Apparently not everyone is feeling the pinch of the harsh economic downturn, a fancy phrase for recession. Tampa MMA promotion company, Xtreme Fighting Championships (XFC), has managed to draw plenty of fans into stadium seats and brokered a deal with the likes of Wal-Mart and has a broadcast pact.
Here’s the press release from the folks at XFC:
Tampa Business Evolves from a Homegrown Sports Sensation into the Fastest-Growing MMA Promotion in the Industry
Funded with a Shoestring Startup Budget Back in 2006, John Prisco’s Xtreme Fighting Championships (XFC) MMA Promotion Readies for Its First Fight Card to Be Broadcast Live on National TV, a Fleet of XFC Gym Franchises, and Nationwide DVD Distribution at Wal-Mart
When Tampa entrepreneur John Prisco launched the Xtreme Fighting Championships (XFC) Mixed Martial Arts promotion at the end of 2006 on a shoestring budget, almost everyone told him it was a terrible business decision.
“My friends, my family and all my old business partners thought I was nuts!” laughed Prisco from his XFC corporate offices in Tampa. “Here I am in my early 40s with two young kids and a wife to support and I’m gambling our savings on becoming the next great Mixed Martial Arts promoter. But I had a unique vision for the company and I truly love the sport. So I took a chance.”
Prisco’s vision was simple: “Modern MMA is only about 15-year-old, and with the sport’s rapidly-growing popularity, exponential numbers of amazing young fighters are entering MMA gyms and competing on amateur fight cards for the first time every single year. With this unprecedented influx of high-quality talent – I’m talking former boxing world champions, Olympic athletes and college wrestling superstars – we might know who the most famous fighters of today are, but I don’t think we still know who the best fighters of today are.
“So while everyone else was spending big money to sign the biggest stars with the lengthiest résumés, we circumvented the entire process by specifically targeting the top undiscovered talent in the sport. And in the process, the XFC became known as the promotion that showcases the next generation of MMA superstars. We basically did the opposite of everyone else.”
Before long, while XFC’s regional rivals were still dependent on the popularity of top-dollar “names” to sell a few thousand tickets, the XFC started packing stadiums and drawing record-breaking numbers in the five-figures with fight cards consisting solely of emerging talent.
“For the most part, nobody really knew these guys before they joined the XFC,” Prisco said. “But we turned them into headlining attractions by developing and promoting our own stars. From Day 1, this was all a part of the XFC vision. Instead of busting our budget on the veteran stars of today, we invested our resources in developing and marketing the stars of tomorrow. And you know what? Tomorrow is now.”
John Prisco’s aggressive, youth-oriented vision will be further validated on April 25 in Knoxville, Tennessee, when his company’s next promotion – XFC 8: “Regional Conflict” will be broadcast live nationwide on HDNet.
The telecast is part of a new TV deal that guarantees the airing of four live XFC fight cards in 2009, four live fight cards in 2010, and options beyond.
“You can count all the MMA promotions in North America with multiyear national television deals and still have several fingers left over,” observed Prisco. “The XFC is now in exclusive company. We’ve arrived.”
Other XFC business ventures include the opening of a series of XFC-branded MMA gyms in the Southeast – with the first two gyms already open in Tampa and Brandon – foreign distribution of XFC programming in seven countries, and XFC DVD distribution on the shelves of Wal-Mart by mid-2008.
It’s a far cry from the XFC’s first-ever fight card, back in early 2007.
“Believe it or not, this company began at a two-story nightclub called the Dallas Bull, located on Highway 301 in Tampa,” Prisco recalled. “They were closed on Tuesdays, so I talked the owner into letting me stage an event on a Tuesday night. He figured that he didn’t have anything to lose, so he gave us a shot.”
The show drew over one thousand fans.
“That was when I knew for sure that we caught lightning in a bottle,” said Prisco. “But for this vision to really take off, I needed to move the XFC out of nightclubs and into stadiums.”
This led Prisco to forge a short-term relationship with Tampa businessman Phil Alessi – a former boxing promoter who had produced championship boxing matches in Tampa, London, Chicago, Seattle and New Orleans. Alessi first entered the fight game in 1968, eventually going on to launch the career of famed ring announcer Michael Buffer, oversee thousands of fights, and negotiate over 150 network television contracts.
“Phil gave us a sense of legitimacy when we needed it,” acknowledged Prisco. “And just as importantly, his influence landed us a date at the St. Pete Times Forum, the largest indoor stadium in all of Tampa. I really learned a lot from Phil.”
The XFC’s first show at the St. Pete Times Forum was November 11, 2007.
