While FEG continues to search for a life raft, both the UFC and Strikeforce are looking to cross the Pacific and stage events in Japan in 2011.
The UFC held a press conference in Japan yesterday to announce new media deals with NTT Plala and TV Bank.
“I’m really thrilled by this opportunity to bring the global leader of mixed martial arts — the Ultimate Fighting Championship — and build it in a region where many martial arts originated. Japan is the most advanced and important market for us in Asia so far,” Zuffa LLC Asia Executive Vice President and Managing Director Mark Fischer said in a statement to the press. “This is a very important steps for the growth of the UFC in Japan. Our new media platforms will enable more fans across Japan to access exciting UFC action, news, highlights and features in more ways than ever before.”
These deals will essentially give Japanese fight fans the opportunity to view UFC content through their cell phones and other platforms. As BE’s Leland Roling explains, this is a bigger deal in Japan that it would be in the US due to the technological advantages Japan has over this country.
The deal is mostly aimed at bringing the UFC’s brand to consumers through the smartphone market, a market that is highly-popular in Japan in comparison to most countries. Some of the amazing things I’ve seen from Japanese smartphone technology would absolutely blow away some of the things we have here in the United States, mainly due to the technological advantages Japan has with a lower overall population than our own. The ability to have large download rates with less people clogging the network is one of the big reasons why Japanese fans will have and have had the ability to stream live events to their mobile devices.
The deal, in conjunction with their current satellite cable deal with WOWOW, is a multi-tiered attack in trying to get brand saturation in the region. NTT Plala will provide video-on-demand services through Hikari TV, giving fans access to events not available on WOWOW such as Versus and UFC Fight Night cards. Japanese fans can also re-live the glory days of PRIDE through the service.
This of course is just one step in the UFC’s plan to immerse the Japanese with their brand of mixed martial arts. The endgame is hold live events and that’s something Mark Fischer, the head of the UFC’s Asia division, believes is a possibility by the end of the year.
“We definitely want to hold a major event in Japan as soon as possible,” he said. “I would say that we’re not ready to announce anything yet but that we’re hoping to have an event later this year or early next year in Japan.”
“It’s a step-by-step process. It doesn’t happen overnight. We want to build up a good fan base, grow our media exposure, and we want fighters from different nationalities in the UFC before marketing to that nation and bringing in the big event.
“That big event will be more successful then, and I think that’s what we’re doing here in Japan.”
Of course, the big elephant in the room is the Yakuza, the Japanese organized crime organization that poisoned PRIDE. It’s unclear how their past (and perhaps present?) involvement in the Japanese fight industry will factor into the UFC’s quest to break into the Japanese MMA market, but their mere presence certainly isn’t scaring them away. When Dana White was last asked about it, he bluntly stated “they’re going to have to kill me” to stop the UFC from coming to Japan. Mark Fischer was more eloquent when he addressed the concern yesterday.
“I think the landscape is very good. I think we all know that it was maybe tainted a little bit by some of the MMA events and things surrounding them that may have gone on up until now, but I think it’s critical that people understand that the UFC is above all that and stands for excellence in the sport.”
The UFC isn’t the only major US-based organization eyeing Japan. Strikeforce, who formed a formal strategic alliance with DREAM last year, is also looking at putting on an event in Japan in 2011, specifically for a leg of their heavyweight grand prix.
“We’re having a couple conversations right now and we definitely want to travel to Canada at some point, which we’re working on,” Coker said. “We’d definitely like to take one leg of the tournament at some point, it doesn’t have to be the next one or it could be the semifinals or maybe even the fights, but we’d like to eventually this year take one of those legs to Japan.”
“I just feel like with all the stars that we have and the fan base there for these fighters over there, I mean these fighters have a ton of fans in Japan,” said Coker. “Why not go there and bring Strikeforce to Japan some time this year?”
Coker didn’t address it, but most believe Japan is more of a contingency plan for Strikeforce in case Josh Barnett can’t get licensed in the US.
With Scott Coker’s long-standing relationship with the folks at FEG, a Strikeforce event in Japan seems like a stronger possibility this year than a UFC event is. Of course, if FEG is sold off in the coming months, who knows how that might impact Strikeforce’s ability to stage an event there. The UFC and Strikeforce seem to have different goals in Japan, but neither is short on obstacles to overcome. It will be very interesting to see how both organizations navigate Japan’s notoriously murky waters.