With the success of Affliction:Banned, Affliction is looking like a good contender to take on the UFC. So far the main hook Affliction has had is built around Fedor and a few ex-UFC heavyweight champions, basically stocking up on heavyweights – where the UFC is currently weaker. That is not really enough for sustainable, long-term success, though. Affliction will need to keep that tactic up, while looking at some other areas from financing, m&a, to innovations in the actual sport.

The AFL vs. the NFL is not exactly analogous to Affliction vs. the UFC but I’m sure Affliction has taken a look at this particular case. Clip from Wikipedia:

In 1960, after being refused entry to the NFL as an owner, Lamar Hunt led seven other men (including another snubbed by the NFL, Bud Adams) to establish the rival American Football League. Although other rival leagues had come and gone in the early years of professional football, the new AFL was able to capitalize on the ever-rising popularity of the sport. Hunt’s initial goal was to bring professional football to Texas, which was home to two of the new teams. The AFL secured a television contract with ABC and filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL in 1960, but this was dismissed in 1962. The AFL led the way in sharing of television and gate revenues across its franchises, thus securing itself financially.

A number of innovations distinguished the AFL and helped it maintain its legitimate rivalry to the NFL. A stadium game clock for the spectators (the NFL relied only on time announcements from the officials on the field), players’ names on their jerseys, and a playing style geared to the attractive and flashy passing game.

Capitalizing on a growing wave of popularity is certainly happening. Geographic competition – hard to say. Two big promotions both filled many seats in two different locales on July 19th, showing some possibility here.

Creating a “flashier” and more “attractive” game could be a bigger factor to close the gap between what mainstream audiences want in actual action and the current state of things. Mma as it currently stands is not necessarily the best format just because early adopters have enjoyed it.

  • Using the ring instead of the cage, despite what folks on the internets say about Octagons being “real”, is a good move. It capitalizes on some of the nostalgia long time fans have for PRIDE, supposedly favors more technical fights, and certainly differentiates by moving away from Octagon silliness and propaganda. It also makes the environment look superficially similar to that of boxing, which may have appeal to boxing fans who haven’t fully embraced mma yet.
  • The thing I would like to see Affliction do differently is create new rules for a “flashier” and more “attractive” game. After recent judging controversies, I think a lot of people are frustrated by some mma rules. “Octagon control” is obviously not needed when there is no Octagon. What about throws, groundfighting, and judging criteria? I argue for some combination of IKF San Shou rules and Abu Dhabi Combat Club rules, plus the PRIDE yellow card. In addition, borrowing some kind of time limit on groundwork from combat sambo rules would also be a great idea. As much as I like practicing bjj, the bjj-oriented rules from the early days make for boring fights from a spectator view. Fans love it when the ref tells the fighters to stand back up, especially when nothing much is happening. Fans can’t really understand what’s happening on the ground anyway unless it happens fast (and even then they likely don’t follow it). Encouraging fast-paced groundwork and submissions with time limits would make for a “flashier” and more “attractive” game.  Affliction may as well define its competition to include pro wrestling and not just the UFC. If the UFC wants to propagate a brand positioning of “real’, “original” and oriented toward “hardcore” fans, they could relegate themselves to an earlier adopter niche, while other organizations capture a larger, later adopter, mainstream audience. EliteXC already had the most viewers.

In the financial and m&a areas, I think Affliction should aggressively pursue deals with EliteXC and/or Strikeforce. The financial situation for Affliction is supposedly based on a partnership with Trump, but Affliction needs to make a profit or else it cannot continue. A merger / acquisition of EliteXC, Strikeforce, or some other organization could be a smart move. Buying Strikeforce would bring in Alistair Overeem, another heavyweight star, as well as Cung Le, who could be a HUGE star. Dedicated fans saw what he did to Frank Shamrock. Buying EliteXC would bring in Gina Carano and Kimbo Slice. I say, convince the financiers to buy both organizations. They are not competitive as three separate organizations but as one, things could get interesting. EliteXC already has the network television deal. Adding up all these assets starts to mean something. Zuffa has already purchased PRIDE, owns the WEC, and is rumored to be purchasing the IFL. Affliction or maybe EliteXC needs to act quickly.

Affliction is also trying to claim better HR policies and relationships with its fighters. That hype seems centered around Couture, but who knows, maybe Tito Ortiz will now fight for Affliction as well. Maybe if they keep up this hype, other fighters will jump on this bandwagon. This tactic seems based mainly on hope, not on solid strategy, but who knows, with a little luck, if it works, it works.

As far as other auxiliary areas such as presentation, I don’t give a crap about adding some silly concert or cheerleaders but these gimmicks that Affliction and EliteXC have tried are probably a good idea to pull in more mainstream fans. Also, selling sponsorships might help some but uh, well I guess sponsorship by some other t-shirt company doesn’t seem likely.

I’m sure Affliction has thought of all these areas, except for maybe trying innovations in the rules. Right now, it probably makes sense for them to use unified rules and tie into WAMMA, to lower “switching costs” from other mma bouts to theirs. However, in the mid to long term, I still think they should look at this area as well.