“Once the date was announced, everyone expected us to finally throw big money on a veteran headliner,” Prisco remembered. “But that’s not who we are. Yes, I might be able to draw a good-sized crowd with a past-his-prime fighter who demands to be protected in a ‘safe’ matchup, but the fight would be boring and the outcome would be predictable. You just can’t grow an audience that way, and the goal was never to make a splash just once. Our goal was to methodically build a long-term following, and I knew that if I could somehow get the local sports fans to watch some cutthroat fights between hungry, up-and-coming young fighters that are battling for a chance to pursue their dreams, they’d be hooked. And then they’d become XFC fans for life.”
So Prisco lined his card from top-to-bottom with unknown young talent. And with November 11 falling on Veteran’s Day, he gave his event a patriotic theme, complete with a swearing-in ceremony inside the cage for the US Armed Forces. XFC’s street teams flooded downtown Tampa. The newspapers started running glowing profiles of his fighters, sports radio stations requested interviews, and the TV news aired segments of Prisco’s fighters preparing for the event. Military veterans were offered discounted – or even free – tickets. All that mattered was packing the stadium.
A record-setting audience of over 11 thousand fans flocked to the St. Pete Times Forum on November 11, the largest attendance ever for a Mixed Martial Arts fight card in the history of Florida. Other organizations, including the industry-leading Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC), have since staged events in Florida without coming anywhere close to the XFC’s numbers.
“We actually drew a little over 13,000, but 11,000 was what the media ran with,” claimed Prisco. “Still, it was an incredible accomplishment. And the XFC was officially on its way.”
Ecstatic with the numbers, the St. Pete Times Forum quickly signed the XFC to five additional dates over the next 13 months.
“Ever since that first show, the XFC has been the only MMA promotion that the Forum has allowed through its doors,” said Prisco. “It’s a great relationship, and no matter what other markets we appear in, the St. Pete Times Forum will always remain the XFC’s home. We’ve really built a loyal following in Tampa.”
And with each fight card that followed, the XFC’s reputation in the industry continued to grow. Yahoo Sports ran an article that called XFC “the best kept secret in the sport.”
MMA Torch wrote: “The XFC has been building their promotion from the ground up, and their grassroots approach has gotten them massive crowds for their events.”
MMA Preview reported: “While the company might not necessarily be the most famous MMA promotion out there, they are certainly creating a buzz all over Florida and they have done so in ridiculously quick time. …the company is already becoming a well established place to watch MMA.”
And Strike MMA told its audience: “The Xtreme Fighting Championships is by far one of the most developed regional organizations in the United States. ...The company has developed from a small regional MMA organization into now a major player within the MMA scene.”
This cult-like following amongst the MMA fan base has helped grow the XFC brand and allowed Prisco to activate parallel business ventures.
“In addition to our HDNet deal, we’re also doing an MMA reality show with MTV that’ll hit the airwaves by the end of 2009,” said Prisco. “We’re creating original XFC programming for domestic and international distribution. High-end DVD compilations of XFC action will soon be on the shelves of Wal-Mart. And our XFC gym franchise program is just exploding right now! In addition to the two gyms we’ve already opened in Florida, we’re about to open several franchises in Tennessee and the Southeast. Not only will these gyms be extremely profitable – ‘cause why on earth would anyone visit a karate dojo for self-defense when quality MMA training is available? – but once our franchise program goes national, the XFC will gain an exclusive pipeline of top young prospects working one-on-one with our trainers. There simply won’t be another promotion on the planet that’ll be able to match us when it comes to quickly identifying and signing emerging young talent.”
Ten days removed from the XFC’s most recent promotion – XFC 7: “School of Hard Knox” in Knoxville, Tennessee on April 20 – Prisco underscores his company’s vision by remaining fixated on the future: “XFC 7 was an unbelievable experience. Not only did we stage the first-ever professional MMA event in the history of Tennessee, we also generated an unsurpassed groundswell of public support. I mean, our previous promotions in Tampa have landed us coverage on page one of the sports section, but this was our first show to be covered on the front page – above the fold – of the entire newspaper. And believe me, when we return to Knoxville on April 25 for our live national broadcast on HDNet, we’re gonna blow the roof off of the stadium. Trust me on this. We’re on the verge of something big here.”
About Xtreme Fighting Championships (XFC): Xtreme Fighting Championships – better known to MMA fight fans worldwide as XFC – is the Southeast’s leading independent MMA promotion, and stages the largest live shows in the entire sport this side of UFC. Dedicated to launching the careers of the MMA superstars of tomorrow, XFC’s next mega-event, XFC 8, takes place on April 25 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee, and will be broadcast live on national television, exclusively on HDNet. For more information about XFC, please visit http://www.mmaxfc.com.
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