So you've watched every UFC, been a fan of Anderson Silva since before his days in Pride and Cage Rage, trained with a Gracie once, own some Affliction T's, met a few fighters in person, even have pics with Chuck and Rampage. You've been to a few local shows which you weren't that impressed with... and realized YOU could do it SO much better, because YOU know what people want and not to mention have been running your own business and have a little swag in your stride since you rock out with your c*ck out, in your current profession.Right? How do I know you ask? Is this guy a fucking psychic you ask?? Why no, I am not.. I know because that was me just year and a half ago, that's why.
The math is so EASY... (A) MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world....
(plus B) I know the game, I am a real fan so I know what works and what doesn't...
(Plus C) 1500 people are attending this local show, multiply that by 30 bucks a ticket.....
(Equals D) I'm RICH BEEYATCH!
Now before you go cashing in your 401k to fund your new found passion, take some time to do your research as there is no such thing as an easy thing, you can rest assured MMA promotions is as difficult, or more difficult than any. Much like fighting, you cannot do it as a hobby and expect to be able to compete at the highest level. It is something you have to be ready to invest time and energy into and still could be risking your kids college tuition if it goes south.
You can see it now can't you, you are the Dana White of your city which means everyone loves you, at your show you are the Rock-Star complete with groupiesand autograph askers alike, every gym you go into everyone stops class and claps and welcomes you in, you are automatically well respected amongst the fight fans and MMA community, you are the hero that has come to save the starving local MMA scene. You are so appreciated. It's a beautiful thing isn't it?
Reality time. Everything I wrote above is exactly how I felt when I began putting on MMA shows. However, I learned rather quickly that the fight game is nearly the opposite. It is a TOUGH, unforgiving, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, unappreciative and many times dirty business. If I weren't so passionate about the sport and obsessive with success, I would have quit after my first show from sheer disappointment alone.
Life is full of disappointments we all know that, so when life gives you lemons.... (I've sat here for ten minutes trying to think of something clever....and I got nothing for ya). Moving on.
The purpose of this post is not to be negative about your ambitions to be a fight promoter, but to give you a reality check, as all those dreamy little ideas come with heavy price tags covered in tons of sweat and elbow grease. If anything, I will at least prepare you for the obstacles that lie ahead, no matter who you are. In the past year or so I have watched many MMA promotions rise and fall, and when they fall, they fall REALLY hard. Not only are we talking the big shows like Elite XC, Affliction, and the IFL but many many small promotions I have seen bite it hard after only one show. HUGE mistakes can be made in the fight promotions business, and these mistakes can be very costly. When I say costly I mean 30k to Millions depending on the size of the show. Many times these mistakes are due to lack of research, other times it's ego, sometimes it is not even a mistake at all and they are simply dealt a bad hand and have no choice in the matter and things fail miserably.
For example one of the greatest cards in Mid-level promotional history was a recent Shine Fight's card which featured Ricardo Myorga vs Din Thomas. This thing had all the fixens of a hell of a show, including a super stacked card featuring Ninja Rua, Crazy Horse Bennett and many others. Two days before the show Don King steps in and threatens the show since Myorga is under contract with him. They call King's bluff, only to find that Don King is an expert in the fight business, and knows how to hit and hit hard. The show was cancelled on roughly 18 hours notice. Now put yourself in Shine's shoes, you have worked months, spent tons of money promoting and matching this card to have someone come in and pull the plug last minute. You may not understand what that means but basically, the hundreds of thousands in advertising gone, no refunds. The hundreds of thousand in fight purses, gone since law states you have to pay show purse if show is cancelled within a certain amount of days unless contracted otherwise. The tens of thousands spent on the venue rental, travel, production, bonds, licenses etc etc etc. GONE. Nothing you can do about it. Why? One could say that Shine didn't do the proper research, but up until a few days before the show, no one had an issue.
Or on a smaller level, there was a guy who came to Atlanta to put on a show, he offered huge purses and win bonuses. He spent tons on ring rental, lighting above the cage, venue cost, production out the wazoo... from a production stand point it really appeared to be a top notch show. The negative was, he had 6,000 seats set out to fill and 800 people showed up. Why? Ego. The guy cared more about looking good and being a promoter and giving himself a HUGE entrance and introduction at his show than he did about doing the fundamentals of what gets people there in the first place... MARKETING.
Not only did this guy not do much advertising, but he also got 90% of his fighters from only a couple gyms in other states, which means no one knew who they were and didn't really care if they win or lose. So if I am a fight fan, and I have never even heard of a fighter or even worse don't even know about a show, why would I come to it. Now when we did show up, there was one guy at the door looking for lanyards on peoples neck, or taking tickets... so people instead of buying, were going in as a group and then one guy would take ten lanyards outside and let ten people in for free. Big Oversight there!
The only reason I even showed up to this show myself was this promoter had told everyone he had presold 5,000 tickets with money in the bank on them, which I had to see for myself and shake the hand of a truly outstanding competitor.... needless to say there was disappointment. Simple mathematics would show that a show like that cost roughly 70k to put on, and 500 paid tickets at $30 each would suggest that this particular guy lost more than 50k in one night. He was actually hand cuffed on site, when he couldn't pay the police officers who were there for security. Yikes.
Another instance was a team who promoted at a college campus without doing the research, or listening to advice of those experienced in the business. This particular college was a suit case campus, meaning most people drove home on the weekend, leaving them very little people to attend the show when they put it on, on a Friday night.
