Here’s How the Professional Fighters League is engaging fans, by George Willis, TheNewYorkExtra/theNYExtra.com
By GEORGE WILLIS
Competition inside the cage might be on hold for the moment because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped the Professional Fighters League from continuing to build its mixed martial arts brand and increase fan base.
The PFL recently launched a new OTT App loaded with archival content from its first two seasons and also the World Series of Fighting.
“This app gives us the opportunity to provide a deeper, immersive experience for our fans,” Peter Murray, the CEO of PFL, told TheNYExtra.com. “We have a long history in the sport. We have credibility in the sport as promoters. Now we’re pushing to be a year-round media company and a destination for MMA fans.”
The PFL began in 2018 as the first MMA organization with a sport-season format with individual fighters competing in a regular season, playoffs and championship. Based on a points-value system, every fight matters to reach the playoffs and eventual championship match where the winners of each division earn a million dollars.
The league enjoyed enormous growth in 2019 earning a television deal with ESPN and doubling its ratings. But the coronavirus pandemic hit before the 2020 season could begin and executives made the decision to cancel the season.
“It was a difficult decision,” Murray said. “But for us, maintaining the integrity of the format and having a regular season, playoffs and championship was very important. With fighters from 25 countries, it would have been impossible for us to execute what we’ve executed the last two seasons, fighters fighting five times over eight months to get to the championship and all the planning and logistics that go into it. I feel very good about our decision to protect the fighters and protect the brand.”
Meanwhile, the PFL is hoping to expand its reach through the PFL app, which is available globally free of charge on Apple TV, Roku, Fire, the Apple App Store as well as Android and IOS devices. “Now until the rest of the year we will focus on archival content, the PFL archives as well as the World Series of Fighting which we purchased,” Murray said. “We get to tell the story of the early days of fighters like Justin Gaethje. This is the right time to expand our content offerings and go direct to the consumer.”
Original programming in long and short form is being developed at PFL Studios and there are plans to stream live bouts when competition resumes in the spring of 2021. Future micro transactions will be tied to “big moments and big events,” Murray said, adding “it will be story-telling that brings context to the sport and to the fighters.”
ESPN has also agreed to develop four features: Fantastic Finishes; Inside the Season; Champions Journey; and the Randy Couture Story. Couture, a MMA legend, serves as a broadcaster and spokesperson for the PFL.
The pandemic has canceled or seriously impacted most sports and eliminated fan attendance. While many might view it as the worst time to be involved in sports, Murray has a different take. “The Pandemic is driving innovation,” he said. “How do we present a more innovative product? How do we engage fans and bring them even closer to the action? We’ve brought innovation to a space that hasn’t had any innovation in 20 years. At the end of the day, we have to adapt and ideally we’ll be better post-COVID when fans get back into the mix.”