Kickboxing is a frustrating sport sometimes. There, I said it.
Kickboxing has been struggling to find its identity over the past few years. That might seem like a bit of an ominous statement, but when you look at how many different organizations we’ve seen in different mediums, how many star Kickboxers we’ve seen retire or rise to prominence, or how many we’ve seen languish in smaller promotions you’ll see what I’m talking about. Right now is an interesting transition period for the sport of Kickboxing and a vital time for the sport where it could either grow to be huge or it could fail and return to obscurity. How that product gets to the fans is probably the most vital part of the sport right now, even more important than the quality of the fights themselves.
The landscape right now is like this; GLORY airs on Spike TV in the United States and then has various, smaller television deals throughout Europe and Asia. K-1 is currently attempting to negotiate television deals while providing free streams via their website. SuperKombat airs on EuroSport and a few smaller networks in different spots in the world. Enfusion is in a similar spot to SuperKombat. Then there are various, regional Kickboxing events that get solid coverage locally but not much anywhere else.
Like I’ve been saying, it’s a very strange and fragmented sport for the time being. There are talks of GLORY considering moving some select, bigger events to PPV here in the United States, starting with GLORY 17. It would probably be in the vein of the UFC model, where the prelims would be on Spike TV and the main card on PPV, which is fine, the only issue is that PPV as a medium is a dying one. The concept of Pay-Per-View in the United States began in the 50’s but came to prominence in the 70’s and 80’s when Boxing took a shine to the concept of selling live broadcasts of big fights through cable systems.
By the time that PPV networks started popping up in the 80’s and 90’s it became a new way to deliver live content into homes with minimal effort while reaping insane benefits. Boxing, Professional Wrestling and later on, MMA became staples in the PPV world. Movies were still the main source of income for PPV, but these special events helped to make PPV a success. The thing is, the landscape in 2014 has changed, drastically, to the point where paying $40-$70 to watch one event for three hours no longer appeals to a world that is connected via the internet with everything at the user’s fingertips.
Where most Kickboxing promotions overlap is their use of internet PPVs. Internet PPVs are fine and serve their purpose, but instill very little consumer confidence due to varying quality, buffering times/delays as well as being forced to watch an event on a computer as opposed to in a living room, on the couch, on a television. There will always be hardcore fans who just want to watch the stuff no matter what time or method of delivery, but nobody likes internet PPVs.
The question that I’m posing now is this; where do we go from here? The best method of reaching the world with your product and making the most money seems to be to get a solid television deal that pays good money. The thing is with Kickboxing, that doesn’t really exist right now, especially while the market is attempting to grow. GLORY is in the strongest position right now, but you’d be surprised to hear about how GLORY and Spike TV interact or the kind of money that comes in from airing on Spike TV. In a way, it makes sense, because the GLORY brand is not super established and is still endearing itself -- as well as the sport as a whole -- to fans who are not as familiar with it as they should be.
What I’m trying to say here is that if GLORY, the world leader for the sport, is having issues with securing a huge television deal with a supportive (note the word supportive) television partner, where does that leave the rest of the sport? This week Enfusion’s new website (http://www.enfusionlive.com/) went live in the United States (it launched last week in Europe) and while it is still far from perfect, the EnfusionLIVE site shows a certain level of forward thinking that we’ve yet to see from the Kickboxing world. The new Enfusion site is a 24/7 streaming network that shows a steady stream of Enfusion events from their library of events. This means EnfusionLIVE events, Fighting Rookies events and Enfusion Reality shows.
Like I said, it’s not perfect yet. There is no schedule available on the site (they have been posting a channel guide on their Facebook daily, for what that is worth), there is no app available on multiple platforms so you can watch it on a television and there is no VOD library. That being said, it does remind me a bit of the recently-launched WWE Network. The WWE Network is an incredibly-forward thinking product by WWE that includes a 24/7 network, a VOD library and is available on just about every kind of set-top box and game console known to man right now. It also costs $10 a month and includes live PPV events which in the past cost between $40-$70. The idea behind the WWE Network is that PPV buys have declined over the past few years, but piracy of streams on the internet is sky high, so why not offer a Netflix-like product for cheap and aim for over a million subscribers and make the same, if not more money than with the PPV model?
Granted, it wasn’t WWE’s original plan. Their original plan was to host a cable network of their own that would house all of their programming, much like HBO. It’s unclear if it would also include an HBO Go-like product like we see now, but whatever the case, WWE fans won in the end with the WWE Network. UFC quickly followed suit with Fight Pass, although Fight Pass offers a bit less and has been a lot more poorly-received by critics. What is clear from this is that the sports and entertainment worlds are seeing that there are people who are willing to pay a small sum to access products via unconventional means and that these unconventional means could become the standard in just a short time. It could also be incredibly profitable.
For now television is still king, but when it comes to innovation within the Kickboxing space, Enfusion took the first step, which provides them a rather unique position within the crowded marketplace. Both GLORY and K-1 have good-sized fight libraries but as of right now K-1 has nothing available for the public and GLORY has a rather pricy subscription service to access their VOD library. I’m not sure that anyone is knocking down doors to pay $30 a month to access old It’s Showtime events.
The sport of Kickboxing always seems to be a step behind, but in this case, it feels like Enfusion is thinking for the now, which is something that the big names should be taking a look at. The internet’s reach right now is just about everywhere, so why not take full advantage of it to promote your events and fighters? As I’ve been saying, television will always be king, but as technology advances so should sports and the way that they reach their fans. Fans in the US who have been unable to view Enfusion events in the past now have the ability to watch whatever Enfusion is pumping to them and will probably gain a few new fans where there were no fans. To me, that feels like progress.