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Profit kick

FOX takes aim at UFC, Florida finds life after baseball

Posted: Friday March 9, 2007 3:58PM; Updated: Friday March 9, 2007 4:47PM
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With big markets and a national TV deal,The fledgling International Fighting League is taking an aggressive approach to growth.
With big markets and a national TV deal,The fledgling International Fighting League is taking an aggressive approach to growth.
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Not much makes Pat Miletich say stop. The mixed martial artist has had his arms twisted, neck choked and body whacked by some of the toughest, strongest, meanest men in the world. But it was when his sport exploded in popularity, Miletich finally, as they say in mixed martial arts, tap out.

A cult hero in mixed martial arts circles (or in this case, rings), Miletich has run a franchise of mixed martial arts (MMA) schools across the country. When the number of academies bearing his name hit 60, "I had to put the brakes on it," he said.

The sport, though, shows no signs of slowing down as it chases football, basketball and baseball in capturing the attention, not to mention the dollars, of American men between the ages of 18 and 34. While everyone from Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to this reporter closely monitored the proposed agreement that would allow DIRECTV to exclusively air out-of-market Major League Baseball games, an equally important, if not potentially more profitable, deal was struck this winter between the newly-formed International Fight League (IRL) and FOX.

The International Fight League attempts to mainstream a sport previously known for it's caged matches and bloodied participants by eliminating the steel frames encasing the ring, kicks to the groin and elbows to the face that left many viewers nauseous. Notably, the IFL has adopted a team-versus-team model rather than fighter-versus-fighter. FOX will air this new format on network television via its MyNetworkTV starting Monday at 8 p.m. (ET/PT) under the title "International Fight League Battleground".

Mixed martial arts flexed its financial muscle last October when a a fight broadcast on cable drew a reported 1.6 million 18- to 34-year-old men, 5,000 more than those watching FOX's broadcast of the Detroit Tigers-Oakland Athletics playoff game.

The Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), the granddaddy of mixed martial arts leagues, proved the potential and profitability of the sport. Exactly how profitable is still in question, though, since the league is notoriously zip-lipped about its finances, but know this: $750 ringside seats are snatched up in a hurry and of the top five pay-per-view events in 2006, two were UFC events, generating more than $52 million in revenue. Tapout Clothing, a line of apparel featuring famous mixed martial artists has doubled its profits every year since 1998, according to the company's CEO Charles Lewis, or "Mask", as he's known in the sport's community.

Although the UFC has had a choke hold on the sport all along, the IFL hopes to hook its audience in a number of strategically different ways.

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