The first mixed martial arts broadcast primetime on major network television was, in many ways, a resounding success. The Elite XC card on CBS on May 31 drew unprecedented media attention to the sport, and the ratings for the show increased in every 15-minute interval.
But in as many ways as it was a success, it also was a dismal failure.
The pacing of the broadcast was horrendous. It had a professional wrestling feel to it. In all, it was far beneath the dignity of an entity known as “The Tiffany Network.”
When Elite XC returns to CBS on Saturday for a show from Stockton, Calif., the broadcast will have a decidedly different feel. There will be more fights and less talk. Downtime will be minimized. You won’t see any of the embarrassing moments such as when Phil Baroni ambled slowly to the cage and had women disrobe him.
And the all-too-numerous cheerleader shots will be minimized greatly, if not eliminated.
“To be perfectly honest, I think there was more of a wrestling element to that show and I didn’t like it,” said Kelly Kahl, senior executive vice president of CBS Primetime. “I’d much rather present them as great athletes and warriors, which they are, but it got a bit clownish and that didn’t do us any favors.”
The May 31 broadcast also ran nearly an hour over its allotted time slot. But clearly, the fans wanted to see headliner Kimbo Slice, who defeated James Thompson in a main event that didn’t begin until 11:38 p.m. ET, about 38 minutes after the broadcast was scheduled to have been off the air.
The show debuted at 9 p.m. with 3.38 million viewers. It went to 3.66 million at 9:30, 4.68 million at 10, 5.53 million at 10:30, 5.84 million at 11 and 6.51 million at 11:30.
Those numbers indicate to Kahl that while there were problems with the broadcast, it couldn’t have been all that bad or people wouldn’t have stuck around.
“Kimbo was a big part of that, obviously,” Kahl said of the much-hyped event surrounding Slice, the one-time street brawler whose real name is Kevin Ferguson.” You can’t deny that. People wanted to see him and they were obviously calling their friends and telling them to tune in.
“They wouldn’t have done that if the telecast were that bad. We received our fair share of criticism for that telecast and I’m the first to admit there were issues and a lot of the criticism was fair.
“But people wouldn’t have stuck around to watch if it had been so horrible. So what we have to do is look at the first one and figure what worked and what we liked and use that on this one and then eliminate the things that didn’t work so well.”
CBS opened the first show with a primer on mixed martial arts, which was badly needed, but which also left the show’s first half hour without any fights. The first two bouts were early knockouts, but instead of showing taped bouts from earlier in the card, CBS just filled time.
That meant that there was just two minutes, 12 seconds of fighting in the first 71 minutes of the show. Kahl intends to make certain that won’t happen again on Saturday’s card, which features a main event rematch between Robbie Lawler and Scott Smith for the Elite XC middleweight title.
It’s going to be commercial, fight, commercial, fight, Kahl said. The breaks may be longer as a result, but there won’t be nearly as much downtime.
Without Slice and Gina Carano, Elite XC’s biggest draws, on the card, ratings are going to drop significantly over the first show. Plus, Saturday nights in the summer generally are not good for television viewership.
Elite XC made a smart move for this event, though, opting to show several fights on Showtime prior to the CBS card, hoping to lure viewers from one to the other. On May 31, the early fights were streamed live on the Internet – and were done very well – before CBS came on the air. The live stream, though, didn’t do much to help CBS, as it only garnered the interest of the hardcore fan.
Showtime should provide a significantly better lead-in for CBS than the live stream did.
Still, Doug DeLuca, the executive chairman of ProElite, Elite XC’s parent company, urged caution when it comes to ratings expectations.
“We certainly are managing all of our expectations,” DeLuca said. “It is summer. And we did have a number of good PR items going for us on the first event. It was the first event on primetime network television. That alone drummed up a huge amount of press for the event and a lot of people were interested in seeing (it).
“But, look, I’m confident in our fight card. I’m confident in mixed martial arts and I’m confident at what we can do at Elite XC in terms of producing events and our PR team is second to none. So we’ve got a lot of press for this event as well. We understand the numbers might not be as big as the first time, but (still) we’re all expecting to do some good numbers.”
“I really couldn’t tell you what a success is, or what a success isn’t,” DeLuca said. “I’m just looking forward to putting on the best event possible and getting as many people out to watch it as we can get.”