Remember Lloyd Dobbler? The lovable character portrayed by Jon Cusak in the late 80’s romantic comedy Say Anything? In a notable scene from the cult classic, he was asked by his girlfriend’s father at dinner to talk of his future plans:
“So what I’ve been doing lately is kickboxing,” Dobbler said as other family members at dinner remained silent, much like the U.S. TV market since the sport's inception. “Which is a new sport…I think it’s got a good future.”
Those same sentiments are shared by the upstart-kickboxing promotion Glory, as it signed a multi-year contract with SPIKE TV on Thursday, bringing its promotion to a channel that reaches nearly 100 million homes.
“We really wanted to find the exact right network for us and obviously SPIKE is in a class of its own in identifying what’s new and what’s next,” Chief Executive Andrew Whitaker told Bleacher Report. “Fortunately for us they agreed with us and believe we’re it. We really feel we’d be crazy not to take the best shot in hitting as many of Americas eyeballs as possible.“
The former WWE executive said SPIKE has “a good bunch of people to work with. Led by Kevin Kay, they have a good vision really in this. They’ve been there for the first meeting of the UFC,” he continued. “They took a gamble on that when it was unproven. He and his team, we really have respect for their foresight and how they really helped a big sport become really, an industry. We see ourselves very much as brothers in combat sports. To be a part of the SPIKE TV platform is a great thing.”
Glory just had its first big broadcast event in America on CBS Sports last Saturday. The event took place in Manhattan, but was shown later on delay playing second fiddle to the Arena Football League and Major Lacrosse league programming.
Whitaker had only praise for CBS calling them “the tiffany network of American broadcasting,” and a “great organization to work with,” before explaining why it wasn’t working out.
“Essentially their programming commitments at this particular time lay elsewhere, and obviously we’ve done a deal with SPIKE and we are delighted with that,” he said.
Kickboxing has never broken through in the States. The Professional Karate Association had kickboxing fights on ESPN during the mid-80s featuring the likes of Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Dennis “The Terminator” Alexio, and Jon Cusak’s mentor, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez, but they were not featured in prime time and did not gain huge popularity.
From the 90s into the turn of the century, the Japanese promotion K-1 became a kickboxing powerhouse. It too would fail to capitalize in America. The promotion was televised on HDNet beginning in 2008, but it missed its big chance after a network deal with ESPN for a Friday-night time slot fell through in 2003.
How will Glory succeed where others have failed?
“I think you’ve sort of seen it firsthand yourself in New York, in Manhattan at Glory 9,” Whitaker said. “How it’s delivered, the caliber of talent that’s delivered in significant numbers. The top-flight kickboxing athletes that are in Glory are really the crème de la crème when it comes to this discipline, coupled with the television production that is being delivered—I think by any standard is extremely high.”
It certainly has the best in the sport under its umbrella with fighters like Tyrone Spong, Daniel Ghita and Gokhan Saki among others. The production is loud as well as big, with a huge video screen being the backdrop for every fighter’s introduction and pyrotechnics adding to fans' excitement.
A huge advantage with the SPIKE deal, Whitaker admits Glory “will be on in prime time” and “it will be live,” before saying he couldn’t reveal any other details as of now.
“We will be announcing the specifics very shortly as it relates to the end of 2013 and, for that matter, the whole of 2014 as well,” he said.
While Glory can lay claim to having the best kickboxers in the world, it also have a smart strategy in place to build homegrown talent in the U.S. with “The Road to Glory” tournaments that have led to Glory contracts for the winners.
“There is tremendous young athletic talent in America,” Whitaker said. “I just really think that when it comes to kickboxing—I wouldn’t say it’s been lying dormant—it’s been active, it just hasn’t been active with the platform to assert it enough. I think the development of bringing up young Glory kickboxers is integral to the long term and mid-term health of the Glory sporting brand.”
While kickboxing only had boxing as a chief rival in the 80s and 90s, it now has MMA as well. Some fans will enjoy both sports, but others who aren’t particularly fond of the grappling aspect of MMA may prefer the stand-up action Glory can provide.
“You are not going to hear anything negative from Glory about MMA—as best exemplified obviously by the UFC,” Whitaker said. “Anybody who is anybody in the sports business and the television business the last x number of years knows that they’re the ones that people look up to, as it relates to what they have done in a very pioneering sense. In a kickboxing discipline we would very much want to emulate their success.”
The Glory chief executive gives the impression the goal isn’t to compete with MMA, it’s to carve out their own niche.
“I think it’s probably like anything else in sports, there’s some crossover but I think at the same time there will be a whole new and different audience as well that will be watching kickboxing,” he said.
Whitaker explained how he can translate his knowledge, experience and expertise he gained from working with the WWE into success for Glory.
“I think the fact is obviously WWE, as everybody knows, is entertainment,” Whitaker said. “Moving that to one side, it is first and foremost a live event arena attraction that has a television component. That has the live events component. It has consumer products, merchandising, licensing, it has online and digital publishing response to it. So the same lines of business that sit in an entertainment company, sit in sporting brands as well.”
“While there is no quote-unquote similarity necessarily between a pure sport and an athletic form of entertainment,” Whitaker said.
He explained how the day-to-day operations of pro wrestling and a combat-sports promotion like Glory are very similar.
“The fact remains that there are the fundamental disciplines of marketing and public relations supporting all those lines of business that make a lot of the same work that you need to do with a sports league or a sports brand the same as you would for entertainment,” he concluded.
Whitaker referred to Glory as an “emerging global super league” and said the overall goal is “to build out Glory, and the intellectual property that Glory is, across all lines of business.
"To build out the successful multi-line business that any sports league aspires to, whatever sport that happens to be that operates globally,” he continued. “We are very much fixated on building a successful multi-divisional business, a major global attraction where it’s watched by millions and millions of viewers on a regular basis. One in which we deliver many more live events where we build out and develop the other lines of business, such as at some point pay-per-view. And everything that goes along with having a healthy super league.”
Glory already has the popularity abroad. The U.S. is obviously its toughest challenge and now its main focus. They were able to land the deal with SPIKE after only a little over a year in existence. Even with the talent pool it has acquired, along with developing new talent, it could still fail. However, it appears as if it will be making the hardest effort and best attempt at succeeding yet.
“We believe we are the next big thing, but we’re not there yet,” a confident but honest Whitaker said. “We’re quite a ways away from being a billion or multi-billion dollar brand. We firmly believe that give us a few years and come and check on us then. We believe we have something really amazing here and we are really are on our way with SPIKE TV.”
Maybe Lloyd Dobbler was right. Maybe kickboxing really is the sport of the future. If Glory succeeds in the U.S. we’ll know he was.
Michael Stets is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first hand unless otherwise noted.