With exit of Strikeforce, Showtime looking for replacement promotion

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Despite the impending end of a three-year broadcast relationship with Strikeforce, Showtime has no plans to get out of MMA.

Stephen Espinoza, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, today told MMAjunkie.com that the network is in active discussions with a variety of combat-sports promoters to fill the void left by the Zuffa-owned promotion, which is scheduled to hold its final event on Saturday.

Shark Fights, Legacy Fighting Championship, Invicta FC and Xtreme Fighting Championships are among those rumored to have been in talks with Showtime. Espinoza, though, declined to name any possible suitors.

“We are actively looking for other opportunities,” Espinoza said. “(We) haven’t found the right opportunity yet, but we are definitely looking for the next relationship in the MMA space.”

Espinoza described the possibilities discussed for a future partner include “virtually every [possibility] in the combat-sports area.”

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The line about “combat sports area” as opposed to simply saying MMA might indicate that Showtime may have an interest in kickboxing as well.

Espinoza expanded on the remarks in an interview on The MMA Hour.

“We had the option to extend for another year,” said Espinoza. “We decided not to, and candidly, there’s one main reason behind it. As any fan who follows Strikeforce or MMA generally knows, there’s been some talent problems in the last half of the year, and there’s been some injury problems throughout the sport. But given where the talent pool in Strikeforce is, we really got decimated by injuries and suspensions. And in the overall scheme of things, we just weren’t comfortable with the trajectory of where the shows were going. We didn’t believe towards the end of the year that we were getting shows that were premium television level shows, and we didn’t see that situation getting any better. I wanted to live up to the high standards that Strikeforce set with Showtime before I got here, and as the year went on, it was clear that wasn’t going to happen.”

“This problem with the talent pool and the trajectory of the promotion going forward wasn’t going away. It wasn’t just a streak of bad luck for a couple months. It was a trend. Look at it from the big picture. Look at the trajectory of the organization Strikeforce before the acquisition by Zuffa and after. I think, with due respect, everything that we did after, the trajectory wasn’t the same. That became very clear by the end of the year.”

“The relationship was actually fine between Zuffa as a company and Showtime as a company. Dana has been pretty outspoken. He’s been outspoken on everything. We know he’s passionate and he often speaks off the cuff, and so I take what he says with a little bit of a grain of salt. But outside of that, there hasn’t been really any difficulties in the relationship once we got things sorted out way back in January. The fact that Dana wasn’t happy at times and sort of distanced himself, that really wasn’t a factor in the decision at all.”

“They were a good partner,” said Espinoza carefully. “The hesitation that you hear is that, we had an awkward structure. Having this promotion and operating the shows in the context of the larger deal that Zuffa had with FOX, and the limitations it put on us, and the fact that a lot of our talent was stripped out at the start of the deal, really created some challenges in sustaining the organization going forward.”

“There were adjustments that we needed, there were adjustments that they needed, just within the context of the deals, because neither of us anticipated this would happen at the time when we signed our respective deals. So in the process of, sort of, reconfiguring that deal, there was give and take. In retrospect, maybe we should have tried a little bit harder to hold on to some more talent, so we weren’t going to be faced with the challenges towards the end of the year.”

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Who do you think will replace Strikeforce?