about how the two collectively go about achieving success that is more telling than anything else. So far, it appears that WSOF and NBC are being decently smart about entering the world of national television.
The first WSOF nationally televised card takes place on July 5, the same day as UFC 175. Where WSOF and NBC are being smart is that they are scheduling this card to take place in the afternoon instead of even going up against the televised UFC 175 preliminary bouts.
MMA fans and UFC fans are already going to be in a frenzy about a major card taking place that day, so why not whet the appetite of these fans by giving them an extra dose of MMA earlier in the day?
This is also a smart move because the viewership number and what it means won’t be the same in comparison to if the card was in primetime.
If the number is poor, it can be blamed on the time of day the card took place as a Saturday afternoon in the summer generally sees a whole lot of people outdoors and not in front of a TV. If the number is good, it makes the promotion look that much better for drawing a good amount of viewers in a time slot that isn’t expected to draw as many people as, say, when the UFC prelims that night would begin.
Another WSOF card to air nationally on NBC appears to be scheduled for December 27, possibly the same day as UFC’s year-end card.
The strategy of trying to cash in on the popularity of UFC and MMA in general by running a card earlier on the same day as a UFC card is a fair strategy if it can work to WSOF and NBC’s satisfaction. However, this strategy won’t be able to last forever because it will quickly create the perception that WSOF can’t maintain an audience on their own. And this is something that can be the kiss of death for a promotion with big plans that’s just getting started.
Despite some strategic planning, this is still a big gamble for WSOF.
If the July 5 number comes back and it’s terrible, there goes WSOF’s chance to make a good first impression to a national audience; the same goes for if the card is dull or otherwise lacking in quality bouts.
Even if missing a chance to make a first impression doesn’t kill WSOF’s chances to make it big with a national audience, a poor number on July 5 could make the promotion look too ambitious for its own good. This is a major turnoff to MMA fans who have seen promotions like EliteXC and Strikeforce shoot for the moon too quickly and fizzle out.
Even Bellator MMA hasn’t attempted national television yet, possibly having learned a lesson from history.
Another reason this move is a gamble for WSOF is that national television has proven to not be a long-term way to elevate an MMA promotion. If UFC can’t draw huge numbers for nationally televised cards, it seems highly unlikely that any other promotion is going to find greater success.
The reality is that a loaded card from any other MMA promotion would look like any of the less-loaded UFC cards due to UFC having the ability to create stars in a way that is distinct from any other MMA promotion in existence.
Despite all of this, there are positives to this move if it works.
The most obvious positive is that this move could help WSOF grow as a promotion.
A more subtle positive is that, and it’s a point I will continue to make in my writing, WSOF growing thanks to this move could eventually create competition for UFC and that would be tremendous for the sport.
Because national television is available in more homes than cable, there’s always the potential for the average fight fan to latch onto a fighter or promotion. This is something that nobody can plan for because it just happens. But if it were to happen with WSOF, it offers them the best chance at sustainability and in present-day MMA, that’s the most any promotion other than UFC can ask for.
It’s always a good sign to see any of the big networks committing to MMA the way NBC is. This offers the sport more chances to gain new fans that wouldn’t otherwise be watching MMA on a regular basis. It also puts MMA in some form in more homes and offers more fighters the chance to prove their worth and rise in the sport.
More importantly, it offers more chances for less worthy fighters to be weeded out before they rise too high in the sport without any real merit.
It is the fondest hope of myself and anyone else who loves the sport of mixed martial arts that this move to national television for WSOF pays off in some way. Because if it does, it will only help MMA’s continued rise in the world of American sports.