Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Pride FC - The Next Casino Sport?

By Charles Jay

Ed Fishman brings something fresh and new to the emerging world of mixed martial arts. In a story we posted a couple of months ago, we talked about the mindset that existed in the MMA business - more forward-thinking, skewing toward a younger, more viable consumer demographic than boxing, and because of that, MMA represents an industry that is vibrant and growing, while boxing has remained stagnant, as if running in quicksand.

Fishman says he talked to plenty of boxing people who had pretty much told him the same thing.

"Boxing is not what it used to be," he said, "especially if you go into the heavyweight, light heavyweight divisions, it's not there. Mixed martial arts have become real now. People know it's not phony. fighters train very, very hard. There's a little more to understand. But this is fast and exciting, and new people are always coming in."

The gaming/entertainment entrepreneur has every intention of taking things to a different dimension than has been seen in mixed martial arts before. He has secured himself a position as president of PRIDE USA, which essentially means he is involved with overseeing the PRIDE shows that will take place in this country. The initial presentation, back on October 21, was a success at the Thomas & Mack Center, and now he's coming back again on February 24 with a nine-bout card that will highlight a middleweight championship fight between Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson in the main event and be aired in the United States on pay-per-view.

Fishman appears to be attacking his involvement with PRIDE from a different angle than others who have promoted it, in that the initial lure for him was gaming-related. That may sound strange, since the owner of the Ultimate Fighting Championships - Lorenzo Fertitta - also heads up Station Casinos, which operates 18 gaming establishments in Nevada alone. But Fertitta's casinos, by and large, cater to a local crowd, and thus do not place an emphasis on facilities that would accommodate major sporting events. As a result, Fertitta's model has not included a lot of synergy between the event and his casino properties.

Fishman's intention is that gaming will drive the PRIDE shows, for the most part.

The shows are held at the Thomas & Mack strictly by design, since the idea is that , rather than house the promotion at one casino location, a number of casinos will be involved with buying tickets and sending players to the event, under their "auspices," so to speak, and would not be in danger of losing those players to another establishment during the "walkout," as might be the case if the event were to be held at a casino property. Another reason this can be facilitated is that this is an era when it is not unusual for many casino brands to be consolidated under one corporate banner, as in the case of Harrah's, for example (which, incidentally, is a major supporter of the PRIDE-Las Vegas show).

A key element to the long-term success of the shows is to attract some of the players who have the potential to make a huge impact on any casino's bottom line - the Asian gamblers. These are "whales" who have the ability to travel anywhere at their leisure, and more importantly, who also have the ability to put tens of millions of dollars across the casino's tables on any given weekend. PRIDE is a well-known brand name in Asian sports, so among this clientele there is a natural familiarity with the event and the combatants. That makes it an extremely feasible proposition to lure the players in for a gambling vacation in Vegas. From there, you just have to do the math - if the aggregate loss of the Asian players brought in by one casino is $1 million (quite attainable), that makes the casino's involvement a very big winner.

"Having gone to several PRIDE events, I saw lots of Asian players," said Fishman. "They came from Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. I was at three of the events. Two of them drew 50,000 people and one of them was in the Tokyo Dome where there was 65,000 people, and I knew these people would come to America if PRIDE came. And that's what happened. Over 1100 fans came in from Asia alone - not counting what the casinos invited. I could tell there were several million-dollar players."

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