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SFL’s expansion plans and a reality show to be aired on a Sony channel
MUMBAI: The Super Fight League (SFL), which is currently airing on Sony ESPN, has plans to become a major sports property in the country and globally.
One of the plans is to have a reality show in India once the league gets over. There also also big plans for a mixed martial arts (MMA) World Cup by establishing the league in eight countries.
Super Fight League CEO Bill Dosanjh, who started the SFL back in 2012, is optimistic about the growth prospects of the league and sees a big revenue push coming through online subscription revenue and local gyms, which will keep the league in people’s minds throughout the year and also ticket sales.
A reality show
SFL to keep itself in people’s minds is also doing a reality show that will air on a Sony channel. “We will have a ‘Bigg Boss’ sort of a house where eight guys and eight girls will live. This will be done after the league.” This reality show, the Fight Nights and the gyms will keep the league active once the season gets over.
Dosanjh noted that Sony has taken an active interest in martial arts and fight sports. They own the space. “After acquiring Ten Sports they have WWE. They have PWL, SFL. Look at their mindset. They are fully committed to SFL and how big it can be. They understand the powerfulness of MMA. After PWL, Super Fight League is the next league with them. Every action-packed sport is sitting on Sony.”
Becoming a global league
The overarching goal is to be the first fighting league in the world like the NBA is in basketball, which is why the SFL is being developed in other markets like the US, Canada and UAE. It is going into the UK, Philippines, Brazil, Mexico and China. This is the global expansion plan over the next, three to five years.
Dosanjh noted that the UFC recently sold for $4 billion and that the Super Fight League has the third-biggest global fan following as MMA. “Globally, we are ranked number three and we are the second most-watched sport online in India. On YouTube SFL has 32.5 million viewers.”
Ownership and investments
Franchise owners have each paid $1 million. They have taken a further commitment of spending a Rs 10 crore in setting up gyms.
For the record, the eight teams and their owners are: Aditya Munjal of Hero Cycles (Delhi Heroes), Amit Burman of Dabur (Mumbai Maniacs), Keshav Bansal of Intex (Gujarat Warriors), Achin Kochar of VI-John (Sher-e-Punjab), Shreeram Suresh and Vinodini Suresh of 8K Miles Media (Bengaluru Yoddha), Jaskaran Punihani and Navraj Jaura of the Jaura Group and Deepak Saluja and Pramod Sharma of UV Media (UP Nawabs), Kanav Parwal and Raahil Bhatia of the SPA Capital And Belmaks Group (Haryana Sultans) and Preeti Mahapatra of Mahapatra Universal (Goa Pirates).
Dosanjh maintains that he is the only promoter of the SFL. Raj Kundra and Sanjay Dutt were earlier associated as brand ambassadors. The SFL went quiet in India for a year as the focus was on expanding operations in other markets like Canada and the UAE.
“We wanted to come back to India in a very localised manner. So you have teams like Haryana Sultans, Mumbai Maniacs, Bangalore Tigers. The other interesting thing about Super Fight League is how we have understood the customer, the fan, the consumer.”
At the same time, corporate backing from the likes of Intex in terms of owning franchises is also very important.
“You have companies like Intex, Dabur, Hero which are big, big brands. For a league to be successful, you need successful entrepreneurs to drive the ecosystem. Though it is family money, these guys have studied abroad and understand the power of MMA. In India we have 10 million martial artists from different formats like karate, judo, kung fu. But this is the commercial platform for these guys to showcase their skills. We are the biggest martial arts company in this country. We have also taken a very strong stance on women’s self-defence. Classes will be available to women for free.”
Talking about the beginnings of the league, Dosanjh said, “In 2010 when I launched Amir Khan’s boxing career in the US, we saw that boxing and MMA were commanding the same viewership. We asked ourselves what the core was. We saw that boxing and MMA have high viewership because every high school has a wrestling programme. It is thus built in the US ecosystem. I thought that this could work in India because India’s grassroots level sport before cricket is kushti. So in 2012 I launched the Super Fight League, and in a short period of four and a half years the Super Fight League is the second most-watched sport online in India on YouTube after cricket. That is because 60% of the population is under the age of 25. We have a very young, youth-centric population India and this product connects with them.”
