After years of airing MMA programming on his high-definition TV network HDNet, Mark Cuban jumped into the sport head-first in the fall of 2007. Cuban's HDNet Fights promoted two events in 2007 and has co-promoted a number of events with other promotions since then. In addition, HDNet Fights has an ambitious goal of televising at least 24 MMA events on HDNet this year in an attempt to make the network the destination for MMA fans.
Last week, Fight Ticker members were given the opportunity to post questions for Cuban. I chose the best ones and submitted them to him. Here are Cuban's responses, by email.
Fight Ticker: Why should fighters want to fight with your promotion and not the UFC?
Mark Cuban: Fighters can fight with whatever promotion is best for their career. No two fighters are in the same position. Our commitment is to do our best to help the fighter reach their personal and professional goals.
FT: HDNet has a limited audience right now. Are you doing anything to increase the reach of your network (ie. negotiating with major cable companies, etc.)?
MC: We are in front of 66 [million] homes. So any MMA fan can find a way to get HDNet. We are closing in on 9 [million subscriptions], and growing very quickly. We certainly are not far behind Showtime and catching up fast. That said, we have such a strong base of MMA audience, our Friday night numbers beat the 'bigger' [networks] all the time.
The demand for HDNet is there and we are talking to the three cable companies that don't carry us. The great news is that the more MMA fans call and ask for HDNet, the sooner it will happen
FT: With the recent spotlight on steroid abuse in professional athletics, will HDNet Fights do anything above and beyond the testing done by athletic commissions to combat abuse by fighters?
MC: I'm not sure yet.
FT: What is the best testing plan to prevent steroid abuse by fighters?
MC: I don't know.
FT: What improvements are you willing to offer the fighters in regards to better pay, health insurance, and maybe a retirement plan over what they currently have?
MC: It's something we are working hard on. We are trying to find the best way to cover them in a manner that retains their ability to fight when and where they want.
FT: What do you think about women being involved in MMA? Do you agree with it or disagree with it and why?
MC: I'm fine [with] it.
FT: Do you fear that by adding your promotion to the mix and prying away a few established stars that you may be not only cheating MMA fans out of the matches they want to see (if all the fighters were signed under one promotion) but may also be diluting the field to the point where it could hurt the sport as a whole?
MC: Not at all. Pretty much everyone works [with] each other except for the UFC. It's only been the last year where other promoters have been a threat, and HDNet has only been in the mix six months. Over an extended period of time, I think the UFC's PPV partners will push them to partner up in order to get the best fights. That is the UFC's Achilles. If they can't maintain PPV buy levels and number of fights, they will have to make adjustments.
FT: With HDNet signing up so many organizations, eg. the IFL and Strikeforce, to television contracts, is there a timetable in place for the merger of the best-of-the-best of these organizations? And, under which banner would such an organization make most sense: IFL, HDNet Fights, or another?
MC: Not that we would push for. Having all that entrepreneurial energy is great for MMA.
FT: Right now, there appears to be more of an intent on HDNet Fights' part to co-promote with other promotions and televise their events rather than focusing on your own promotion and your own events. Will we see more HDNet Fights events similar to the two last fall anytime soon?
MC: Only when we can put together amazing cards. We won't promote just to promote. We can be far more effective partnering and placing fighters on cards and helping fighters to build a fan base across promoters.
FT: There have been reports of HDNet agreeing to televise Dream events this year. Is this a done deal?
MC: Can't comment.
FT: Reports indicate that none of the Dream events will be aired live on HDNet. Do you think it is important for the growth of the sport and for your channel to be able to air events live?
MC: We have more free live events than every other network combined. We think that fans shouldn't have to pay 50 dollars plus every month to see great fights. Free is the future of MMA. Only the best three or four fights per year should be PPV
FT: Are you in negotiations to televise the Hardcore Fighting Championships show based out of Canada or World Victory Road from Japan on HDNet in the near future?
MC: We talk to everyone. HDNet is the ultimate destination for MMA every weekend. If there is a great card, we want to televise it
FT: Are there any plans to have a channel that is devoted to MMA 24 hours a day, i.e., replays of classic fights, news, reality shows, live events, etc.?
