Super Fight League (SFL) is one of India's only homegrown mixed martial arts (MMA) promotions.
The first event was a huge success in terms of some entertaining fights and a very large amount of viewers (over 300,000) on the free YouTube stream, but those numbers took a steep dive for events two and three (which actually had better fights, competitors and production).
A lack of ticket sales and the fact that the third event had tickets given away for free almost exclusively had some fans wondering if the promotion was already starting to fizzle out.
Despite the production of a new reality television show, a fanpost surfaced that Super Fight League was on its last legs just a few days ago. The Super Fight League promoter, Ken Pavia, spoke with MMAmania.com to offer a counterargument and to discuss anything and everything in terms of the future of the SFL including viewership, sponsors, the reality show and much, much more.
Check it out
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Okay, let's start with the biggest things people were talking about, the events being removed from the website. How many events is the Super Fight League planning for the rest of 2012? Is it still going to be four or do you not have that figured out yet?
Ken Pavia: The reality show has put a different element to the fall schedule. We're trying to schedule our events around that. It was supposed to be in September but the broadcast partner wanted to air the finale for the reality show and logistically, the media didn't realize that it takes time not only to air the event after the show occurs but they'll need a couple weeks after the semifinals and that didn't make a lot of sense. That pushed back our event a couple weeks and we were looking at back-to-back weeks but that's not the best idea in terms of promotion. We're juggling our fall schedule to make sure we maximize exposure and create maximum interest worldwide. To answer your question, we're not sure yet. We're checking schedules, checking availability and coordinating with the reality show.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Do you still plan on streaming your events on YouTube now that you're starting to get some television and distribution deals?
Ken Pavia: Yes. The television deals we have right now are in India. We have some regional deals but we'll be putting it on YouTube to make it available in America. We're also available on delay in North America on regional cable and on The Fight Network. You'll find out when we announce the US deal for the first three events.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I want to talk about the SFL Challengers show that you're working on. It's already begun filming, correct?
Ken Pavia: Yes, it began filming two weeks ago, the second week in July.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What are your goals for the show? What's the interest like in India right now because it was such a big deal in the United States when the UFC had their Ultimate Fighter show?
Ken Pavia: Well actually our goal is more to humanize the sport a little bit and introduce the characters to an Indian audience. Right now, we've got a little bit of a "Bloodsport" stigma in that region and we're trying to make the fans realize that these are real people and this is a real sport. It's more of an educational opportunity and the humanization of it. We're trying to make it more of a sporting instead of a barbaric element. The background stories are so important. It's got a bit of a "Contender" twist and a "Big Brother" twist where we delve into their backgrounds and families and tell a deeper story.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How big of a hurdle has that been? I've seen that a lot of casual fans and regular Indian people believe that either MMA is fake or it's too violent.
Ken Pavia: I think it's more because it's so new in India. They didn't have a lot of exposure to traditional MMA. They just had exposure to martial arts and we're trying to educate, educate through exposure. When we bring international stars to India, they're not getting the same kind of recognition they would get here in the US or in Japan because we haven't been around for 10 or 15 years. We're starting at the ground level and our competitors are trying to teach that it's not about trying to kill your opponent, it's strategic like a chess match. Once we get past that, we'll revisit the large scale events.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of your biggest promotional tools in India has involved Bollywood. Is that something you still plan on tying in? What's the success been like for that?
Ken Pavia: Sure, that's exactly the type of promotion we need. American fans are more atypical but the reality of it is, in India, you need that fanbase. One of our mottos is "come for concert, stay for the fights." If we can draw the fans with the bigger Bollywood names and bigger Bollywood concerts, they can stay for the fights and actually enjoy them and the transition will come to the point where they come back. We still plan on bringing big names and holding concerts at the events. It's a big driving force.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Has there been any concern about a dropoff? The first event did extremely well in terms of viewership. You had over 300,000 people tuning in for the livestream of the event. The second event was not even close. Is there a concern that the novelty wore off?
Ken Pavia: I think our primary focus is the fans here in India and in India, we showed incremental growth with each event. We realized that the indoor events played much better and we realized how to properly market it, find out what Indian fans like and I think that once we establish our base which is the Indian fanbase, then we'll be a little more concerned about international viewership. We put a lot of money in the YouTube business to bring some attention to our events and give people an option to watch our fights if they so choose but really, the Indian fanbase is what we're working aggressively for right now. In our third show, 12,500 people showed up so that's a significant improvement.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of the reasons the third event was attended so well was that most of the tickets were given out for free, almost all of them. Is that something you guys are planning more in the future or are you trying to mix it up a bit in terms of ticket sales and free tickets?