SFL has its place in the country along with the action leagues like Pro Kabaddi and Pro Wrestling. “Then you have WWE. This is the genre where Super Fight League fits in. These are the action-packed combat sports,” he adds.
One of the things that makes the SFL unique for Dosanjh is the format. “In kabaddi you touch and run. In wrestling you grapple. WWE is staged and fake action. But here in the Super Fight League, once you are locked in the cage there is nowhere to run. Super Fight League is creating something that has never been done before. You fight as a team. If you can build a loyal fan following in football, cricket why can’t you build a loyal fan following here? So far fight sports have been win draw or lose as an individual sport. But here we have brought in a unique point scoring system in what we are doing. The point system adopted is unique in MMA,” he said.
Building engagement and revenue
The league runs for just over a month from 20 to 25 February. But another USP for him is that fans can engage with the SFL even after the league is over. This is because gyms have been set up. This is one of the commitments of franchise owners. The goal is to have a total of 100 gyms.
“Once you become a fan of an MMA team, you can stay engaged. Every team has a gym. Gym is the home base. You can walk into the gym as long as you can afford to pay. You can watch your stars train and get coaching. The Indian fitness industry is worth Rs 7000 crore and is growing at 30% a year.”
The gyms are an inbuilt revenue model for franchise owners. For instance, the Punjab team owner VI-John will open their first gym in Chandigarh. If it works then gyms will open in Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Amristar.
“Each franchisee has taken a commitment of opening five gyms over the next five years. The league has taken the onus to open 60 gyms in the next five years. So 100 gyms will be set up in the next five years. I have delivered a revenue model all year round even when the league is not on. People will still interact with their teams,” said Dosanjh.
For him grassroots activities are important, as the movie ‘Sultan’ taught. It taught the grassroots level of the sport and the modern era of the sport where Salman Khan fights in a cage.
What is unique about SFL is that unlike other sports such as IPL, which rely very heavily on advertising, Dosanjh believes that subscription is the key. He sees a situation where three years down the line people pay a fee of $5 to watch SFL. This is another driver in the revenue model.
“The Super Fight League has over 100 million social media co-owners of a team. For example, Jacqueline Fernandes has 20 million followers and she is a co-owner of Goa Pirates. Ajay Devgn is the owner of Mumbai Maniacs. He has six million followers on Instagram and six million on Facebook. Then you have Arjun Rampal, Tiger Shroff, Randeep Hooda. He noted that these celebrities have a connection with fight sports and physical fitness.
“In the third year, a Punjabi sitting outside India whether it is in Canada, America, France, Germany will pay $5 to watch his Punjab team fight. Right now, we are touching 200,000 viewers live on Facebook. When Jacqueline’s team fights, we look to touch one million. This is five per cent of her total viewership that we expect will watch. If the viewership stays at 200,000 viewers, and they pay $5 a match that works out to $1 million in digital revenues. The new revolution in India is digital as data has become so cheap to use. Don’t forget the millions of Indians living outside the country who are very proud of where they come from. Bollywood gets a lot of revenue from outside India,” said Dosanjh.
Dosanjh noted that MMA as a sport is universal unlike cricket, which is only seen in the Commonwealth nations. In countries like Korea, America and South America people don’t care about their bat and ball game. But everybody cares about fighting.
Appeal across the country
Dosanjh noted that other sports have pockets of interest. Soccer viewership comes from Goa, Kolkata, etc. Kabaddi and wrestling viewership comes from the North.
“A few people might watch cricket, soccer being played on the road. But if a fight breaks out, a lot of people will get together and watch it. That is my point. The SFL is a fight between two professional athletes that people will appreciate,” he said.
Never stop fighting
This is the theme of the SFL. In life, everybody goes through challenges. That includes getting up in the morning to go to work, but you never stop fighting for your family and for yourself, Dosanjh points out. “It has a very powerful meaning outside of a cage, a ring in day-to-day life,” said Dosanjh.