Tuesday, June 03, 2008

CBS PrimeTime - EliteXC - Right direction?

I had a great Saturday night watching the MMA fights on CBS. Thanks CBS.
It was some of the best TV sports that I had watched since the SuperBowl (granted, I don't watch much sport). It was dramatic and had good human interest stories. But, the fighters were not a first rate card and the spectacle was a little ridiculous. While I like prime time exposure, it's only going to work if MMA is ready for prime time as more than spectable but as an organized interesting spectator sport.

1. The sport is plenty great. MMA is a cool interesting sport much more exciting to watch than boxing or judo or wrestling. It's first rate entertainment and as the public learns about, I think its growth will continue. I'd like to see some colleges adopt it as a sport. And the Olympics. And I don't want the sports promoters to wreck it up (more on that below).

2. The rules are good, could be refined. MMA has done itself a world of good by getting rid of eye gouging, finger grabbing, knees to the face and groin, and head butting. I think they could keep refining the rules to keep it exciting. Remember, basketball added the shot clock and the three point shot to keep it exciting. Soccer has changed the red card rule a few times to eliminate the roughness that use to make the games boring. To keep improving MMA, I would limit the time on the ground with an automatic stand-up restart after maybe 40 seconds. The ground game is exciting but too much of it isn't. Right now, it seems to be ref's opinion when to restart. And I'm not sure that a lot of ground and pound is going to help grow the sport.

3. The leagues and promoters, too confusing. It would be great if MMA got organized more like tennis or basketball or football with recognized championships and events and very standardized rules. The current situation with competing organizations and confusion does not help the sport's credibility or acceptance. Whats the difference between UFC, Pride, EliteXC, and all the other names with different rules and styles? I know that they are out there hustling but getting it organized and simple with recognized would be great.

4. Be a sport, not a circus. Ikagi on the Convocation of Martial Arts forum, said (paraphrased): This weekend, I got my first taste of MMA on primetime television. It made me stop and think about the direction MMA is going. EliteXC was filled with fireworks, entrance music, cheerleaders, and a bunch of other razzle dazzle. It reminded me of professional wrestling. Some fighters even seemed to be 'in character,' wearing different kinds of costumes (one guy had his shirt ripped off by hot chicks). Is this the right direction for MMA? Is the exposure worth it? ... Popularity breeds nonsense in the martial arts and no style is immune to it, even MMA. I just hope we can stall it off for a little while longer.

I noticed the same thing. And I agree that it had too much hype for my taste. I'd like to see MMA keep the focus on athletics and competition with some human interest but without the fabrication of characters and personalities by the promoters.

4. Focus on the best athletes. Let them be themselves, not cartoons. Men and women. The fighters Saturday night were not the greatest which is a shame. Even the top spot of the night was a pretty middling offering. For MMA to become a top sport, we need to focus on the best athletes, not just the most colorful and interesting ones. This struggle between hype and purity is a constant tension in sports. Colorful athletes are a gold mine for promoters which are generally good for the sport, except when they are overdone or miscued. For an example, look at the highly hyped and really pretty Anna Kournikova in professional tennis who unfortunately, never quite turned out to be a first rate player.

Saturday, as Ikagi pointed out, some of the athletes (and not the best ones) were "in character". But to their credit, the two women fighters (Gina Carano & Kaitlin Young) didn't pander at all. They were all business and simplicity. No silliness, no skimpy costumes, no over-the-top hype. I liked them. I also thought they both had to work on their ground game and that there were some ladies in my dojo that might be able to match up with them. But that's another story.

There is always some spectacle in sports: cheerleaders, football players running out thru a hoop, half time shows and other stuff. Stay tuned for the opening ceremony of the Olympics for example. But in some cases, the spectacle dominates. Professional wrestling is all spectacle, no sports. In boxing, there is the drama of the guys walking out and the comic relief of the ring girls.

In my dojo, at some of the big promotions (Black Belt Spectaculars), they do some special effects such as having glowing chucks done in the dark. They did one very effective MMA routine at the last show that started with everyone wearing white masks.

Personally, I tolerate the spectacle stuff but I don't think it does much for the sport and it mixes pretty uncomfortably with martial arts. And there are a lot of martial arts enthusiasts: that's the natural fan base to start with. Don't alienate us at the start.


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1 comment:

JohnE said...

From MMA forum

Kelly Kahl, Senior Executive Vice President for CBS Primetime television: “CBS-EliteXC Saturday Night Fights [got some criticism]...I thought some of it was fair. I think in some cases you have people out there who… basically, if it’s not UFC it’s not credible.

“We have a little work to do with the hardcore fans and that’s something we’ll certainly address next time. But I think in terms of getting new people in I think we did a fantastic job.”

“We had three goals going in. We wanted to get younger viewers to a sleepy Saturday night for CBS, especially men. We certainly did that. It shows that this sport definitely has a broader appeal. Secondly, we wanted to get some new advertisers in the house. We had some first class advertisers, guys that don’t normally come to CBS. And we wanted to help expand the footprint of MMA.

“Certainly there were some people that were tuning in that decided it wasn’t for them. I have to believe we got new people turning in for the first time and liked what they saw. We’ll be back, not just to CBS, but all the different outfits in the MMA world. So, in that sense, it’s a win-win.”

"If we can’t put a quality card together worthy of primetime, we don’t want to do that. We’re taking it essentially one fight at a time, and we learned some great things from this fight. We want to take all the feedback and do a super job on the next one.”

Kahl is quick to admit the MMA community is new to him. He tries to see the problem of pleasing everyone as a positive, but stresses that the unpredictability of the sport –particularly the controversial stoppages of the main events – is why you can’t please everyone. For a network executive, that’s a difficult thing to come to terms with.

“You don’t get a lot of controversial endings to football and basketball games,” he said. “The ball goes through the uprights or it doesn’t. In this case, you have a doctor coming in and stopping a fight, that’s an inexact science and ripe for questioning. So that’s a new experience as well. But overall I think the process was very exciting.”