Since its foundation in 2009, the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts (BAMMA) has grown to become the premier MMA promotion operating in the UK. With a global television footprint that extends into the hundreds of millions, a new terrestrial TV deal with television network Channel 5 agreed in June 2012 aims to bring the promotion’s recognition at home in line with its impressive international profile.
Following the conclusion of BAMMA 10 on 15th September, SportsPro caught up with chief executive David Green who explained the inner workings of the BAMMA business.
How did you come to be BAMMA chief executive?
My background is in TV production. The way I got involved with MMA was that I had a TV show on Spike in the US - which I’m sure you know is sort of the home of UFC - so I’d been in the States quite a lot. I’m a huge fan of the sport and when I was living in the US I used to go up to Vegas every weekend to watch the fights. So I knew the sport really well and I’d had all the DVDs from back in the early days of the UFC – the Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock era.
When I came back to England I was making quite a few programmes for Bravo and when they lost the UFC, first of all to Setanta and then latterly to ESPN, they felt like they had a gap to fill. They actually approached me to see what was out there in the UK market because they felt like if they had a strong domestic product then that could work really well. The reality was that when we looked, there wasn’t anything operating at the time that really leant itself to a good TV production. So we made the leap of faith and set up our own promotion, that was just over three years ago now.
"On some level I don’t think there’s anything to be embarrassed about if, at this stage in our development, we bring on talent that ultimately ends up in the UFC"
After successfully defending the BAMMA middleweight title three times, Tom Watson signed to the UFC in July 2012
How has the promotion grown since its inception in 2009?
I think it has grown well, very quickly, and we’re very happy with it. It’s extremely difficult because you’re not just producing a TV show, you’re producing an event and everything else that goes with that. As a company [Giant Film & TV] we’re quite used to big event management and production but there’s a whole new skill set to learn - dealing with fighters and agents and things like that. There was quite a steep learning curve to begin with.
How long does it take to put on an event?
We did five last year, but our model is really more like six to eight events a year. We’ve had a little bit of a stall this year because we’ve been between TV contracts - we’ve moved from NBC Universal to Channel 5 - so there’s been a longer gap than we would’ve liked but normally we’ll have an event every six to eight weeks. Our next event will be on 1st December at the NIA, BAMMA 11.
The first and hardest thing about putting an even on is putting the fight card together because the matchups are key to your integrity as an MMA brand. I think we’re lucky in the UK because we’ve got a huge depth of talent. There are not a lot of marquee names in the UK because the UFC snaps up some of the biggest names. You’ve got to work hard to get some of the bigger names who will give your brand some legitimacy and integrity but also sell the event. At the end of the day you’re selling tickets to a big arena and you’re hoping people are going to tune in.
How do you hold on to your biggest stars?
Well we’ve got our guys on multi-fight contracts - Rob Sinclair is on a multi-fight contract - but you can only do so much. I think we saw that with Tom Watson who was a big name of ours who has now moved on to the UFC. We’ve all got on really well with Tom and we’re all pleased from him that he’s got this opportunity. On some level I don’t think there’s anything to be embarrassed about if, at this stage in our development, we bring on talent that ultimately ends up in the UFC. By virtue of that I think a lot of fighters realise that BAMMA is a great showcase for them. Ultimately, as we progress as a promotion we’ll be looking to keep our main fighters on the card. Certainly from a purse point of view, our main guys are getting as much as they’d get in the UFC. But there is still that draw from the UFC that brings them over because it is the number one promotion in the world.
What are the details of BAMMA’s new TV deal with Channel 5?
Because it’s a network deal - and by that I mean terrestrial TV - it was really important for us to get it. The downside is that you can sign multi-year deals with multi-channel companies and you won’t be held account over your viewing figures. With a channel like Channel 5, you’re not going to be around long if you don’t perform. That said, on both occasions that we’ve been on, we’ve performed well above slot average and we’ve posted high figures amongst our key demographic of male 16-30, which is also a great demographic for TV and for advertisers so it works well for them as well. I think they see the potential of the sport and we get on really well with them. As long as people keep switching on I think it’ll be a long-term relationship
In terms of BAMMA’s main revenue streams - ticket sales, television rights and sponsorship - how do they work out percentage-wise?
They’re actually remarkably similar and they’re all equally important.
"We’d like to be much more of a household name. We’d like to be doing more shows to bigger audiences and just have an established presence as a sports TV platform in the UK"
BAMMA chief executive David Green
I think we’re different to a lot of UK promotions in that a lot of people are doing back-of-a-fag-packet maths with regards to ticket sales - that’s not quite the case with us. We haven’t put as much energy as we could into ticket sales but we’ve always had good gates in big arenas.
Our main focus has always been with TV and we’ve got a huge global platform now, were live in multiple territories. We’re live in the US, we’re live in the Canada, we’re live in Brazil to over 200 million households, we’re live across Latin America, we’re live across Africa on Setanta, we’re on Eurosport, we’re in Russia – the global footprint is into hundreds of millions. That’s been key for us because that’s our shop window. The revenues from that are obviously quite significant as well because we have multiple deals in multiple territories which all go into the pot for each event.
Sponsorship has also been very important for us. We’ve just recently re-signed with two of our longer-term sponsors - GoDaddy and Lonsdale. Lonsdale has been really key for us and they’ve shown the faith and signed up for another year with us on an improved deal. They saw the benefits from the first year and we’ve delivered everything that we said we would. Obviously they bring money through the door first of all but more importantly, we’ve avoided certain sponsors that may not quite fit with what we’re trying to project. It’s been hard to turn down easy money when it’s put in front of you but it’s also important to have a portfolio of sponsors that sit comfortably with one another. For someone like Lonsdale who has traditionally been a boxing brand and in many ways the face of British boxing, to have them involved with us has been really important for a legitimacy point of view.
Where would BAMMA like to be in five years time?
We’d like to be much more of a household name. We’d like to be doing more shows to bigger audiences and just have an established presence as a sports TV platform in the UK.
BAMMA 11 will take place on 1st December at the NIA in Birmingham. For more information, visit www.bamma.com