Spike TV President punches up Friday Night franchises

Spike TV launched the latest piece the “Spike’s Friday Night Lights Out” moniker over the weekend, serving up two knockouts with the debut of Premier Boxing Champions on the network. The franchise joins Bellator MMA and Glory kickboxing under the branded umbrella, reeling in the likes of Dana Jacobson, Scott Hansen, Antonio Tarver and Jimmy Smith for its broadcast team. The network put its own spin on the broadcast, working with Al Heymon’s team to bring in new production tech, a streamlined flow to the bouts and more.

Cynopsis Sports spoke with Spike TV President Kevin Kay about the channel’s approach to sports, the backstory to the PBC and how Spike is putting its own stamp on combat sports.

Kay on the role of sports on the network: We’ve been involved in sports for a long time, in fact Spike was born with the WWE and then we had the UFC and, more recently, Bellator. It has always been an important part of our schedule and has done very well for us from a ratings perspective. We’ve trained our audience, a good portion of which are young men, to come here for combat sports. When you put the PBC into the mix with Glory kickboxing and Bellator and give it the Friday Night Light Out destination, it’s really a good fit. If you look at USA, WWE is a very important part of their schedule but they are a general entertainment network. When you look at Turner, they have the NBA on TNT. We all want to be in the sports business, and at Spike, we’ve carved combat sports as our niche and I think it is really important to have live event son the network.

On branding Friday nights: We’ve been sitting on Friday nights as well as Saturdays for Bellator, as it’s been good for audiences, ticket sales, arenas, etc. As Glory came into the picture, they were on Saturdays and we wanted to get to this idea that Friday nights would be best for combat sports, so we had a conversation with them and they were fine with it. When we started talking to PBC, they were already talking with NBC about doing some Saturday events, and I thought that was great news because we were looking for Fridays. So it made it possible for them to go to NBC on Saturdays and do CBS on weekends in the afternoons, I believe. We now get PBC exclusively on Friday nights. It worked out nicely for us, it’s a great place to be. It’s nice to see 32 or 34 live events on Friday nights on our channel and over time, we hope to expand that.

On PBC discussions: Al and I were introduced a couple of years ago, when we first started thinking about boxing. I understand mixed martial arts, but boxing is a whole different model. I was doing my research and going to a lot of different boxing promotions to get as much information as I could. When we met, there was really no conversation about getting into business with Al, it was about him telling us how boxing works, what we should be on the lookout for and why we were getting some of the answers we were getting from people. Al and I become friendly off of that conversation and six months ago, he called and said he was putting together an organization, called the PBC, and he wanted to talk to us about it. He came in and we sat down, talked about Friday nights, his roster of 150+ guys, his desire to build something that isn’t dependent on PPV and becoming partners. I loved what I was hearing because everyone else was telling us, “We can’t do this and we can’t do that.” Al said he wanted to update the presentation, and put on competitive fights with guys who weren’t just trying to add to their wins to get on PPV. Those were the things I wasn’t hearing from anybody else.

On the PBC on NBC and Spike: I think NBC did a great job. Al Michaels and Marv Albert are two legends in sports broadcasting. That’s what broadcast TV does, their production was slick. A lot of those same elements are on Spike as well. We are bringing in a different broadcast team that is more in the vein of what we do, which is to try to appeal to a younger audience and is edgy. I really was anxious to be innovative, so we got Dana Jacobson, who is terrific. I was anxious to find a woman to be a regular anchor for a sports show on this network. I think that is important. Scott Hansen is so quick and so smart. Jimmy does Bellator for us and brings MMA fans into boxing, while Antonio is so knowledgeable about boxing. In addition, you will see us get right into the fights. Within ten minutes – probably less – we will have guys in the ring. We introduced some production enhancements, such as devices in the gloves that measure punch speeds. That is very cool.

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