The Future of Watching Sports

I often complain about how the UFC is run.  Such a beautiful sport, being hamstrung by such short-sighted business practices.  Pay-per-view?  Really?  In 2018?  Silliness.

What I’ll suggest here is with the UFC in mind but elements of it could easily apply to other sports.  First and foremost, ditch the pay-per-view format.  It’s seriously limiting the accessibility of your sport.  You know why soccer is so popular?  Because it’s played around the world by people who need nothing more than people who want to play and a round thing to kick.  The more accessible you make it to the people, the more people will find it fall in love with it.  And no, that doesn’t mean Spike TV, Fox Sports, or ESPN.  In 2018, it means streaming online.

Make it free on UFC.com.  That’s it.  No pay wall, no membership fee, no mailing lists… just free.  Between prospecting, analysis, press conferences, the Contender series, fight nights, and PPVs, you have a ton of content.  Stop trying to shoehorn that content into the platforms that everyone is quickly moving away from.  Stop paying a cut of your profits to these major providers, thinking that they’ll produce fans for you.  Just put it online and watch the magic.

The first benefit of streaming it directly from UFC.com is that you no longer have to worry about people pirating your content.  Why would you go to a sketchy site with a questionable connection to watch the fight when you could watch it in full HD from the source, UFC.com?

The second benefit would be not having to pay a cut of revenue to whoever would normally be hosting your content.  No more PPV cuts.  No more Fox Sports cuts.  All of that revenue would be redirected to the UFC.  Sure you’d have to pay to build and maintain the tech infrastructure that would allow you to handle that level of inbound traffic… but I’m fairly confident that’s a fraction of what they’re already paying out.

A third major benefit would be accessibility.  Not everyone has cable.  Not everyone can afford PPV fights.  Not everyone wants to sign up for a subscription to Fight Pass.  But just about every one has access to the internet.  Make it easy for the world to watch big fights.  Make it easy for bars around the world to play fight reels from the library.  Make it easy for people to huddle around a smart phone in the middle of nowhere to catch a big fight.  Etc.  Etc.

A fourth benefit would be full control over the production and experience.  You could start to integrate cool features like choose your own camera angle.  Imagine having the fight up on the big screen, while having Joe Rogan and DC screaming at each other on your tablet, while having live fight stats on your phone.  Or having all 3 judges’ perspectives available.  Or being able to rewind or access replays when you want them.  All of that starts to open up when you control the production from capture to delivery.

I would go so far as to say make their entire library of content available for free.  You could make pre-fight playlists which would get people far more excited for a fight than the dis-genuine hype reels they make these days.  And you could release them a week before for those who want to get themselves hyped up.  By having all this content for free, it would drive *so* much traffic to their site.  Imagine what that would do for the brand as well as the fighters.

If you made the content that much more accessible, you would have that many more people who would love to know more.  That would be a tremendous platform for the fighters to get their story out there and promote the things they care about.  It would also be a great source of revenue.  Fighters could share the supplements they’re using or the gear they’re training in, and that could easily drive sponsorship dollars or a revenue share with the website if UFC.com carried those products.  Cause… why not?

But you still need a primary revenue stream and I think the low hanging fruit is ad revenue.  For use of the fight library, you run something similar to YouTube ads.  For the bigger events, you run something similar to the Super Bowl.  At all times, you ensure that the advertisements are of high quality, relevant, and limited in number.  If you can use some targeting, make the ads directly relevant to the person watching.  You could do that all around the world.  I think they’d break the mold with this.

The UFC could reshape the way we follow and watch sports with something like this… but I’m not so optimistic this is the kinda stuff they care about.  Oh well..

 

Solution to the UFC’s Injury Problem

Last week, I was all pumped up about seeing Max Holloway Vs. Brian Ortega.  Earlier in the week, it looked like Holloway was dealing with some pretty severe concussion symptoms and was pulled from the fight.  Dana White tried to get Ortega to fight Jeremy Stephens for an interim belt but it was too last minute for Ortega so the fight was called off.

How many times have we seen a title fight cancelled in the final stretch because of an injury, or a bad weight cut, or doping.. or whatever.  I think it’s time to recognize that this is the kind of a sport where you put your body through so much during your fight prep, that just making it to the cage requires a bit of luck.  And when a fighter has to bow out, their opponent and fans suffer too.  The fans miss out on the biggest fight of the night while the fighter who did make it through is left without an opponent.

