12/09/19: PFL co-founder breaks down the promotion’s growth in 2019 and its approach to 2020


Monday December 9, 2019
Flush from a year that included new broadcast deals, new audiences, new sponsors and more
, the Professional Fighters League sees its 2019 season come to a conclusion on Dec. 31 at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, running on ESPN2 at 7p with six $1 million belts on the line. The year was been generous to the MMA promotion, which reports a
60% rise in international TV audiences since the start of the season, along with a 50% rise in viewers on ESPN2. Cynopsis asked PFL Co-Founder, Donn Davis, about the lessons learned from 2019 and their 2020 plans.
 
Davis on 2019 lessons:
The lesson of 2019 is that both fans and distribution want more high-quality MMA. Based on our metrics this year, PFL is the fastest growing new sports league ever. PFL is on ESPN2 primetime live on Thursday nights and on TV in 150 countries worldwide with 30 different global media partners. The PFL TV audience is already 20-25% of the UFC TV audience, and PFL is only 1-year-old compared to the 25 years it took UFC to build that audience.
 
On moving to ESPN:
ESPN is the undisputed king of sports, and they chose PFL to join UFC as the only other MMA property on their platforms due to the PFL’s unique sports-season format, exciting fights, and high-quality product. The PFL is now viewed by most as the #2 MMA company worldwide, and certainly the one on the rise. 100% of PFL fights are available free on ESPN2, which means PFL has the widest distribution of any MMA company. Most UFC fights fans have to pay for.
 
On international growth:
80% of the 300 million MMA fans are outside of the United States, so international is actually more important when it comes to building PFL into global sports league which is our mission. PFL audience is already big internationally in just our first year, with some fight events posting 1 million total viewers. PFL is available on free broadcast live in almost all of the 150 countries worldwide. PFL is huge hit in Russia, where we are often the #2 most viewed sports program of the week and we are very strong in Brazil and various countries in Asia.
 
On 2020:
2020 will be a break-through year for the PFL. 50% of the PFL fighter roster will be upgraded for next season, with some surprise major new signings. We will launch with a major casino partner real-time gambling on PFL fights, including prop bets such as “hardest punch in this round” using PFL proprietary SmartCage data. PFL also will launch a new original content series that MMA fans will love: “PFL Challenger Series” from reality pioneer Mark Burnett that will give unheralded pro-MMA fighters the chance to earn “Rocky-Slot” in the PFL.
 
PROGRAMMING

The College Football Playoff has its contenders
, with both semifinals set to take place on Dec. 28 beginning with LSU/Oklahoma in the
Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on ESPN at 4p, while Ohio State/Clemson do battle in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at 8p.
The New Year’s Six bowl games will see Baylor/Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1 at 8:45p on ESPN,
Virginia/Florida colliding in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 at 8p on ESPN, Oregon/Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl at 5p on Jan. 1 on ESPN, while Memphis and Penn State meet in the Cotton Bowl at noon on Dec. 28 on ABC. Bowl season gets underway on Dec. 20 with the Bahamas Bowl pitting Buffalo/Charlotte at 2p on ESPN and Utah State/Kent State at 7:30p on ESPN in the Frisco Bowl.
 
Saturday’s SEC Championship between LSU and Georgia
notched a 7.9/20 HH rating/share for CBS, averaging 13.703 million viewers. With the game, CBS Sports is averaging 7.103 million viewers season-to-date for its college football coverage, the network’s top viewership in 29 years. CBS Sports’ coverage of the 2019 SEC ON CBS season averaged a household rating/share of 4.2/11, according to Nielsen national ratings, up 24% over last year.
 
FOX Sports’ coverage of the Big Ten Championship
on Saturday drew a 7.8 metered market score for the broadcast channel, up 39% over last year’s championship, according to Nielsen. That projects to push FOX to a win in primetime for Ohio State’s comeback win over Wisconsin.
 
Meanwhile, ABC’s first telecast of the Pac-12 Championship
saw Oregon’s victory over Utah hand the network with an average of
5,856,000 viewers
to tank as the most-watched Pac-12 Championship since 2014. The game was up 44% over last year’s coverage and ranks as the second-best in viewership all-time.
 
Continuing the ratings news, Thursday Night Football was up once again
as the Bears’ 31-24 win over the Cowboys was seen by an average audience of 18.8 million across all platforms, up 69% versus last year’s Week 14 Thursday Night Football. The game ranks as the most-watched Thursday Night Football tri-cast this season, and the second most-watched game since FOX began broadcasting Thursday Night Football in 2018. Season-to-date, the Thursday Night Football tri-cast is averaging 15.7 million viewers – up 8% versus the comparable point last season.
 
ESPN reports that its networks averaged more than 20% in audience gains
and set seven event viewership records during the 2019 Formula 1 World Championship season that ended this past weekend. Over the 21-event season, live race telecasts averaged 671,000 viewers, an increase of 21% over the average of 554,000 on ESPN networks last year and up 25% from the 538,000 average on NBC networks in 2017. Seventeen of the 21 races saw year-over-year viewership increases. The 2020 Formula 1 season begins with the Australian Grand Prix on March 15.
 
