Fedor putting on glovesBack in mid-September after Strikeforce announced Fedor Emelianenko’s debut would take place on CBS instead of Showtime, Fanhouse’s Ariel Helwani scored an interview with CBS VP of primetime programming Kelly Kahl. One of the questions Ariel asked was if CBS was going to be heavily promoting Fedor like they intially did with Kimbo Slice. Kahl’s response:

Certainly that is part of the plan and that’s what we’re going to work on almost immediately start doing. While Fedor is certainly the No. 1 heavyweight in the world, you know, we have to let non-MMA fans know who this guy is. He’s got a great look, he’s got a great story and we need to share that with people.

Sounded great at the time, but here we are over two weeks later and I’ve yet to see a single commercial promoting the event or Fedor. If they were going to do it at all, the perfect time would be Sunday afternoons during the NFL games, right? Well, I didn’t catch any of the games this weekend, so I asked Fanhouse’s MDS, who watches virtually every NFL game every Sunday (just check out his Twitter feed on a weekend), if he saw any. He not only said no, he also gave his take on the situation in his latest Twitter mailbag.

No. There are still four more Sundays between now and Fedor’s November 7 fight with Brett Rogers on CBS, so maybe we’ll see plenty of commercials promoting Fedor during CBS NFL games, but as of right now, I think CBS is missing some opportunities to hype the fight.

Hard-core fans universally consider Fedor the best heavyweight in MMA, and many consider him the best fighter ever to fight in any weight class. But hard-core MMA fans are still a relatively small audience, and for this fight to get a good rating, CBS will need to appeal to casual MMA fans and people who have never watched MMA at all.

I think CBS needs to air plenty of commercials explaining to fans who Fedor is, and what makes him such a compelling figure. There’s no better audience for those commercials than NFL fans, but so far, those fans haven’t heard a word about Fedor. I’d like to see that change soon.

Well said. (For the record, a few Bloody Elbow readers said they saw a quick 10-second spot during the pregame show but it was horrible.)

Of course, the counter-argument is it’s too early, it won’t have any impact until the show is a week or two away. In some cases I’m sure that’s true, but in this instance I don’t believe it is. Most people have no idea who Fedor is or what Strikeforce is for that matter. In order to pique the casual viewer’s interest in him, they need to plant a seed with a compelling campaign and keep hitting them with it week in and week out, not a few 10-second spots with a picture and a bunch of 30-second clips of Fedor and Rogers knocking out Andrei Arlovski a week before the show.

But if the way CBS approached their Saturday Night Fights marketing with EliteXC is any indication, we probably shouldn’t expect much. Bloody Elbow pointed to this post on the UG made by EliteXC’s former marketing manager Patrick Freitas who shared his insight.

The promotional value the TV networks bring may be the MOST IMPORTANT factor in a promotion’s success. this is true whether we’re talking UFC & SpikeTV, Strikeforce & CBS/Sho, and the WEC & VS.

When i was the marketing manager at EliteXC it always troubled me that CBS (aside from the event that followed March Madness) did a bare minumum job of promoting the brand & events. EliteXC’s leadership was mostly to blame for its failure, but CBS also contributed by failing to actively promote the brand. and now it kinda looks like they’re giving Strikeforce the same red-headed stepchild treatment. its not enough just to broadcast the live event…it has to be heavily promoted to the viewers first, especially with the UFC’s monopoly standing in the sport. and 2-3 week out promos just dont cut it…Fedor v Rogers was announced a while ago, so there’s been ample time to kickstart the campaign to make it a huge success.

SpikeTV promotes the UFC at every break. CBS cant do the same volume, but – aside from a regular promo schedule – there should at least be more of a concerted effort to cross promote, especially with CBS’ sports, late night talk, and morning news programs. there’s also available program inventory on the weekends that could be used for a countdown show. and there’s also a complete lack of any viral campaign, which is inexcusable given the nature of the fanbase.

If you don’t agree, think about how early and often the UFC starts promoting their events. Ever watch a pay-per-view that didn’t have Mike Goldberg constantly plugging the next pay-per-view event and sometimes even the one after that? Is it possible to turn on Spike TV and not see some kind of promo for the UFC? I’m no marketing expert, but maybe the competing organizations and networks should start paying attention to what the market leader is doing and follow their lead. They’re highly successful for a reason.

That or maybe CBS just isn’t invested in this as much as we like to think they are.

Image via Esther Lin for Showtime

Update: Kelly Kahl informed MDS today that CBS will be ratcheting up their promotional efforts this weekend.

Fedor was featured in an ad during the NFL Today pregame show, and CBS executive Kelly Kahl told me we’ll see more such ads this weekend, both during NFL coverage and during Saturday’s huge college game between Florida and LSU. Kahl added that online videos promoting Fedor will be coming soon, and that a “who is Fedor” campaign will heat up as the fight gets closer.