Over the last few years, Dana White has managed to save a few of these events by pulling up contenders from the under-card (Joe Soto) or a future card (Al Iaquinta).  It’s all very last-minute though, and the original fighter doesn’t always accept that fight.  In the case of Chad Mendes as a last minute replacement for Connor McGregor, Chad Mendes showed that he really could’ve used a full training camp.  There’s gotta be a better way.

Here’s my suggestion:

Every card with a title fight, will also have the number 1 contender’s match for that same weight-class.  For example, if Max Holloway and Brian Ortega are scheduled to fight for the 145lb belt, at UFC 226, you would have a fight like Jose Aldo Vs. Jeremy Stephens on that same card.  If Max Holloway isn’t able to fight that night, the higher ranked of Jose Also Vs. Jeremy Stephens is automatically granted that title shot.  In the upcoming fight between Daniel Cormier and Brock Lesnar, you would also have Stipe Miocic Vs. Derrick Lewis on that same card.

This is only half of the solution though.  We’ve seen situations where a title challenger drops out and the title holder won’t take the fight because they had been training for a different opponent.  Or the title challenger won’t take a new opponent for fear of losing their title shot.  Moving forward, these wouldn’t be options.  When you sign on the dotted line to fight for the belt, you would also be signing to accept a last minute substitution from the number 1 contender’s match.  If the title challenger is the one who drops out of the fight, the higher ranked of the contenders steps in and it’s still a title fight.  If it’s the champion who drops out, the higher ranked of the contenders steps in against the title challenger for an interim-belt.  That interim belt guarantees the winner of that fight the next title shot.

With this approach, 3 of those 4 fighters would have to drop out prior to the fight to undermine the main-event slot.  You’d also end up with some crazy last minute match-ups with qualified contenders leading to some very cool fights.  If you wanted to take this a step further, you could have a couple top prospects from that same weight class on the under-card as well.  This way, if a top contender loses their opponent to a title shot, a top prospect could move into that slot.  How many times have we seen something special with someone like a Lando Vanata steps up against someone like Tony Ferguson?  And if someone was left without an opponent through this approach, give them their ‘show” money and book them back in as soon as possible.

You can thank me later Dana ^^

Mindset of a Champion

I’ve been a big fan of mixed martial arts for a very long time.  I even had a brief career as an amateur fighter.  I credit so much of what I’ve learned about life to what I’ve learned in the gym.  Including the mindset of a champion.

Before I pat myself on the back too much, it’s important to concede that I was never a champion-caliber fighter.  I did well on the local scene, won a few tournaments and probably could’ve gone pro, but I knew that wasn’t my path.  When I refer to the mindset of a champion, I’m referring to a mindset that can be learned in or out of the cage, and applies to champions of any walk of life.

I was watching the fights last night and I was reminded of this dynamic again in the rematch between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Thug Rose.  In the first fight, Joanna thought she was unstoppable.  She thought that she was the boogy-woman, someone who was so far above her peers that she could not be beat, and that she was destined to retire undefeated.  Then you had Rose, who had losses, been through a tremendous amount of adversity (personally and professionally), and had found her calm within that storm.  In their first match, Joanna did what she could to get in the head of Rose, but Rose stared right through her – reciting the lord’s prayer no less.  That fight ended up in a first round knock-out for Rose

(Thug Rose! Thug Rose! Thug Rose!)

When she gave her post-fight interview, I instantly became a big fan.  It’s one thing to throw bombs in the cage, it’s another to do it with the presence of mind of being a good human being.  In the age of inactive fighters throwing dollies through bus windows, Thug Rose shines bright.

Leading up to the rematch, I was very curious how things would play out.  Joanna was one of the most accomplished and dangerous strikers in her class.  She also had incredible takedown defense.  If she was able to make adjustments for the second fight, and not get knocked out in the first round, things could play out differently.  In the fight game, anyone can get clipped, anyone can get caught.  If you run the same fight back 10 times, you’ll get 10 different results.  Predicting how fights play out is something that I’ve done for a long time and I’m not half bad at it.  While there’s a lot to consider in making those predictions, few are more important than state of mind.

