This isn’t the first or last time you’ll read an opinion piece second guessing the lack of promotion for EliteXC’s next CBS broadcast on Oct. 4. So let me join the club and express my bewilderment over the lack of marketing for a show will no doubt be the most pivotal in ProElite’s brief history.
We all know by now the situation ProElite is in. A quick read of their recent SEC filing makes it clear that they currently do not have enough funding to make it into 2009. Maybe they’ll get it and maybe they won’t. But it’s going to be very hard to make the case that investors should take a chance on a promotional company in a space where competitors are fading into oblivion if they don’t draw a strong rating on Oct. 4.
We also know that EliteXC has had to make significant cutbacks, most notably their marketing budget. I don’t know if the Kimbo Slice billboard near the UFC offices in Las Vegas is still being displayed, but I think odds are that it’s come down. So if we question their lack of marketing push thus far for Oct. 4, we have to be realistic; we aren’t going to see billboards in Times Square or a major ad blitz on the Howard Stern show. The money for that kind of viral promotion simply isn’t there.
But there is such a thing as guerrilla marketing. It’s relatively inexpensive to work the press and do interviews on television, radio, and on the Internet. A few days after announcing that Randy Couture would fight Brock Lesnar at UFC 91 on Nov. 15 the two were shuttled off to Bristol, Conn. to do PR work with ESPN. After EliteXC made it official that Ken Shamrock would be Slice’s opponent, there was so little fanfare that the company didn’t even so much as host a conference call with the two.
Yes, we can all be rest assured there will be conference calls when we get even closer to the event. But it’s interesting to see how the UFC is trying to strike while the iron is hot and promote a main event between Couture and Lesnar less than three months before it’s set to take place during the week of its UFC 88 PPV this Saturday, while EliteXC lays in the weeds in anticipation of making a late push. Wouldn’t it have made a lot of sense the day after the press release was sent to give members of the media access to both Kimbo and Ken in order to fuel content in newspapers and on websites? FiveOuncesOfPain.com was one of several outlets to speak with Shamrock last week, but we booked the interview though Shamrock’s PR people, not ProElite.
The blame shouldn’t fall solely on the shoulders of EliteXC. I’m not a big CBS viewer, but I’ve yet to see any commercials for Oct. 4. I also listen to a lot of CBS-owned radio stations and have yet to hear a single promo. It behooves CBS to promote its own programming and they will have a golden opportunity this weekend when the NFL begins its 2008 regular season. It will be interesting to see whether the TV graphics with live reads during the games will be used to promote the return of Jennifer Love Hewitt in the “Ghost Whisperer” or the return of Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano during “Saturday Night Fights” on Oct. 4. How weird would it be to watch Gus Johnson call an entire game this weekend without one promo spot for SNF? If CBS isn’t willing to even commit in-house resources to promoting the event during its NFL telecasts, it will be time to sound the alarms.
Another question that has come to mind is where is Kimbo Slice? Leading up to the May 31 event, Kimbo did so much media that a case could be made that it might have had an adverse effect on his preparation for the James Thompson fight. It was obvious after the fight that he’d have to be handled differently in the future. However, it seems like there has been a polar shift in philosophy. Instead of too much media, he has done almost none to promote this fight. I’m sure Kimbo is going to get out there when his training starts to taper off, but there’s no better time than now.
Of course we’re going to hear more from EliteXC and CBS in the weeks to come. They haven’t even begun to scratch the surface with promotion. But today is Sept. 4 and we’re just 30 days out. What is everyone waiting for and where is the urgency? I’ve spoken to two sources in the industry that indicated the report that appeared in the New York Post last week is true; CBS has indeed had recent talks with the UFC. No one will admit it publicly (at this point) but CBS is looking at other options.
Perhaps CBS has realized that ownership doesn’t always have its privileges. If CBS wants MMA programming, ratings are going to have to be the number one priority as opposed to ownership because it doesn’t matter how inexpensively you can buy shares of your own programming if it isn’t able to outdraw re-runs of “The Unit.”
Talks between everyone take place all the time so whether EliteXC should be alarmed remains to be seen. But if the rating isn’t strong on Oct. 4, it could be the last we see of promotion on national television and the loss of CBS as a major media partner would most likely be the death knell for a company trying to recover from multiple shots to the liver. Based on everyone I’ve spoken to, Oct. 4 will be Custer’s last stand, but you wouldn’t know it by the lack of promotion for the card.
The lack of promotion could be attributed in large part to the fact that the main event for Oct. 4 wasn’t finalized until early last week. When you wait until six weeks before your show to announce the main event, it makes it very difficult to market it. Promotional materials such as television and radio commercials, billboards, magazine ads, and press tours take time to organize and produce. All those materials are items that can’t be produced overnight. However, being late to the party has been a repeated mistake that ProElite has yet to correct and to this day I’ve never understood why the UFC is usually able to finalize the vast majority of their cards 10-12 weeks before an event while it usually takes EliteXC 4-6 weeks.
To be honest, I was taken a back when Shamrock revealed to me in an interview last week that he had only found out about the fight a week before it was finalized. Maybe EliteXC had been talking to Ken Shamrock’s management weeks before and Shamrock’s management waited to tell him. Or maybe EliteXC actually did wait until seven weeks before the show to submit a formal proposal to Shamrock’s camp. And if that’s the case, again, I am confused. EliteXC announced on July 26 that Kimbo would be returning on Oct. 4, yet it took them until over a month later to secure an opponent?
We all know that on Oct. 4 that CBS and EliteXC will be throwing a party. The question is: how many people will show up?