When the first rumblings of GLORY landing on ESPN came across my desk a few weeks ago it seemed improbable. As the weeks leading to GLORY 25 withered away the talk started to clarify and it appeared that all of the viable options had been ruled out, leaving ESPN as the winner in the lottery to help save kickboxing in the United States. Even now it feels a bit surreal. The UFC has been running twitter campaigns for years to try to get replays shown on ESPN SportsCenter, many call ESPN the "kingmaker" in sports, the network that could make or break a sport just by paying attention to it.
That's why kickboxing, the fledgling little sport that it is felt so distant from that world. ESPN is no stranger to kickboxing, airing it throughout its infancy, first airing PKA kickboxing from a stretch of 1979 until 1986 when PKA moved on to other networks. ESPN also aired some K-1 from time to time, but there wasn't a concrete broadcast deal in place, the footage simply jammed in at random times at night on the weekends without much warning. There wasn't anything tangible to follow.
ESPN is taking another chance on kickboxing with GLORY 25, albeit a much more calculated risk this time around. GLORY 25 will air on ESPN's ESPN3 platform live at 4pm Eastern on Friday. ESPN3 is ESPN's web based platform where they get a bit more experimental. On there you'll find traditional sports as well as some of the less traditional stuff like World of Warcraft and StarCraft II. If GLORY 25 was airing on there alone it wouldn't feel too great. Instead, they'll be re-airing GLORY 25 early Saturday morning in the east coast at 1:30am Eastern. That is not the greatest time slot in the world, but it will be following their late night SportsCenter.
The future is not as certain. When this deal was described to me over the past few days there was never a feeling that it was "one and done," that this would be a new television partner for GLORY in the United States. Stets spoke to ESPN this afternoon and for right now the plan is to air GLORY 25, look at the results and move on from there.
An eventual, live spot for events taking place in the United States on ESPN2 would be considered a pretty big win for GLORY, but considering how late of notice this whole thing was this deal should be considered a success no matter what.
UPDATE: The MMA community seem to be a bit confused by this deal. We've gotten confirmation from multiple sources inside of the company that this was not a time buy. This was a good faith effort deal on the part of both sides done on very short notice. ESPN and GLORY are currently negotiating a longer term deal at the moment. Is this a "one time" deal for GLORY 25? Yes. Does that mean that this is the end of their dealings? Not by a long shot.
If anything, GLORY and ESPN hustled to ensure that American fans would have a way to watch GLORY 25. Not only that, but they are airing it live on their web platform and on tape delay for those without access to said platform.