“Future Champs” or future nobodies?

In April, the World Series of Fighting promotion began airing a show called Future Champs that showcases the preliminary fighters from its cards in a 30-minute show format on the NBC Sports Network. The series features fights from its past events. But burying these fights on the somewhat obscure NBC Sports Network does almost nothing to help further promote these fighters, the WSOF or even NBC Sports itself.

Right now, WSOF airs on a channel that is available in approximately 78 million households (in comparison, the UFC’s dual cable homes on FX and Fuel are available in approximately 98 million and 37 millions households, respectively). This is an improvement upon when the UFC graced the Versus network (as NBC Sports Network was formerly known) but it still lags behind the UFC’s biggest cable outlet on FX. However, the promotion was able to increase its peak viewership by 46 percent from its first event on Nov. 3, 2012 (228,000 viewers) to its second event on March 23 (332,000).

But now with the NHL playoffs in full swing, it might be tough to promote the show, and NBC seemingly isn’t too invested in doing so. Having watched many a New York Rangers game on NBC, I have to ask, where’s the promotional push? It’s not there. For a broadcast network to see its sports-oriented sister station succeed, it needs to use its own larger reach to spread the word. NBC should have commercial spots in place (especially during those hockey games) to promote the WSOF’s live events and the Future Champs series. But it doesn’t.

As for the show itself, it airs one preliminary card fight per episode that wow’d the crowd. An effort like that should receive a heavy push. The fight received its own 30-minute spot and should be hyped as a stage for spectacular fights that fans didn’t get to see the first time around. The WSOF and NBC Sports call the show Future Champs but do nothing to push these fighters as such.

These guys could make the promotion tons of money one day. They should be promoted further. The show could be featured in the afternoon lineup on NBC, which could help draw eyeballs to future events. Strikeforce used a similar strategy with its highlight show on NBC. And in professional wrestling, WWE and WCW, in its heyday, pitted their biggest stars against enhancement talent on weekend afternoon programming in order to build an even larger audience for their premier events, such as Wrestlemania or The Great American Bash. WSOF and NBC should work to utilize the same strategy with this new effort. Once hockey season is over and we move towards the summer, NBC will have trouble filling some of those afternoon slots on Saturday or Sunday and this show could be a great addition.

And if the intent is to build more original programming for the NBC Sports Network, then push it as such. There’s no reason why the parent network should be void of ad spots for its sports network and the programming contained therein. By giving the programming the proper publicity, not only is NBC promoting the fighters and the WSOF, but also further showcasing the NBC Sports Network. This network is meant to be NBC’s answer to ESPN and the Fox Sports group of networks, but it can never achieve that level of success without growing its reach. And that growth cannot happen if nobody cares to tune in to the network or request its addition to their own cable lineup.

The guys featured on Future Champs could very well be the future WSOF co-main event, main event or even live up to the show’s title and become champions. But this sort of spotlight could be put to better use. A perfect parallel can be drawn with Strikeforce’s Challengers series. That was a live event, whereas this is a single pre-recorded preliminary card fight, but both serve the purpose of introducing fans to fighters they likely had never heard of nor seen in action. Strikeforce’s effort failed because it started with only a little hype and quickly faded to the point where only the fighters, the fighter’s family and friends and the behind-the-scenes crews working on the shows seemed to know that the events were taking place and airing on cable. Even a large portion of the MMA media ignored these events. This was all because Strikeforce and its broadcast partner, Showtime, didn’t invest in proper promotion for the show. That can’t be the case for the World Series of Fighting and NBC, otherwise they will fail as well.

The idea of this show is perfect on paper and the fighters won’t complain about the exposure, however limited it may be. But the full potential of this show is not being realized. Much like Strikeforce’s Challengers series, this show could advance the careers of the featured fighters if it is properly promoted and utilized. It could serve to build interest in the WSOF’s product as a whole. But much like the Strikeforce show, it seems like the powers that be haven’t realized how to milk the most out of this series. But it’s time they did.

Photo: Justin Gaethje (R) stuffs a takedown at WSOF 2 (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

  • Chris

    I caught both episodes of Future Champs (found out about it on the WSOF’s Facebook) and really liked what I saw. Hopefully they keep pushing and building talent, I imagine more people watching will create more advertising.