A Great Day for MMA, UFC, And Don’t Forget About Elite XC

February 28, 2008

Quite the day for the sport of mixed martial arts.

First, we hear about Elite XC striking a multi-year deal with CBS to air events starting in April and then the UFC lands its first mainstream sponsor in Bud Light. So, who had the better day? Well, right now I would have to call it a draw.

Wait, what? A draw?

Yes, a draw.

I know what you’re thinking: How can landing a broadcast network TV deal be compared to just gaining one sponsor. Let me explain.

Sure, Pro Elite’s deal is beyond huge but until EXC proves that they can pull in a rating that broadcast networks expect (and there is a huge difference between what cable as opposed to broadcast networks expect) the jury is still out on the deal. WWE thought they could also be successful with Saturday Night’s Main Event in primetime on NBC and, well, we all know how that went.

I wouldn’t be surprised if NBC or FOX will now wait to see what kind of rating EXC generates before agreeing to televise UFC events. This is the litmus test. If, for whatever reason, enough people don’t watch these shows it will be very hard for Dana White to ever land that television deal he has been working to secure.

So, why is it a draw? I am calling it such because both moves strongly impact each other. If EXC pulls in great ratings, FOX or NBC will surely go after the UFC. Conversely, the fact that a major sponsor has attached itself to the UFC comes at a great time for the Elite XC because they are now looking for someone to sponsor their CBS events. Bud Light has announced that it is now longer a risk to sponsor MMA. Other than a network paying them to air their shows this is the most important obstacle they have overcome (and it’s still unclear whether Elite XC is paying CBS or vice versa).

The UFC just secured a major sponsor; one that is also associated with the NFL and the NBA. This gives them credibility in the advertising world and will no doubt open the eyes of all major corporations (and networks). It’s a move that will provide instant dividends while a lot needs to happen before this CBS deal is deemed a true financial success.

Now, don’t get me wrong, congratulations are in order for everyone affiliated with Pro Elite Inc. They will go down in history as the first MMA promotion to ever land a broadcast network deal. A year ago, EXC had just aired its first ever event and now they are the trail blazers – not the more established UFC.

I guess this means we’ll finally get an answer to the question that has been debated for the last year or so: Which three letters are most popular? MMA or UFC.

One thing’s for sure, it certainly isn’t EXC because a quick look at the articles written about the deal all have headlines that mention MMA and not EXC. Proof: Variety, Associated Press and Multichannel News all have something to the effect of: “CBS to air MMA” not “Elite XC.”

Furthermore, fiveouncesofpain.com just put up a clip from today’s episode of ESPN’s Around The Horn discussing the historic deal and, yet again, Elite XC wasn’t mentioned. Not even once. A small victory was won when J.A. Adande uttered the words “Kimbo Slice” but that was right before the break under the show’s theme song. One must pay close enough attention to notice it.

It would be silly for me to think that Elite XC is a household name so I understand why it isn’t being mentioned as much as expected but neither is MMA. I would have expected something to the effect of “CBS has agreed to air Elite XC, a new mixed martial arts league, starting in April.”

Meanwhile, mainstream articles covering Bud Light and UFC’s new partnership clearly mention the Las Vegas-based promotion in their headlines. Proof: Sports Illustrated, Multichannel News and The Canadian Press.

I’m not trying to rain on Elite XC’s parade. I think they have grown exponentially since their first show in February ’07 and continue to produce great cards and even better fights. But if anyone thinks this is a victory in itself they are sorely mistaken. There is still a ton of work to be done. Just ask the XFL.