After Joanna lost the belt, her reality had fractured.  Before that fight, she had an *absolute belief* that she was the best in the world and that she could not be beat.  It was this supreme level of confidence that helped her get into the head of her opponents as well as helping her perform as well as she did in the cage.  But after that fight, where she had been viciously knocked out, she had to find a way to reconcile these two opposing realities.  One in which she was unstoppable and would never lose, and one in which she had been defeated, by knockout, and where she was no longer the champion.  I find that how we face these hard truths largely determine what we’re able to learn from them and what we learn from them largely determines how we grow as individuals.

Coming into the rematch, Joanna kept saying that she was still number 1, that she was a dominant champion for a reason, that it was a bad weight cut which left her susceptible to the knockout, that she needed to replace her nutritionist, and that it was a fluke KO.  She had a choice of embracing a new reality in which she was no longer champion and had been beat by a fighter who was better that night, or rationalizing why she could remain in her own reality where she was still the best.  One reality provides the raw materials for an exceptional moment of growth while the other provides the comfort of not needing to change.  One is the mindset of the champion and one is the mindset of someone who has peaked.  Rhona Rousey might know a thing or two about this.

This is one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of Thug Rose.  Coming off that win, coming off becoming a 25 year old champion in one of the world’s most unforgiving activities, she was just as humble, aware, and open-minded as ever.  She entered into this fight with the mindset of a champion, who was competing for a belt she didn’t yet have.  Some might say, ‘but she was the champion’.  Well, what is a champion?  Someone with a decorative belt?  That’s just hardware.  The best?  Anyone can be beaten on any given night.  The one who everyone perceives as being the best?  Public opinion is fickle.

So what is a champion, and what exactly is the mindset of a champion?

A champion is someone who has been given the title of champion.  No more, no less.   It’s borderline arbitrary.  What’s meaningful is the path it took for the person to get there and earn that distinction.  Rhonda Rousey earned her first championship belt without a fight.  Khabib Nurmagomedov earned his first championship belt after a career of being undefeated, multiple injuries, and 5 opponent changes in 7 days.  It’s about the people.. it’s about the journey.

If a champion is someone who’s been given the title of champion, and it makes more sense to focus on the people and journey, then it’s really the mindset of a champion that deserves our attention.  There’s a dynamic here which cannot be overlooked and it’s a dynamic of confidence.  A fighter who isn’t confident in their abilities will be hesitant, and it’s those split second differences that separate the good from the best.  It’s why so many fights are won and lost in the minds of fighters before they even enter the cage.  If a confident fighter has a distinct advantage over a fighter who isn’t confidence, it starts to make sense why so many championship caliber fighters think they’re god’s gift to MMA.  It’s almost like a trick you play on your own mind, saying that you’re the best before you ever knew you were.  But then you win, and you win again, and for the 0.0001% who become a UFC champion, you’ve almost validated the lie you’ve been telling yourself for years.  And then that lie becomes your reality.  And then your reality becomes fragile.

My question is why does one have to draw confidence from a lie, when the truth is that much more powerful?  Why would you tell yourself that you’re undeniably the best when you could look at your competition and let them inspire you to be even better?  Why would you think that you’re incapable of losing, when a loss would give you more to learn from than any win?  And so I would suggest that there is a difference between someone who is a champion, and someone who has the mindset of a champion.

A fighter like Rhonda Rousey had the skills and confidence to be a dominant champion for many years, but lacked the mindset of a champion to overcome her losses.  Reconciling a lifetime of thinking she was unbeatable with being brutally knocked out in back to back fights was enough to break her.  She lacked the skills necessary to use those losses to evolve, and instead retired into another fantasy, the WWE.  At least she can be a champion there right?  Then you have fighters like Demetrious Johnson, or George St. Pierre, or countless others who have let their losses inspire greatness from within.

Realizing your place within the universe, being able to understand your situation for what it is (and what it isn’t) has to be one of the most important important qualities any person can have.  It requires a tremendous amount of courage at times, to see yourself or the world as it is, especially when you see something you’d rather not see.  But when given the choice to ignore it, rationalize around it, or rise above it, the choice should be clear.  If you can back that up with the skills to pay the bills… that’s a real champion.