The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Who Killed It?

It’s amazing the number of people who don’t get what went down with Affliction. Here’s the facts of the matter to the best of my understanding, based on what Dave Meltzer and others have reported in various media:

– Affliction’s first attempts to get out of the promoting game came shortly after their first show when they realized that the 300,000 buys they projected and budgeted for was completely unrealistic, and they’d had at least two previous talks with UFC and some with Strikeforce about deals similar to the one they eventually made. Those talks fell apart over personality clashes with UFC or Strikeforce’s financial concerns about the scale of pay on Affliction’s fighter contracts.

– Whether Affliction: Bad Idea had happened or not, and regardless of any reasonably likely figure for its buyrate, Affliction the promotion was dead after this show anyway. All their initial contracts were for 3 fights and they had not begun serious negotiations to extend any of them, not had they contacted potential future sites for theoretical additional shows. The reason was simple: they were losing money hand over fist despite doing very respectable PPV business, because their costs were completely out of control.

– Josh Barnett is getting too much heat on this one. Yes, he’s a giant ‘roid monkey who’s tested positive twice despite spending most of his carer in a non-drug tested environment, but most reasonably informed people around the sport will tell you that PED use is somewhere between rampant and endemic and his biggest sin may simply be bad luck and not knowing how to cycle properly. Furthermore, he did not kill Affliction- there were multiple other options to headline the show in his place who would not have materially affected the buyrate (Vitor most obviously) and he was not the first main eventer to suddenly be unavailable for a major show. See: Shamrock vs. Kimbo and Kevin Randleman at UFC 24 among others, and both of those happened day-of-fight without the show being canceled. Afflicition had a week to find a replacement and had a guy with some name recognition already on the undercard willing to step in. Barnett’s test failure was an excuse which allowed the people in charge who wanted out anyway to pull the plug and force the move immediately on those who didn’t. If Barnett never gets caught, all that changes is that the promotion dies one show later- a big deal for the fighters who were supposed to be drawing a fight check, but of very little consequence to anyone else and of exactly no long term import.

To put this in perspective, EliteXC was on the verge of being purchased and funded by CBS/Showtime when Seth Petruzelli made his comments post-Kimbo fight, and those interviews killed the CBS/EliteXC prospective deal. Petruzelli- inadvertently- actually killed EliteXC. Barnett’s actions, though not really excusable, had no real reason to even kill a single event let alone an entire promotion.

– And most importantly: it cannot be overstated how fucked up Affliction’s business model was from jump. This is a promotion which locked themselves into astronomical costs based on the expectation that they could draw 300,000 buys in this country with no television and limited advertisement using mostly non-names and building around a headliner who doesn’t even speak English. Every bit of evidence from the fight promotion business for the last… ever, really would tell you that this was a completely insane idea, and yet they went ahead and did it anyway because…well, who can really say? It’s been suggested that it was intended as a form of advertising for their shirt business which seems to not match the facts to me, but that’s a more rational explanation than most others.

The point is, intentional or not, as a self-contained promotion Affliction was simply never a viable self-sustaining economic entity based on the business model which they had designed; and so unless the shirt company was willing and able to fund large promotional losses indefinitely or the promotional side was willing to radically reassess their business decisions, it was a matter of when and not whether they would go tits-up. None of that has anything to do with steroids, or Josh Barnett, or how good their shows were (and they were good!), or how talented their roster was, or anything other than that they were locked into spending far more than they could ever make. If they could have gotten a good TV deal with serious financial backing and the chance to promote their shows through television, they might have had a chance; but that was never in the cards, and they knew it.

Bottom line: Affliction thought that if they signed the best heavyweight and put on a good MMA show, they could waltz into the PPV market which UFC has created and do similar business. They turned out to be really, really wrong, and once they realized they were they began trying to get out of the mistake they’d made as quickly and painlessly as possible. The second show, and the third if it had come off, were essentially nothing more than exercises in recouping sunk costs and saving face. That’s the difference between them and a promotion like Strikeforce- Strikeforce is attempting, and succeeding, in building a sustainable and economically viable promotion; Affliction were vultures trying to make a quick buck. For the fighters’ sake I’m sad to see them go, but I don’t think it hurts MMA to have their kind of promoter run out, and I don’t think it does fans any good to romanticize or fail to recognize what they were.

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July 27, 2009 - Posted by | MMA | ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hell, Barnett is my new favorite fighter since he’s helped to bring better fighters over to the UFC!

    Comment by Tony M | July 28, 2009 | Reply


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