Ken Pavia: Our business model is a little different than traditional North American promotions. We're sponsor driven and television driven and speaking with first hand knowledge, we filled multiple sponsorships than even Bellator here in the United States. That's something we can attribute to sponsors supporting the sport here in India. Sponsors want to see a full house and television wants to see a full house. Gates in India traditionally in other sports are not a driving force. You can fill a 40,000 seat arena for a cricket match and comparatively have a similar gate to a smaller event in North America. It's more important for us to make it look good for sponsors and make it look good for television. We distributed the tickets but we still sold the VIP seats which generate a little bit of a gate.
Our equity partners are a group in India and they own the newspapers so you had to the group paper and clip an add from one of our primary sponsors and take it to the box office. We incorporated our equity partner and our sponsor and then the community was taking the ads and that supported our revenue stream which was our sponsors which are significant actually.
The reason why the sponsors are so much bigger is because if you go to a company in America looking for a sponsor, there's football, basketball, ice hockey, tennis, golf and there are so many people pulling at the purse strings, there aren't a lot of opportunities. In India, there's basically cricket and nothing else. The number two sport in India is premier league soccer and that's not even based out of India. There was such a void of opportunities in India that the second a company came in with a big splash, we were able to attract those sponsorship dollars that aren't readily available.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You mentioned that you're finding out what Indian fans like and targeting that in promotion. What are you doing specifically to get the Indian people interested?
Ken Pavia: I think first and foremost, the reality show. The reality show will break down the sports to its most basic elements and prove that it's not just two guys getting in a street fight and trying to kill each other. There's more in play and things incorporated in the event. These are real people with real families and real problems like everybody else and they're sportsmen. The reality show, and ultimately having regularly events.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk about the TV deal in India for your events and for your Challengers reality show?
Ken Pavia: Well the first deal is for network television which is huge. I believe it's in 500 million homes. The reality show is on a different station. It has a lot of reality show programming and they know how to promote reality shows and they have a great track record in reality shows.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've mentioned that you want to make SFL profitable by the end of the year. How does that happen?
Ken Pavia: It basically comes down to compensating and increasing revenue. I think if the reality show gets going the way we're anticipating and we're able to tap into a wider sponsorship base. Right now we're happy with our current partners but we're looking to increase that and expand to other categories. I think we'll be successful with that with the reality show. It's trial and error and a learning process and we're finding a model that actually works for us. Ultimately, international distribution.
We're in talks with some distribution companies that can open doors to territories we're currently not in and if we can keep a tight handle on the costs, it's foreseeable that we can turn profit in year one with significantly less than what it took for the UFC to turn a profit. There are very few companies worldwide that can say that they turned a profit in MMA. UFC is small group of companies that were able to have a sustainable model. There are only like 3-4 total that actually make money and there are countless that spent millions and millions of dollars and never saw that. I feel lucky to be in that category that not only is sustainable but can turn a profit.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of the UFC, is there any concern that they announced they're coming to India soon and they're planning a TUF India. How does that affect you guys?
Ken Pavia: Don King once said, "Counting other men's money is a lethal disease" and I can only really control what is in front of me. My concern is what we do in the SFL. We sign the best Indians and I believe that competition makes you perform better. Competition will defeat complacency. It makes you think outside the box and reinvent yourself constantly. I can't be concerned with what their model is because I'm concerned about what our model is and I'm making sure that we have the best athletes we can. To answer your question, I'm not really concerned about what they're doing. As a matter of fact, I'm contently striving to just make a better SFL.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): My last question is more concerning United States fans. There's actually been a pretty good response to the trailers for the reality TV show. How are they going to be able to watch the reality show when it comes out?
Ken Pavia: We'll stream the events starting August 5th on YouTube. That's actually an exclusive because we haven't announced that so you're welcome to promote that. August 5th, our events will be available and they'll be hybrid Indian/English, subtitled much like TUF Brazil was. I think, what I didn't realize, was the level of production that the Indians in Bollywood produces. it's like Hollywood and you'll see that type of production in terms of creativity and camerawork coming from the reality show. It's shot in HD and it will be a fresh take on everything. The Ultimate Fighter was beginning to get tired. I feel like it's the same story over and over again and they need to do something different. I feel we've done that. We've made our reality show different. It's a blend of many ideas, many reality shows and it's a nice leap forward.
Ken would like to thank the guys in India that are committed to the project. You can follow him on twitter @KenPavia.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Did Pavia answer any questions or concerns you had about the Super Fight League's future? What's your take on everything you heard today?