Affliction At The Honda Center

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Affliction has finally gone off the deep end. They are seriously considering counter programming UFC 100 with their own event, live on network television for free.

Is Tom Atencio crazy?

Probably, how else can you explain the bloated contracts or belief that they could compete directly with the UFC? But the irrational exuberance that lead Affliction to make their fateful and dumb decisions cannot be undone. They must simply soldier on and look for a winning business plan or an exit strategy.

After Affliction’s first show it was revealed they were in secret negotiations with the UFC to broker a resolution, allowing Affliction to reenter the Octagon as a sponsor and the UFC to retain their choice of Affliction fighters. The talks failed, and it now appears that the UFC is more than willing to let Affliction wither and die before picking up the pieces.

Then the news broke that Affliction was attempting to regain the initiative (if they ever had it). Affliction would counter promote UFC 100, with free live fights, hopefully on network television. This could be viewed as Affliction’s final offensive, a blitz into the Ardennes to force the UFC to negotiate a truce. Such desperate gambles rarely work, and there is no reason to believe that Affliction’s gambit will pay off with their desired resolution.

The question remains, is this a strategic move on Affliction’s part to restart talks with the UFC?

If it is, it probably won’t work. The UFC is too well solidified and their centennial event is too stacked for Affliction to effectively draw enough viewers away to damage the UFC and force a new round of talks. Then again, just drawing away 50,000 buyers at $44.95 equals $2.25 million in lost revenue for the UFC, not exactly chump change.

The prospect of Affliction counter promoting UFC 100 is not devoid of virtue. In fact, due to their many mistakes with fighter contracts a move to television may be the best option available.

Michael Rome reported that Affliction’s fighter salary structure is similar to other sports, where athletes are paid regardless if they fight or not. Since Affliction is currently paying for nothing why not put on a third event and try to cipher off some resources for the big id on the block?

Another aspect of those contracts are the pay-per view bonuses, where fighters receive a portion of the PPV revenue. With the cost of putting an event on PPV and the added cost of giving a certain amount of PPV revenue to the Fedor’s and Arlovski’s, making the move to television would further reduce their operating costs. Also they don’t have to pay Josh Barnett more money to fight Fedor, an absolute necessity for a third pay-per view show.

Of course, this all depends on Affliction getting on network television (HDNet would be suicide). While some doubt if the networks would be on board with this, I believe there is great potential. ABC sports is now ESPN, which has entered the MMA game with Bellator, NBC has a deal with Strikeforce and CBS took a chance on EliteXC. The evidence suggests that a major network would broadcast such an event, especially if they can control certain aspects, something that Affliction appears more than willing to give up.

If Affliction can get such a deal, they further reduce their operating costs since the telecast would be paid for by whichever network took the deal. While Affliction would get only a small part of the ad revenue, if any at all, they would still be able to draw enough of a crowd with a fight card featuring Fedor Emelianenko. Thus free fights on network television reduces Affliction’s operating cost, creates a new partner, possibly damages a rival who they want to enter talks with, all while utilizing resources they are already paying to do nothing. Not a bad proposal for a promotion.

There is another positive bonus, and that is the mainstream press. Never underestimate their ability to play up colorful storylines, especially if Affliction has a partnership with a network and by extension a network’s news department. Just imagine the following storyline, the best MMA promotion celebrates its 100th show with a loaded fight card, only to be in competition that same night against a promotion that contains the best heavyweight in the world on network television. You can almost see Dana White on ESPN’s First Take talking about UFC 100 only to be asked about why the UFC is not on network television, and why doesn’t the UFC have the best heavyweight, nay the best fighter in the world within their promotion? Would we get a Dana expletive laden rant at 11:45am? Not the best way to endear one’s business to a community that doesn’t feel obligated to remember your name at the secretary’s desk.

White has already responded in his patented manner. Despite the sharpness of Dana White’s critique of Affliction’s role in the MMA universe, he is both right and wrong. White is correct when he states that Affliction shirts are a fad, but the fad is still on the rise not the decline. Go to any MMA event and Affliction shirts are prevalent, but the clothing line has become more than MMA T-shirts. Now main stream rappers, musicians, football and basketball players are seen wearing Affliction threads. The “t-shirt company” has become a cultural clothing line of the entertainment business. I was at the NBA All-Star game last year in New Orleans, and I was shocked at how many NBA fans were wearing the Affliction brand. Affliction shirts are present in every mall around the country, something that the UFC hasn’t obtained with their own brand. In fact, Affliction has surpassed its role as a mixed-martial arts brand.

(For the record I hate the shirts)

Now this analysis is not attempting to brush over the many mistakes Affliction has made with their fight promotion—I predicted they would be done in the fighting game this year—and they will need to diversify their clothing line to avoid ending up like crocs. But a move to network television and an attempt to counter program UFC 100 could have its benefits, and we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss such an action.

Zak Woods is the founder of the mixed martial arts blog