Glory 26 is on the air this Friday, December 4. It’s an exciting show for a number of reasons – the return to Amsterdam, the first title defense for Nieky Holzken, Rico Verhoeven vs. Benjamin Adegbuyi II – but it also comes at an interesting crossroads time for the company.
Glory 26 is the organization’s second show since parting ways with Spike this fall. The Spike deal lasted for two years and gave Glory access to an American audience for all of their events from Glory 11 to 24. The first post-Spike show was last month’s stacked and excellent Glory 25, and now they are looking at another big card on Friday. But what does the future hold for the company – what comes after Glory 26?
In the lead up to this event, I spoke to Glory CEO Jon Franklin to get some clarity on the company’s future. Here are the key facts we know, as confirmed by Franklin:
-Glory 26 airs once again on the ESPN networks. The show is live on ESPN3, and will be replayed on tape delay during Sunday prime time hours on ESPN2, and also on ESPN Deportes.
-As with Glory 25, this is a one time deal. Both sides are interested in working together long-term, but nothing is finalized yet.
-The company also maintains its deal with CBS Sports Network, and will continue to broadcast the Superfight Series there.
-The plan for 2016 is a full slate of shows, split evenly between domestic shows in the US and international shows. Plenty of markets are under consideration, including the company’s first foray into Thailand to support Glory Lightweight Sittichai. As of right now, nothing has been announced for after Friday, but Franklin says fans can expect news “very shortly” on Glory 27 and 2016.
The move from Spike to ESPN is an interesting one that is too early to fully evaluate. There’s no denying that Spike gave Glory its biggest platform in the US, introducing it to a much wider audience than had ever seen kickboxing in this country (well, since the 1970’s, but that’s a completely different story). At the same time, there were always cracks in the relationship. Spike dictated the terms of when events could be held and get air time, and it was Spike who pushed for the heavy inclusion of American fighters – a sore spot for many diehard kickboxing fans who felt the product had been diluted somewhat by the influx of Americans not yet ready for the sport’s highest international levels. As the Glory/Spike relationship wound down, we saw more issues, including Glory 22 airing at a terrible mid-day Friday time slot, and Glory’s name being removed from all marketing for the ostensibly co-promoted Dynamite event. With all of that, combined with the ongoing rumors of Spike and/or Bellator looking to launch their own kickboxing brand (and potentially poach some Glory fighters in the process), news of their split was no surprise.
The question becomes, was that split for the best for Glory? Franklin certainly thinks so:
We’re super excited to be on ESPN… We’ve got the best fighters in the world set to go against the best in the world and we’re on a network that appreciates that.
Our vision of Glory and the vision of ESPN for Glory are better aligned. Spike is a men’s entertainment network, ESPN is the world’s premiere sports network… Spike’s ideas for how to drive ratings were often not aligned with how we wanted to do it. Right now, we’ve got our champions in the prime of their careers competing on the premiere sports network in the world and that’s how we want it to be. We are the global leader in kickboxing, and we want to drive our ratings through the sport, not through the pomp and pageantry. With ESPN we have a partner who sees it the same way – they haven’t pushed us towards Americans, they haven’t pushed us towards anything other than the best athletes in the world. That’s what they’re all about. We’re not trying to build the brand as an entertainment brand, we’re trying to build it as a combat sports league, and because of that, ESPN is a great place to be.
You’re not going to see two retired guys duking it out on ESPN on Glory. That’s not what we’re about, that’s not what they’re about. You’re going to see the two best guys in the world fighting for a title.
As Franklin outlines, the ESPN partnership certainly has the potential to help Glory be the stronger sports brand, but what really matters for Glory right now is momentum. Yes they left Spike, but by following that up with loaded shows that featured the likes of Holzken, Verhoeven, Petrosyan, and van Roosmalen, they remained a visible brand. Monday morning, as the dust settles on Glory 26, there is no show for fans to immediately look forward to, no upcoming date to mark on the calendar. Franklin recognizes this, and intends to build that momentum before the year is out:
I’m excited about 2016 for Glory. People question our momentum sometimes. When the Spike news came out, we came right back with news of a deal with ESPN, and we came back with a great show. Now we’re building on 2015 with an aggressive 2016.
How will they build that momentum? Franklin says, “you’ll see some of the biggest names in the sport returning to the ring” with announcements on those names potentially coming as soon as this coming week.
And so, as we try to look ahead to the future of Glory and what that future might hold, we are left with two distinct paths.
On the one hand, it’s a company still without a permanent US broadcast partner, and a company who has no announced show after Friday. A company that makes fans worried for the future.
On the other hand, this is a company working with ESPN, a company with big plans for the future, a company promising significant announcements in the coming weeks, a company putting on a major show this weekend, and a company now free of the network interference that created some cracks in the past year. In short, a company that looks good.
Which path will be the true one? We may have to wait a few weeks to find out, but in the interest of the sport, let’s hope it’s the latter, and that Glory 26 is the launch of a new, bright future for the kickboxing powerhouse.
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