Striking for Glory with kickboxing’s biggest promotion

Launched in 2012 with the aim of taking the sport of kickboxing to new heights, GLORY Sports International has already established itself as the world’s leading kickboxing brand. The company faces the challenges of functioning in an increasingly fragmented broadcasting landscape, and the need to bring in a wider audience, but there’s plenty of punching power in the pipeline.

Striking for Glory with kickboxing’s biggest promotion

"Being the number one kickboxing brand in the world permeates everything we do,” says Jon J Franklin, chief executive of GLORY Sports International. “We have the best television relationships in kickboxing, and the best OTT relationships.”

It has taken global league GLORY just five years to get to this point. It now has an unparalleled number of live kickboxing events on multiple continents, and programming distributed across over 200 territories. It is also the place to see the world’s best. Since acquiring the ‘It’s Showtime’ promotion just months after launching, GLORY has brought many of the leading kickboxers into one league and made possible a broad range of elite match-ups.

 “We immediately went out and found all the top athletes in the sport,” says Franklin. “It doesn’t matter what your name is as a company, people will follow big athletes. GLORY then started working with the best promoters and trainers, and next, looking to work with top television networks.”

Building the business “from the ground up”, Franklin says, was important for GLORY, which went on to partner with UFC Fight Pass, the subscription-based video streaming service owned by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), which promotes mixed martial arts (MMA) events. “Our initiative with UFC Fight Pass gave us access to that niche fan area of those already following martial arts, because of their status as the number one MMA promoter,” Franklin adds.

Jon J Franklin (centre) stands between Meryem Uslu (left) and Tiffany Van Soest at the weigh-in ahead of their bout at Glory 44

The company has targeted large TV broadcast networks, looking to grow its reach. “Ultimately we got a deal with ESPN in 2015,” Franklin says, “which at that point didn’t have any MMA or anything.” This deal was crucial in attracting audiences as “having big sports broadcasters like ESPN and Ziggo brings us to mainstream sports fans all over the world”.

In terms of building its content, GLORY now produces nearly 100 pieces of broadcast content a year. It is the variety, as well as the quantity, of content that has been important in helping GLORY to develop. Each time it has an event, GLORY cuts four complete TV shows, including its GLORY numbered events, the GLORY Super Fight series, the Inside GLORY magazine programme that introduces the weekend’s fights and tournaments, and then Rewind, which summarises the weekend events. As well as this, GLORY has tournament formats for fights, something Franklin says is “unique in combat sport showings,” giving it another edge over rival combat offerings. 

To cast a net for a wider audience, GLORY also aims to put on knock-out events. “We’re creating a lot of content featuring our top athletes and hosted by well-known personalities,” says Franklin. “Guys like Mike Tyson and Bill Goldberg host the countdown shows with us or are featured as part of the live shows.”

The theme of building audience growth around the hook of personality is a tactic GLORY uses similarly with the creation of special pay-per-view events which carry backstories. One such upcoming event is ‘GLORY: Redemption’ in December, when GLORY heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven takes on Jamal Ben Saddik, a rivalry dating back to their first meeting 2011.

“Some of these big fight match-ups take on a life of their own,” says Franklin. “With fights like Mayweather v McGregor, people who don’t even follow combat sports came out of the woodwork because it was telling a compelling and interesting story.

“Combat sports promoters try to create a storyline, but it works well to use organic narratives. When you look at the Rico v Badr Hari match-up last December, it was the story of two fighters coming from different backgrounds; Rico cut his teeth in GLORY, whereas Badr spent his time fighting top guys in Japan. Badr was a dominating figure in kickboxing and Rico was a teenager, so the match-up was interesting, and gave people a sense of who these fighters were.

“It resulted in a sell-out crowd in Germany – I think it was the highest-rated show in Holland for the whole year, beating Formula One and other more mainstream sports – and it proved that when the story is right and when the athletes collide, kickboxing can be right up there with MMA and other major boxing events.”

GLORY is the number one kickboxing brand in the world

Aside from bringing in audiences through the generation of captivating content, GLORY has to differentiate itself from other combat sports events. “From a combat sports standpoint, GLORY is a bit different,” says Franklin. “We don’t have the on-the-ground fighting that MMA has, we’re all stand-up fighting.

“When the opponents are standing up and fighting it out at an MMA event, that’s when fans are cheering the most, and when they get down on the ground, people either boo or don’t understand what’s going on as it’s a little bit harder to see. We also have a high knock-out ratio, and crowds like the drama. GLORY encompasses all the best parts of combat sports, in my mind.”

GLORY, says Franklin, are a global brand, and so thinking about their global development is a priority. The promoter is always looking to target new audiences, and last year received a Chinese investor, Yao Capital, launching its expansion into China. “We’re the first into China for combat brands, and we’re pretty excited about that,” Franklin continues. “It’s a huge market, obviously – not only from a fan standpoint but also from a sponsor and television standpoint.”

Chinese market expansion isn’t the only punch GLORY is looking to land. ‘We’ve got an initiative going in the Americas, extending into Latin America and also Canada,” says Franklin.  “We will be hosting our first event in Brazil in 2018.  We’ve signed with some different television agencies, as well as our traditional agencies that we’ve had for a number of years; Total Sports Asia in the Far East and Asia areas. So like some of the other big brands such as Formula One and Major League Baseball and UFC, we’re trying to work with groups that have a big presence in the areas that we’re expanding into.”

GLORY has brought many of the leading kickboxers into one league, including names like Badr Hari (left) and Rico Verhoeven (right), making a broad range of elite match-ups possible

With digitisation and technological development changing the way sport is consumed, so that over-the-top platforms (OTT) are an emerging force within the broadcasting arena, GLORY has to consider the content it produces and the way this is distributed in an era of fragmentation.

“You need to have something that’s exclusive for some broadcasters and something that’s exclusive for OTT,” says Franklin. “In addition, you have a lot more opportunities to stream your content but you also want to make sure that the platforms you’re streaming on are platforms that are reaching your target audience, and also getting to a mainstream audience.

“You can eliminate dark areas in a way you couldn’t three or four years ago by using internet platforms. It becomes a jigsaw puzzle of rights between the traditional cable satellite and TV broadcasters, and the OTT broadcasters, and obviously, as a rights holder, you have to figure it out so you can maximise not only your distribution, but your reach and viewership.”

Sponsorship will be the next challenge for GLORY as the company seeks to bolster its position as a major sports event producer on a global stage. “We’re going from strength to strength, increasing our distribution with each event; we practically doubled our sales in New York in just two years, which shows we are becoming more mainstream,” Franklin says. “Next we need to bring on board a couple of major global partners and grow brand awareness. We want to find a partner that can take advantage of our platforms and move forward with us.”

This article originally appeared in issue 96 of SportsPro Magazine. To find out more or to subscribe, click here.