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“Participation in TV channels will save the industry.” Russian martial arts are trying new funding schemes

UFC for Russia against all

In January 2022, UFC President Dana White announced three tournaments with Russian representatives in the main battles, and in February, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the beginning of a special military operation in Ukraine. World sport reacted to the second circumstance very quickly: Russians were excluded from international starts in almost all sports. The UFC kept all the declared fights and, without restricting the use of national symbols, gave the opportunity to perform in the main fights to Islam Makhachev (February 26), Magomed Ankalayev (March 12) and Alexander Volkov (March 19). In addition to them, since February 24, 10 more Russians have fought in the UFC. Two fighters from Russia made their debut in the promotion, and one of them received a new contract.

Bellator, the world’s second MMA promotion, has so far also refrained from imposing sanctions on Russian fighters. Vadim Nemkov continues to prepare for the fight in Bellator on April 15, and Andrei Koreshkov could have performed in May, but withdrew from the fight due to difficulties with the British visa.

“These are commercial organizations … for them the ban of Russian athletes does not make sense. It is unprofitable for them, ”Alexei Zhernakov, the manager of Alexander Shlemenko’s fighter, explained the position of MMA promotions in an interview with Match TV. But he acknowledged that the policies of UFC and Bellator executives could change if the pressure from the parent companies, Disney and Viacom, increases.

Russian promoter Kamil Hajiyev sees the loyalty of the main promotions as a good sign for the Russian market as well: “MMA fashion remains in principle, plus they do not fire Russians,” he said in an interview with Vedomosti. Sports “. If foreign MMA organizations abandon Russian fighters, the domestic market will not be able to offer them fees of the same level, Hajiyev explains.

Voltage and resistance

Two years of pandemics and quarantine bans have hampered the interaction of major international MMA promotions with Russia. If from October 2018 to November 2019 the UFC held three tournaments in Russia, then from the beginning of 2020 none. At the same time, the organization continued to finance the Russian branch, but after the aggravation of the situation in Ukraine moved it to another region. Bellator first hosted a major tournament in Russia in October 2021 and announced a summer event with Fedor Emelianenko on Red Square, but due to the situation in Ukraine abandoned these plans.

Russian promotions added to the pandemic in a variety of formats (fist fights, tournaments with show business stars, etc.), and even a month of political crisis did not affect their activity. MMA star Magomed Ismailov held the first professional boxing match in his career (February 26) on the show “Fight Club REN TV”. Fight Nights champion Vagab Vagabov performed on the Pravda show (sponsored by a bookmaker and a supplier of construction materials). The AMS Fight Nights League held a tournament in Astrakhan, and the leader of the Russian industry, the Chechen promotion Absolute Championship of Akhmat (ASA) – three events in five weeks, in Moscow, Grozny and Krasnodar. The Russian Cagefighting Championship, sponsored by the Russian Copper Company, is still aimed at fighting MMA superstars Alexander Shlemenko and Magomed Ismailov in the summer of 2022.

While the only major cancellation was the tournament with Shlemenko, scheduled for April 1: the fighter could not perform due to an arm injury, the event was first moved from Sochi to Penza, and then – indefinitely.

“In general, the trend is not very good, but all businesses have a different situation,” explains Hajiyev. – Companies that make a profit in dollars can even grow. In MMA, there are now significant losses in the form of sponsors who had a share of foreign participation. The Drive ME brand, owned by PepsiCo, used to work with us – it is clear that we will not agree on anything with them now. Someone will leave the market altogether, so it will not get better. “

Organization is cheaper than broadcasts

Hajiyev estimates one MMA tournament at 15 million rubles, where 1.5 million will be spent on renting and maintaining the site, and 2 million on light and sound. 1 million rubles worth shooting; 500,000 each should be pledged for the advertising campaign and the show component. Prizes – from 200,000 rubles. for the fight, the main fight costs from 5 million rubles. “Today, high-paid athletes can be counted on the fingers of one hand,” admits Hajiyev. – But there are a lot of young guys who do not have a cool resume, but who fight at a decent level. It is easier for me to agree with a boy who has had several fights and is ready to roll a good show for 50,000 rubles than with a status fighter who looks at America and asks for 1 million rubles. fees. For the viewer, the effect is the same. “

In Russian martial arts, even before the events in Ukraine, there was a serious restructuring of the market. It turned out that the fights of local celebrities related to martial arts can be as popular as the fights of elite athletes. For example, the title fight of boxers Alexander Usik and Anthony Joshua on REN TV showed the same rating (1.1 in the age category 18-54 in Russia, according to Mediascope) and the worst coverage (1.8 / 4.1) compared to broadcast of the fight between blogger Artem Tarasov and weightlifter Mikhail Koklyaev. At the same time, the cost of buying TV rights to top events is often higher than the cost of hosting your own show.

