Editorial by Lee Whitehead – MMAWeekly.com

London Calling: Cashflow & MMA

We are in a strange situation here
in the U.K. The scene is suffering from an over-saturation of shows, but
without the attendees to really push them forward. This point really hit home
to me last week when I was covering the Cage Warriors: Enter the Rough House 3
show up in Nottingham – the signs were there, but this was the proof.

Traditionally, most MMA show
attendees were fighters, teammates, friends of the fighters brought along via
ticket sales and general fans of the sport that usually train and attend
whenever they can. Cage Warriors were selling out places like the Coventry
Skydome back in 2005 with an attendance of roughly 3,500 people. At the same
time, Cage Rage was shifting the same amount of tickets in the (now defunct)
Wembley Conference Centre.

Cage Rage sensed they were on to
something big and re-evaluated their business practices, moved into the
8,000-seat capacity Wembley Arena venue next door, secured international
talent, TV and PPV support and really stepped up onto the international stage.
Cage Warriors were less fortunate and really struggled with venues and local
councils, forcing them to uproot their promotion and find a new home in
Sheffield, two shows in and they have to move again because of Councils.

Bear in mind that 2006 signalled the
boom time in the U.K. for MMA with shows popping up left, right and center; all
clamouring for talent, audiences and venues. Fighters were making their debuts
on shows having been training with established guys for years, things looked
rosy. But appearances can be deceiving…

What you will ordinarily find, is
that most people attending shows in the U.K. tend to be the same people that
were attending back in 2005 (i.e. fighters, friends of fighters and teammates).
Sure, there has been a growth in these numbers, but it hasn’t been a massive
stride forward.

Now, let me bring the UFC into this

The UFC is a global fight brand. It
has been funnelling cash into the U.K. scene and has really built itself a
niche market, ironically, one that steps slightly outside the usual attendees
of the smaller shows. You can’t move around the U.K. close to one of their
events and fail to see their advertising – this is exposing their product
to non-MMA fans, mainstream people shall we say. And so, the UFC goes on to
sell 14,500 tickets for one of their events, made up of your traditional
audience and the mainstream.

Still with me? Good. Well, here is
the problem: The mainstream audience effect hasn’t trickled down to the smaller,
start-up shows. They are operating on a “build it and they will come” basis and
its not working. The attendees for these smaller shows are the same as always
and they don’t have the kind of disposable income to attend every event and
it’s getting to a point where you can see an event every other week.

Case in point being last week, we
had Cage Warriors, Ultimate Force and the cancelled Cage Boxing attempt all
fighting for the same attendees. Then we had a Muay Thai event in Nottingham
featuring fighters such as Paul Daley, Andre Winner and Wayne Buck – guys
that draw heavy ticket sales in that region. This impacted on the previous
weekend’s attendance, but spread the remaining few across two shows. Were there
any mainstream fans in attendance? Not that I saw…

Back to Cage Rage and how this
affects them. Cage Rage is more fortunate at being able to operate in the
capital. They have a strong network to tap into with a great deal of clubs
based in the area and their brand is starting to really pick up from a
mainstream point of view. They are the promotion most likely to benefit from
the mainstream pull the UFC is generating, although the last show was down on
attendance compared to normal (approx: 5,000 people). It is more than likely to
do with the timing of the show due to summer holidays, school breaks and so on.
But come September we will see the full picture as it will be a busy month for
MMA in London with the UFC landing firmly in Cage Rage’s back garden –
this will be the true measure of were the U.K. scene is at.

The U.K. scene is fast approaching a
turning point, one where it needs to strike a balance between the amount of
shows on the scene and the market for attendees. The UFC is smart in that it is
securing an audience outside of the norm, but that is only because they can
afford to do so – and fair play to them, its good business.

The smaller shows need to really
start working together to avoid date clashes, share talent and spread their
events out sensibly so that they can avoid going under. The financial strain on
the hardcore MMA fan/fighter is too great to see all shows. Especially if you
factor into that equation the amount of money required to train, afford
supplements and equipment whilst maintaining a job that in all honesty,
probably doesn’t pay enough in relation to the free time required to train to

Any thoughts or comments on the U.K.
scene? Drop me an email with your views: leewhitehead@mmaweekly.com