Sunday, October 18, 2009 - by Steven Marrocco - MMAWeekly.com
The new CBS commercial featuring Fedor Emelianenko drew a mixed reaction from the MMA faithful this week – a slick product, yes, but late in the game.
The 33-year-old Emelianenko, who faces heavyweight hopeful Brett Rogers Nov. 7 at Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers on CBS, has been the people’s champion for legions of fans who live and breathe the sport.
Most of them, however, know that those outside their circle will spell success or failure for the network event.
CBS had some of both when they promoted three MMA cards last year under the banner of the now-defunct EliteXC. The first and last events, bolstered by Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano, were unqualified ratings triumphs. The second, void of fighters with crossover appeal, drew poorly.
Advertising for the Strikeforce event began a little over a month ago, leading many to question the network’s commitment to the promotion, and by proxy, the sport.
CBS Senior Executive Vice President Kelly Kahl said his network will put its best foot forward in the buildup to Nov. 7, but asked the faithful to help CBS hit a home run.
“MMA fans seem to seek a greater acceptance, and nothing helps better than calling your friends and saying ‘you’ve got to check this out,’” he said.
The network ran several 10-second spots for the event during the past two weekends of NFL coverage, the first salvo in what Kahl said was the start of a comprehensive campaign. He said the network was assembling footage for new promotional spots and said the volume – and scope – of advertising would be increasing shortly, expanding to cable, radio, and the web.
The NFL ads, he said, were “pretty valuable.”
“We do this for most of our shows,” he said. “You tease a little, and add information and length and frequency as you get closer to the event.”
Kahl said future spots would delve deeper into Emelianenko’s legend, and others featuring Rogers and co-headliners Jason “Mayhem” Miller and Jake Shields would air as well.
MMAWeekly.com sources said an in-depth preview show similar to Showtime’s “Fight Camp 360” was also in the works for the Nov. 7 event.
Only so much of Emelianenko’s fighting life is in reach. UFC owners Zuffa, LLC own Emelianenko’s footage from the now-defunct PRIDE, the promotion that made his legend. Strikeforce Director of Communications Mike Afromowitz said Emelianenko’s footage from the shuttered Affliction would be utilized for future spots.
Kahl was aware that many fans were impatient with the advertising campaign and said it was a byproduct of CBS’ regular broadcast schedule.
“That’s really the bread and butter of our business,” he said. “I hope to heck that we can get MMA to where it’s a huge drawing card for CBS, but we’re not quite at that point yet.”
Nevertheless, Kahl said CBS’ advertising sales department was doing “terrific” for the Nov. 7 telecast, scheduled for 9 p.m. EST.
The question now is whether Emelianenko’s rabid fan base qualifies as crossover appeal, and if not, how the network can create enough interest to draw viewers.
As a pay-per-view draw, Emelianenko has never been a star, but stateside, he has never had the marketing muscle of a television network behind him.
Kahl pointed to Kimbo Slice as an example of a star brightened by the CBS eye. Could Emelianenko be the next?
“Even if you’re not a hardcore mixed martial arts fan, you’re still going to get a lot of excitement watching (Emelianenko) do his thing in the cage,” said Kahl. “It’s a big task, but we’re up to it.”