TEXT OF INTERVIEW
LISA NAPOLI: The Wall Street Journal said this week that a pillar of Hollywood is going sports crazy. Talent giant CAA is expanding its roster of sports agents. Perhaps they’ll one day make a household name out of guys who play this growing phenomenon called mixed martial arts or ultimate fighting. It’s not for the faint of heart, like me. Business of Sports Commentator David Carter says it’s all about the blood. And the money.
DAVID CARTER: The sport’s really got ahold of itself. It’s refined its rules, it’s been better organized, and they really seem to have struck a chord with young male viewers, and they’ve done that at a time when cable television, especially the likes of Spike TV, are doing everything they possibly can to reach young men 18 to 34 with precision. And ultimate fighting and mixed martial arts does that. You sprinkle in the athleticism of these athletes, it’s really truly remarkable, and the atmosphere at the events and what you have is a sport today that’s taking off like gangbusters.
NAPOLI: Where do I see it? Mostly is it on Pay Per View? Can it work on broadcast TV?
CARTER: Well you see the big bouts on pay per view but you also see some of it on cable television and one of the issues that the sport has long-term is you have a lot of different organizations right now jockeying for position, jockeying for legitimacy. And I think what you’ll see, which is something that has not happened in boxing which has really harmed boxing, is you’ll need to see some sort of consolidation where people know, hey this is the real league, this is the premier mixed martial arts league.
NAPOLI: Even before I ask you about corporate support, can I just ask you, the violence of it, isn’t that a hard play on television? Is that why it has to be successful in pay per view rather than broadcast?
CARTER: Well I think that’s a great observation because I think, again, some people view this as politically incorrect, some people still view it as being too barbaric. And if you’re mixed martial arts right now and you see how your business is working on cable and pay per view maybe you don’t want to take on all the hassles and all the baggage that comes with trying to penetrate broadcast television in prime time. Now certainly you do need corporate support, you do need advertising support, and I think that those entities will come around.
NAPOLI: What kind of corporations would get behind this kind of thing?
CARTER: You take a look historically at boxing, we’ve seen companies, you know the brewers have been involved, Anheuser-Busch and others over the years, you’ve seen some of the old-school, old-guard companies, Schick and others way back in the day that supported boxing. But again I think it’s going to be difficult, but if shareholders really believe that this is a good fit, again at a time when corporations are having a very hard time, as are broadcast networks, reaching young men, they may really need to manufacture a way to get involved in the sport. So I think what you’re going to see is the sport move toward being able to be more inclusive of sponsors and advertisers, and advertisers and sponsors, more so their shareholders are going to say a€˜wait a minute, we really need to take a look at this sport because there might be something there for us.
NAPOLI: But the numbers are there, the critical mass is there for the sport, the corporations would want to jump behind it?
CARTER: Well I think they see the trend. I think they see the trend is quite positive at a time that again we think of fragmented television audiences. You see all kinds of sports on the TV dial all the time these days, but trying to find a sport that’s breaking through the clutter, this is certainly one of them.
NAPOLI: David Carter is Executive Director of the Sports Business Institute at USC among other things. In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli. Enjoy your day.
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