Promoter Kamil Hajiyev estimates one mixed martial arts tournament at 15 million rubles. /vk.com/hardcore.fighting

Television will save

Comparing ratings and costs, the TV channels themselves undertook the production of sports content. For the third year in a row, REN TV has been organizing (and showing) tournaments within the framework of the Fight Club project. Its promoter Vladimir Khryunov explains in a conversation with “Vedomosti. Sports ”that the channel focuses on boxing, but plans to fight for TV rights to an MMA fight with Shlemenko. “The personality of the athlete is important here – an idol whose achievements are interested in,” says Hryunov. The calculated regularity of the tournaments held by REN TV provides high ratings and increases the audience, Hryunov said. “Now there is an expansion towards women,” he added.

In January 2022, Match TV’s first Triple Strike tournament was marked by three events in three days in collaboration with Fight Nights on three different rules (MMA, kickboxing and bare fist fights). And the head of the League of fist fights HardCore Anatoly Sulyanov in a conversation with “Vedomosti. Sport “confirmed the interest in the tournament scheduled for June by the” First “. “We are negotiating,” he said.

At the same time, “Match TV” continues to show UFC tournaments, and the Okko service – Bellator events. But due to the departure from Russian TV and Internet resources of broadcasts of other sports (from the NHL to the English Premier League), the demand for sports content in general will only grow, as well as the interest of TV channels in creating their own product.

“The participation of TV channels is a trend that will save the industry,” Hajiyev said. – There are no more commercial partners, the leagues are facing a shortage of funds for events. And under the conditions of collaboration, the lion’s share of organizational headaches related to finances are taken over by the channels. ” TV has the administrative and human resources to provide a decent production and a convenient location, adds Hajiyev: “The promoter simply selects couples and negotiates with participants. The search for sponsors is usually made by the channel’s commercial agency. ” Khryunov does not disclose the financing scheme of the REN TV Fight Club, but clarifies that the project is created on a turnkey basis for the advertiser, while the channel “invests its own money.”

What will happen next

Fistfights, which have gained popularity in recent years thanks to YouTube, now look like one of the growth points of the Russian martial arts industry. On February 23, the Hardcore promotion held a tournament with spectators for the first time, collecting 8,000 at the CSKA Arena – an almost unattainable figure for the average MMA event, and in June is planning another one at the same venue. But the owner of the organization is not yet ready to discuss the regularity of such public events. “We understand that any novelty will sooner or later get bored,” admits Sulyanov. “Whether we are ready to fill the arenas regularly can only be known in time.”

The TopDog fistfighting league has been successfully holding tournaments in Moscow and Kazan for about a year now, publishing recent issues on YouTube, and working closely with Russian streaming services. The Nashe Delo project, which specializes in celebrity fights, has already refocused on Rutube and is posting its issues there a few days earlier than on YouTube. As reported by “Vedomosti. Sports “several sources in the advertising market, the Russian video service is now actively promoting itself and offering good financial conditions to users: some bloggers receive advertising fees, and ready-made shows can be fully redeemed.

New directions

Even before the events in Ukraine, Russian MMA was not too dependent on foreign influence and suffered less from sanctions. Local sponsors are focused on Russian-led fights, foreign top fighters rarely perform in Russia due to high financial demands, and mid-level athletes from Brazil, the United States or Europe may continue to come. As for Russian MMA organizations, the geography of their interests will change, Hajiyev said.

“We will have to abandon Europe, the United States, Ukraine and focus on local events,” he said. – From foreign countries, I would consider Brazil, the CIS and Southeast Asia. The UAE or Saudi Arabia are potential partners of Russian MMA. And for some reason we don’t think at all about other densely populated regions like India and Bangladesh. ” But Hajiyev doubts the prospects of the Chinese market for Russian MMA. “I spent two events there,” he says. – To make a product in China that is interesting to the local public, you need to be, if not Chinese, then a person who has lived there for a long time. It won’t even take years, it will take decades. “

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