Wherever Len Asper went, he heard the same thing.
Asper, CEO of Anthem Media Group, said he’s run into all sorts of people involved with combat sports over the years—fighters, managers, promoters and fans—who just couldn’t believe Fight Network wasn’t yet available where they lived.
“I got asked why a lot,” Asper told Bleacher Report. “And I’d tell them I’d been trying for a few years and that there’s a bit of a disconnect between the fans and the carriers, some who don’t believe there is really a need for the network.”
But Asper and the people over at Anthem, parent company of the Toronto-based Fight Network, kept their noses to the grindstone. Fight Network launched for the first time in the United States last month after reaching a carriage agreement with Cablevision in the New York area.
Less than a month later, Fight Network was made available to Grande Communications subscribers in Texas.
Asper has a global vision for Fight Network, something he believes will help it catch on everywhere, even among the ficklest of fight fans here in America. The network has already laid roots around the world. Fight Network is offered by all major carriers in Canada and over 30 countries across Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
“What I like about the Fight Network is that’s it’s not limited to one region or one kind of discipline. The fight audience is global. The Fight Network fits into the context of building a group of global sports channels.”
Fight Network originally launched back in 2005 under Mike Garrow. Asper took over ownership of the channel in 2010 and became CEO. Fight Network covers all combat sports, including boxing, mixed martial arts, kickboxing, traditional martial arts and professional wrestling. The network’s programs include live fight cards, dramas, reality series, documentaries and feature films.
Asper said that the challenge of getting Fight Network everywhere is convincing cable operators and carriers that the market for it exists. He said he ran into the same thing in Canada before educating necessary parties, like carriers and advertisers, on what combat sports are and how wide a reach they have in the consumer market.
“No operator has said it’s not a great idea. What they’ve said is that it’s competing against other ideas and so it’s a question of trying to rise above the crowd.”
Asper said the economics for cable operators is tighter today than at any time previous, and that rising above the crowd is harder than ever. He said the wide proliferation of specialty channels has made it so that there are only one or two times a year when a new channel can launch, whereas before there was many.
“The operators better believe and have good evidence that it’s going to be big.”
Asper believes Fight Network can be big, and he’s already convinced one of the nation’s biggest cable companies, CableVision, the same.
“It’s not just a cable company. It’s CableVision. It’s big...It’s a big statement, and it’s also very important for advertising. I think it helps the economics for the channel. It helps drive revenues so we can invest in more programming.”
Asper said that he believes Fight Network offers the best programming in combat sports today, a view he says has been supported by athletes and performers via social media.
But Asper’s job isn’t nearly done. The vast majority of people living in the United States do not have access to Fight Network. Asper said he’s doing everything he can to change that.
“We’re talking to every carrier right now, and we have been for over a year. I think that we’re going to break through everywhere over time.”
Asper said that he’s looking at all possibilities, too. In the age of X-Box and Netflix media content, no stone will go unturned.
“We want to be on all those platforms. We’re meeting with all of them, and they’re assessing the whole thing right now. They’re trying to decide if there is enough demand for a fight channel.”
Asper believes there is. If you’re a fan of boxing, mixed martial arts or professional wrestling, you probably do, too. But whether Fight Network makes it in America will depend on whether cable operators believe the same.
“They have to see customer demand. Any fans of boxing or fighting who help show that demand will be helpful to both us and everyone in the industry.”
And how does Asper plan on increasing customer demand? He said that part was simple. Asper believes Fight Network is something unique in today's fight world: global, mainstream and credible.
"I’m extremely proud of the fact that we’ve brought an intelligent and credible set of shows to the network that covers the fight world. I don’t think it exists anywhere else."
Kelsey McCarson is a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. He contributes to The Sweet Science, Boxing Channel and Bleacher Report.