Following a year-long layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PFL officials are ecstatic with the response to the promotion’s 2021 season.
With two events already in the books, high-profile signings such as Rory MacDonald and Anthony Pettis have made their debuts – albeit with mixed results – while defending champions such as Lance Palmer and Natan Schulte were each handed rather surprising defeats. PFL founder and chairman Donn Davis believes the organization is resonating with fans so far in 2021.
“We came out with a big-time fighter roster, major innovation, and most of all, every fight matters in the PFL,” Davis told MMA Junkie. “It’s a regular season, playoff, championship format, just like the NBA or just like the NFL. Every fight matters, and I think for the first time, fans said, ‘Wow. What it means to see every fight matters and what it means to see a top-notch video production.’
“The PFL showed up in 2021.”
The PFL returns to action on Thursday with 2021 PFL 3, which airs on ESPN and streams on ESPN+ from Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J. The card, which features names such as Fabricio Werdum and Kayla Harrison, kicks off a busy weekend in major MMA, with the PFL, Bellator and the UFC all holding events on consecutive nights.
Of course, PFL’s pitch to potential viewers always has been about a unique approach to the format, featuring the only MMA organization staged as a season, including playoffs. Davis believes they’ve hit a homerun with the concept, which results in every fight on the card holding significance, which isn’t always the case with other promotions.
“The UFC is a fantastic product – it’s just a different product,” Davis said. “And if there’s a McGregor-Mayweather, if there is a big Usman fight, if there is a Jon Jones fight, we all love that UFC product, but 95 percent of the UFC fights are not for a belt. They’re not for the big names. And in the PFL, every single fight matters. That fighter doesn’t win, see you next year.
“We all love a Game 7. Every fight is essentially a Game 7. So if you haven’t seen the PFL before, I encourage you to check it out.”
But for Davis, the PFL’s approach to innovation couldn’t stop solely with the season format. He envisioned an organization that was willing to reinvent every aspect of an MMA broadcast, and with COVID-19 forcing the company to hold events without fans in the building, Davis said it simply allowed PFL to further sharpen its product, which is currently distributed in more than 160 countries.
“PFL is a made-for-TV product,” Davis said. “We’re focused on the 10 million people watching, not the people attending, therefore everything about our show is optimized for TV. … If you haven’t seen it, the innovations we’ve released, even this year, have wowed people. We’ve even done something called the ghost cam, which makes the cage disappear so when people are fighting next to the cage, you just see the fighters, not the cage. We’ve introduced fan social voting. You see after each round how global social media is voting the winner of this round. So if you haven’t seen this TV product, you’ve got to check it out. You haven’t seen anything like it in MMA or combat sports.”
The addition of innovative technology is a huge part of the PFL’s presentation. The company has embraced statistical analysis of MMA at a level not previously seen in the sport. The PFL’s fighting surface is dubbed the SmartCage, and Davis said he believes the promotion provides a real service to its viewers in terms of context – but it also allows a level of wagering options for sports gambling enthusiasts that is truly groundbreaking.
“It all becomes real-time gambling prop bets,” Davis said. “What’s the hardest punch in this round? Will this Kayla fight end in under one minute? Will it be a takedown? We’re introducing kick speed in week four as a prop bet. Never been done before. It’s a series of motion cameras and chips, so everything is about understanding and appreciating, or engagement in real-time prop bets. We’ll be the first-ever in combat sports to have real-time prop bets on a whole host of things. Not just winning and losing, but speed, heart rate, early ending – and you’ll see that with DraftKings starting in week four.
“You’re going to see from PFL lots of ways to engage because remember, 50 percent of fans in MMA are 18-35. We all love to engage in the sports that we’re passionate about, so gambling or betting with your friends in a pool is another way of engaging with the sport.”
Will it all work? That remains to be seen. The promotion undoubtedly lost some of the momentum it built in its first two seasons by sitting out in 2020. But Davis thinks the company is quickly picking up steam once again and thinks if viewers will give it a chance, they’ll be rewarded with a unique experience.
“We’re trying to be the most innovating product not just in MMA, but in sports,” Davis said. “How do you give the fans more innovation, more engagement, more transparency, more access? And the fighters work with us to do that, so we can do things you cannot do in basketball, you cannot do in football, and you’ll see them in PFL first.”
To see the full interview with Davis, check out the video below.
This was originally published on www.mmajunkie.com