In Europe, Eurosport picked up additional pay-TV rights to the 2020 Olympics
in Tokyo in France via a sublicing deal with Canal Plus and France Televisions. L’Equipe reports that Canal Plus is looking to trim costs and avoid production expenses. France Televisions will remain the official free-to-air broadcaster in France for Tokyo 2020.
Cynopsis’ 2019-2020 Salary Survey Report
 
On average, males continue to out-earn their female counterparts by +27%, translating to a difference of $31,200.
 
Compared to Cynopsis’ 2018 study, this represents an increase of +10% in the gender gap. Sadly, this disparity is prevalent across all titles and departments in the study.
 
SPONSORSHIP & PROMOTION

Grammy Award-winning duo Dan + Shay have been tapped
to headline the entertainment for the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the New Year’s Day outdoor matchup between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars at Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas. The performance in the first intermission presented by Ticketmaster will be televised as part of the NHL Winter Classic broadcast on NBC on Jan. 1 at 2p. Additional performers for the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic® will be announced in the coming weeks.
 
Premier League club Manchester City locked in a new training kit sponsor,
unveiling a deal with online gambling platform Marathonbet. The duo first began working together in 2018 as part of the club’s first betting partnership.
 
Fresno State Athletics announced that Adidas will replace Nike
as the school’s new official athletic footwear, apparel and accessory brand, courtesy of a six-year partnership that runs through the 2026 season and kicks in on June 1, 2020. “We are thrilled to announce our partnership with Adidas and we are excited for the tremendous impact it will make on our ability to best serve our student-athletes moving forward,” said Fresno State Director of Athletics Terry Tumey. “When you think about the Bulldog brand, and our prominence in the Valley and beyond, we feel that we are perfectly aligned with the Adidas brand and what they stand for. Both parties deeply value creativity, inclusion, and boldly competing and excelling with the spirit of a Bulldog.”
 
Formula One motor-racing team McLaren penned a multi-year sponsorship agreement
with audio products manufacturer Klipsch that kicks in next season, designating Klipsch as the official headphone and portable audio partner of the racing org. Klipsch branding will appear on McLaren’s team headsets at all F1 races next year.
 
DIGITAL, DATA & TECH

Manchester United announced a new partnership with Alibaba Group
to bring exclusive rights to club content in China to Alibaba’s ecosystem for the first time, and see Manchester United content presented and localized on multiple Alibaba platforms, giving fans access to in-depth club content. This will include select first-team matches, highlights and localized original productions. The new Manchester United Youku channel, which will be linked prominently from the Youku Sport portal, will feature Academy, Women’s and first team tour games, plus first team games shown on-demand and global and China-specific content.
 
CSI Sports, the parent company of FIGHT SPORTS, launched its subscription digital service
in Middle East/North Africa titled FIGHT SPORTS MAX. The service debuted on Dec. 7 and will offer exclusive access to the WBC Super Welterweight World Championship rematch on December 21st between Jermell Charlo and Tony Harrison, and will end the year with the December 28th WBA Lightweight World Championship bout between undefeated Gervonta Davis and Olympic Gold Medallist and former World Champion Yuriorkis Gamboa.
 
ESPORTS

Team Renegades announced plans to partner with the first collegiate esports team in Michigan, Oakland University,
which is becoming the first Division-1 university in the state to formally announce the addition of a varsity esports team to its athletics program. The team will begin competition in the fall of 2020. To date, Oakland University has had active club esports teams organized the Office of Student Involvement, participating in competitions for games such as League of Legends, Overwatch and Super Smash Bros. Jonas Jerebko, pro basketball player and owner of Team Renegades, said he hopes OU’s launch into esports will help spread the excitement and camaraderie of gaming throughout the region.
 
Heavyweight Twitch streamer Dr Disrespect is taking his act to TV
, inking a deal with Skybound Entertainment to develop a television series based on his character, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “There are lots of incredibly talented streamers, but there’s something special about what [Dr Disrespect] has done in creating this character,” Skybound co-founder and president David Alpert said in the story. “We really believe there’s a unique world around the doctor.”
 
THE MAIN EVENT

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ON THIS DAY in 1987
Larry Bird ends his streak of 59 consecutive free throws made.
 
In the Know
Who is the only Heisman winner to come out of the University of Colorado? (Email [email protected] with your answer and be sure to include your company and city).
 
Answer to Our Last Sports Trivia Question
Who was the last Heisman Trophy winner who has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Answer: Depends on how you read it. Most recent Heisman winner: Barry Sanders. Most recent HoF inductee: Tim Brown. Kudos:

Michael Ritz-Northwestern Mutual/NY;
Denis Barry-CBS/NY; Synda Kollman-Charter Marketing Group/Boca Raton; Matt Sautter-WideOrbit/Harrisburg;
Mike May-PHIT America/Wellington; Ron Salcedo-NU/Nashville; Andy Pittman-TAMU/College Station;
Tom Moore-Kalt Productions/LA;
David Westberg-SAG-AFTRA Credit Union/Burbank

Later ~ Chris
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