One of my biggest fears is what if I put in all this money, all this time and effort into promoting a show and some strange tropical storm comes that keeps everyone in their house that night....it will eventually happen and all that time, money and effort... GONE.
Let's play a little Myth Buster's format... shall we ?
Myth #1- If you build it, they will come. So many people have this idea that MMA has become so popular that if you put a cage in a building with some guys who agree to fight, fans will just come out of the woodwork to see it, with little effort involved. That somehow through some secret people network word of mouth would spread so rampant that people would forget about Kings of Leon being in town, or the Bulldogs playing, or any one of the other Million things someone can do in a metro city, and come to my little MMA fight. Yes I was guilty of this daydream myself. Through trial and hellacious error I have learned that this myth is BUSTED.
Myth #2- MMA is the greatest sport in the world- OK, based on extensive research done, and lots of effort from myself by typing my opinion, this Myth is now labeled as CONFIRMED. It's my blog so piss-off all you boring sport fans who disagree. Where were we?
Myth #3- Promoting an MMA fight is Highly profitable. So we did the math earlier A+B+C=D (im rich beyatch) right? Riiiight. Getting 1500 people into a venue is extremely challenging in the first place. Unless your at a big bar where patrons frequent anyway, a place new to MMA or in a small town where they don't have many options, it is a huge challenge. It cost money to advertise to all these people to keep reminding them that a fight is happening. It cost money for the venue. It cost to pay the fighters, it cost to provide insurance, doctor, paramedic, rent a cage if you don't own, pay a crew if you do, production team, DJ, Camera crew, ring announcer, state officials, sanctioning fees, printing tickets, ticket service charges, tax... then when all that is finished here come all the add ons you didn't think of before, internet service, power for your DJ and crew, sanctioning %, extra chairs here, water for fighters there, rental truck to move cage, gas for that truck... this and that the list goes on. Long story short, making money is a challenge in any business, this is no exception and in most cases harder. One of my friends and mentors in this business rubs in the fact that he makes more promoting one music concert than I do in a year of MMA promotions. So to answer the myth...PLAUSIBLE....but like I said, that is the case with running most businesses, it's never easy. Don't expect profit on your first few shows though. Keepin it real, thats all.
To be a good local promoter you have to wear many hats, and is helpful to be good at a few areas such as....
- Matchmaking- If you do not know fighters in the area, you have to find someone who does. You can try calling around to gyms to find fighters, and looking at their styles to see what would match up best. But you would make your calls, only to find they don't know you and since 10 other promoters have failed or screwed them out of money or matched their guys up unfairly, they don't trust you. So now it's an uphill battle of building trust.
-Building Relationships- Don't bullshit people. They aren't idiots. If you can't come through, don't say you can. People like when you say NO, believe it or not. That means you have the balls to tell the truth even if it is not what they want to hear, and they will respect it even if they aren't happy with it. But if you say yes, yes, yes and then it comes time to come through and you don't, you start burning bridges and in this business word gets around. I know of a show recently cancelled because several gyms were fed up with a particular promoter's antics and wouldn't allow their fighters to fight for him and he couldn't find enough match ups for his show.
-Finding sponsors (Sales)- Sponsors play a big role in giving an event credibility and lowering costs and overhead of an event. This is a constant task of making calls and following leads to close the deal. This can be a full time job if you want it to pay off ...
-Dealing with Talent- This is a tough one, dealing with 20 or so cranky fighters who have starved themselves over the past few days to make weight can be quite a challenge. Then factor in this guy demanding extra things here, and a ticket for his cousin there.... or fighter's who don't like the way they look on the poster, or ones who won't fight anyone who is too challenging..
-Production- This is a big deal too. Just having people get in a cage and fight is only 50% of the show... there has to be music in the down times, lighting plays a big role in the show. Good production can carry the weight if the fights aren't living up to expectations. But if you have terrible production it can feel very boring and make the crowd antsy and unhappy with the experience, even if the fights are good.
-Marketing- "Advertise, Advertise, Advertise... and when you think you've done enough...Advertise more." Those words are repeated at every athletic commission meeting when a new promoter steps in and decides he wants to take a shot at the fight promotion business. And it couldn't be any truer. However, it is not how much you spend on advertising, it is where you spend your dollars. There has to be a strategy involved in getting your message to the RIGHT demographic, and that doesn't necessarily mean to EVERYBODY.
There are many others but these are just the main ones. Now to be a good big show promoter involves a whole different ball game.
To sum things up, be prepared. This is a challenging business. I have had lots of fun, met some wonderful friend's built some great relationships with great people, being in this business. MMA is my passion, I eat, breathe and sleep it. It comes with a price tag of lots of time and hard work to make a show successful. I have an outstanding team of people I have built over time, who help me make it a success and I am very grateful for their commitment and loyalty.
If I had to do it all over, I would have hired an expert in my field to help me get through the first few shows without losing as much hair and money, unfortunately there aren't many of those out there. If you are passionate about the sport or interested in bringing Mixed Martial Arts to your city but don't know where to start, or what to do.. my team and I are available to provide services in any area of MMA promotions and coordination to help you avoid common pitfalls and prepare for the challenges and get off to a better start in hosting your own event, or adding to an already existing event. Contact us on the "Contact " page.... go figure.
Hope this gives you some insight. See ya next week.