FT: You have recently suggested that the UFC is in violation of the Ali Reform Act for alleged anti-competitive practices. However, the Ali Act only applies to boxing and does not apply to MMA. Do you intend to hire lobbyists for the creation of a similar act for MMA or revise the Ali Reform Act to include MMA?
MC: MMA wasn't considered when the act was put in place. That doesn't mean it doesn't apply. Think of it as laws for VHS applying to DVD.
FT: One common criticism of the UFC is that there is no coherent ranking system in place, meaning that there is no set system to determine who gets title shots. How will your promotion determine who the number one contender is?
MC: We will use the "Inside MMA" weekly rankings.
FT: What are you going to do to preserve the long-term viability of MMA? Namely, what can be done to prevent MMA from suffering from boxing's current (and debilitating) "alphabet-soup" of titles and championships?
MC: The titles and championships stuff is nonsense. Everyone [with] half a brain knows they mean nothing beyond a way for the 'commissions' getting paid. We just will ignore them and focus on using "Inside MMA" as an objective source of rankings.
FT: Given MMA's perceived similarities with fighting in general, do you feel HDNet Fights has a social responsibility in deterring street violence, and if so, how do you aim to accomplish this?
MC: Do [you] want us to stop third graders from picking their noses as well? We are not role models.
FT: As you pointed out in your blog last week with regards to the WashingtonPost.com column by Leanord Shapiro, mainstream media doesn't get the sport. What do you think is the biggest impediment to making MMA mainstream?
MC: Time. It's still early in the marketing cycle. The UFC has only really been a viable business for a few years. This industry has a long way to go and a lot of changes to go through yet.
FT: How do you intend to market HDNet Fights to gather new viewers beyond its current hardcore following?
MC: It reminds of the questions I got in the early days of the internet. 'What are you going to do to promote the net so that more people come to broadcast.com?'
The net doesn't need promotion and neither does MMA. It's a sport that's viral in nature. It will grow because its fun to watch. What does need to happen is for casual viewers to become better educated about the sport. That turns them into hardcore viewers. That is something we are building into our programming on weekends and when we do promote MMA, it's not about knockouts, it's promoting the strategy and athleticism involved.
FT: Is CBS' decision to televise EliteXC live on its network the landmark deal that will propel MMA into the mainstream? Why or why not?
MC: No. It's a nice test to see how mainstream the sport has become. It will certainly add fans to the base, but it's too early to be an inflection point.
FT: You recently filed a lawsuit aimed at determining the status of Randy Couture's contract with the UFC. What is the status of that lawsuit?
MC: Can't comment.
FT: Is it true that you already have a contract with Couture in place which is effective immediately after Couture's contract with the UFC ends?
MC: Can't comment.
FT: Is Couture's contract with you exclusive? And, is he signed only as a fighter or in multiple capacities (if multiple, what are those capacities)?
MC: Can't comment.
FT:Kurt Angle is claiming in a number of reports that he and Couture are scheduled to participate in some sort of grappling match later this year. Would such a match be allowed by an HDNet Fight contract with Couture?
MC: They are trying to make it happen and it will be on HDNet.
FT: What do you make of the FedorEmelianenko situation, given that it appears that he may be a free agent and that he never actually signed a contract with M-1? Do you think Fedor is worth all the trouble to sign him?
MC: Yes. He is amazing. Kind of the Charles Barkley of MMA. Doesn't look like much, but he is a star. I have incredible respect for Fedor. He not only is a great fighter, but he stands by his principles and values. That alone is admirable.
FT: News came out a while back that you are trying to pull Floyd Mayweather into the realm of MMA. Does his involvement with the WWE and his involvement with BET's Iron Rings mean that he has gone in a different direction or is there still a possible joint venture between you two in the works?
MC: No. It just means he is getting his feet wet.
FT: There are rumors you will be involved with a new MMA promotion involving Affliction and Golden Boy Promotions. Do you have any details on this venture? Would this involvement be through HDNet Fights or a through completely different entity?
MC: Nothing to comment on there.