By Steven Muehlhausen
In the United States, the two main combat sports are mixed martial arts and boxing. You can put the order in anyway as boxing is on the upswing with huge fights like Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao on May 2 and the return to network television with Premier Boxing Champions. MMA has had a great year as the UFC has stated that the first quarter of 2015 is the largest in the history of the company and Bellator has been growing by leaps and bounds with Scott Coker now at the helm. A combat sport though that hasn’t caught on yet in this country is kickboxing. Glory World Series is trying to bring kickboxing to the masses in the United States and they continue that journey with GLORY 20 taking place tonight from Dubai. You can watch the show at 10 p.m. ET on Spike TV.
Glory started on Spike in October of 2013 and ratings have ranged from an average of 381,000 to 659,000 viewers, with their second highest viewing was the last show they did in February which did 542,000 viewers. In June of 2014, the company tried to branch out to pay-per-view and it didn’t prove to be a success as the show only did an estimated 6,000 buys. The higher-ups at Glory admitted it was a little too soon to branching out to that area and need to build the product to give people a reason to fork out money to purchase the product.
“I think you have to wait until you have the right story,” GLORY CEO Jon Franklin told Sporting News. “I was not CEO of the company then. My opinion at the time was probably not the one everybody wanted to hear. To sell PPV’s, you need a big story, big names and you need to be pretty well established. If you look at the combat sports world, its littered with companies that started and tried to jump right into PPV. There has to be sort of a magical combination of forces for PPV to work. You can spend all the money in the world advertising for PPV, but if content and the characters aren’t compelling to the public they won’t buy it.
“Conversely, you spend nothing promoting a show if you got the right mix of combat sports participants such as Mayweather and Pacquiao coming up. They don’t have to do anything and the world just knows it. The story is already built. Its authentic and its real. You got characters that transcend boxing and are international sports celebrities duking it out. Whether Glory was ready for a PPV was questionable at the time. The format of Glory is super exciting with the one night tournament and you can say there’s a compelling story there. But you still need recognizable names for people to take out there wallets, spend the money and want to buy the PPV’s.”
Promoting kickboxing has been a hard task in the U.S. International Sport Kickboxing Association (ISKA) sanctioned and regulated 12 seasons of professional kickboxing aired on ESPN from 1986-1998. Ratings were never that strong and failed to catch on to the masses. Franklin feels that Glory has the formula to get people to watch in this country.
“I think 15 years ago, people said the same thing about the UFC,” Franklin said. “How do you bring this to the public and get it accepted? I think times change as well as sports and the appetite of the public changes also. So kickboxing in the 80’s was on ESPN. At the time you had Jean Claude Van Damme, American Kickboxer and American Ninja. There was some traction , but on the grand stage, people weren’t buying tickets. There wasn’t a great promotion traveling around the country. You didn’t have the penetration of social media and television. Its sort of the new school, new millennium media that you have now.
“Nothing is easy, but you can get it out to the public. Once people see it, they love it. I think the success of the UFC and it took them awhile. Maybe Lorenzo (Fertitta) and Dana White did forsee the success they were going to have, but I think certainly people were skeptical of that at the time. It was too violent, American’s wouldn’t embrace it, sponsors wouldn’t stick with you and TV networks wouldn’t show it. People will accept and embrace it. I think that kickboxing now the way its setup without the long, baggy pants and with no clinching. The rules that we have now can be embraced by only the American public.
“When you watch a UFC match and with the last Jon Jones fight. The standup and throwing punches, people got so crazy. That’s when they cheer. When your punching and kicking, people love it. When there on the ground and there’s not so much action, that’s when you get people that are booing it and aren’t excited about it. So Glory has all these aspects that excite people. Is the world ready for kickboxing? It could be the time. Is kickboxing ready for the world? I think yes, kickboxing is. Its the right sport for the right time.
2015 has already been good for Glory with a successful first event and look to build that momentum for tonight’s show and moving forward this year. Franklin feels it can be a great year for the company to grow to where they should be.
“I think in 2015 we will continue on a path of bringing the best kickboxers in the world to an international stage,” Franklin said. “Obviously we had some pits and starts in 2014 and some stops and go’s. 2015 is important to us to have a consistent schedule. Being on Friday night’s on Spike is great. They can see Glory on Friday nights, see the knockout action and the best kickboxing in the world. And continue to bring the sport to more eyeballs and grow in the United States. To build some bigger stars is important and personally I want to see some American breakout stars for Glory.
“We’ve got an All-American heavyweight tournament in San Diego on May 8. Would like to see some of these Americans challenge Ricco Belhaven, Gokhan Saki and other guys that have been the top, dominant players in Glory the last few years in kickboxing and see Americans take it to the top.”