X-Treme Sports Give Monaco Market Punch

By Dom Serafini

The success of the 18th annual SPORTELMonaco — the international sports convention for television and new media executives, to be held in the principality of Monte Carlo, October 15-18 — was officially declared in late August, two months prior to its opening, when it had already surpassed expectations, selling out 95 percent of its exhibition space.

“We’ve had to put stands in the lobby area for the first time,” said Bill Vitale, chairman of Vital Communications, the exclusive worldwide Sales and Marketing representative for SPORTEL.
The market, which will be held at Monaco’s Grimaldi Forum three days after MIPCOM in Cannes, will once again feature the biggest names in sports programming distributors, including U.S. V.I.P.s: the National Football League, NASCAR, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, ESPN and the PGA Tour, and European bigwigs such as Eurosport, the International Softball Federation and more.

Alfred Haber’s “IFL Battleground”

“It’s a very focused market, much like a MIPCOM Jr. or a MipDoc,” said Matthew Ody, whose eponymous firm, Matthew Ody & Associates, handles the international distribution of Chuck Norris’ World Combat League (WCL), a series that showcases mixed martial arts (MMA) combat. “You can achieve a lot in a short period of time and be effective without having to walk around searching for people like you do at bigger markets. You can just do your job better.”

Ody is certain that World Combat League, which airs in primetime on the Versus network in the U.S., will be met with much fanfare as buyers search for the next big thing in male-oriented programming. “Advertisers are finding that men can’t watch organized sports like soccer or baseball all the time due to the sports’ confined schedules,” said Ody. “So what do you air when they’re not on?”

This year, the answer is easy: fight shows. In addition to World Combat League, Alfred Haber Distribution will be on hand touting its International Fight League (IFL) slate. And the mother of all things MMA, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), will also take a booth at the Grimaldi Forum.

“The hot new trend this year is mixed martial arts,” said SPORTEL’s Vitale. “The numbers in the U.S. are staggering. MMA gets more viewers than the baseball playoffs!”

For UFC president Dana White, the reason why is simple. “It’s the most exciting sport out there,” he said. The company recently began expanding beyond the U.S., holding matches in the U.K. “It’s already the biggest combat sport in the world,” said White. “I want to be the first fight promoter who does global pay-per-view. I want the whole world to watch. And SPORTEL is the place to make that happen.”

Despite the seeming overabundance of series devoted to MMA, Ody feels there’s a place for each of them — especially considering that appetites for blood and gore vary greatly worldwide.

“UFC is doing well, but it has a certain style of violence not acceptable outside of the pay-TV and cable environments in certain regions,” said Ody. “You need programming that’s realistic, yet controllable, and World Combat League is just that.”

Alfred Haber’s Bob Kennedy noted that IFL’s team-based match-ups (as opposed to the UFC’s individual face-offs) present MMA at its best. “You get all the action of Brazilian jujitsu, but it’s more advertiser-friendly and more palatable to the viewer in this form,” he said.

UFC’s White disagreed. “Would you rather see Rampage Jackson vs. Chuck Liddell,” he asked, referring to two of the UFC’s biggest fighters, “or, say, the Beavers vs. the Woodchucks?”

Just before the market Alfred Haber struck a deal with Asia’s Star TV for IFL Battleground, and IFL Fight Night. Star, IFL’s first television partner in Asia, will carry both series on its Star Sports platform, available in over 50 countries to a viewership of approximately 300 million.

“We have more deals in the works,” said Kennedy, citing negotiations with broadcasters in Scandinavia, Israel, Central Europe and Romania. He hopes to sign contracts with another 20 territories in the near future and feels SPORTEL is the place to do it.

“The market is so concentrated on male-oriented action programming that it’s been very useful for us,” said Kennedy, noting that he’s already scheduled more than 50 meetings for what will amount to a relatively short stint in Monaco. “SPORTEL has become a major annual appointment for us.”

The market has also become a critical one for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). “SPORTEL’s been an integral part of our growth,” said WWE’s Andrew Whitaker, mentioning that the company’s been coming to Monaco since it was a relatively small $2 million business. “We’re now over $100 million, and that goes off the back of what we’ve done at SPORTEL.”

Whitaker isn’t at all worried that the proliferation of MMA programming will impact the wrestling shows WWE produces. “My view is it’s the ultimate compliment to us as pioneers in the category of action entertainment.”

Although it’ll play a big part, SPORTEL won’t be all MMA all the time. Monaco has also become an important yearly destination for Brazil’s Globo TV, which will be bringing programming devoted to Brazilian football, as well as indoor volleyball and stock car racing.

“For those of us in sports media, SPORTEL is far better than MIPCOM,” said Globo’s Vinicius Pagin. “It’s just so much more focused and allows us to deliver our product to our clients much more easily.”

GRB Entertainment’s Marielle Zuccarelli concurred. The California-based company recently struck a deal to represent Live Nation, a U.S. firm that possesses a large motor sports catalogue, which includes shows like Monster Jam and Supercross. “Live Nation is right behind NASCAR,” said Zuccarelli. “That’s how big they are in this arena.” GRB recently sold Supercross to the U.K.’s Channel 5 and Italy’s Fox Sports. While this will be GRB’s very first trip to Monte Carlo, Zuccarelli is confident. “We don’t generally talk to sports programmers but we’ll be able to meet with the right buyers and expose Live Nation to the world.”

Each and every company headed to Monaco is hoping for the same level of exposure. But whether it’s motor sports or MMA that holds buyers’ attention most at the market, SPORTEL’s Vitale is enthusiastic. “I’m just looking forward to the buzz created when the Grimaldi Forum is full,” he said. LHR