The turmoil within both Yahoo and AOL over the last year has been plentiful. Key opinion makers & business leaders have left the operations. Financial cuts have been made everywhere. There are talks of private equity brokers buying Yahoo and taking the company private.
When AOL decided to outsource its sports content to The Sporting News, everyone wondered what the future of MMAFighting.com would be. MMA Fighting managed to avoid the axe. AOL then made the decision to pump a ton of cash/stock to Arianna Huffington to buy out The Huffington Post and give her control to Patch.com as well. Months after the deal took place, AOL continued to have financial troubles.
Now, those troubles are of real reported significance.
Reuters reported that AOL is looking to Yahoo to buy them out. The chances of that happening are speculative, at best.
What it does mean, however, is that outfits like MMA Fighting that aren’t huge money-generators face likely extinction if they are not sold to a new financial backer.
Given the high-profile status of MMA Fighting and the fact that UFC benefits from this from a friendly outlet for them, it’s hard to see how someone won’t buy the operation. But who exactly would be a candidate to buy out MMA Fighting and what would it mean for the MMA media landscape as a whole?
- The first scenario is MMA Fighting doesn’t find any buyers and the staff is left alone to try to run the operation as they currently are. Financially, I don’t see how this is possible. MMA Fighting is just like the majority of MMA media outlets that struggle to financially make the numbers work. Sherdog is often the exception to the rule. I do not see MMA Fighting surviving as it is currently constituted if there is no heavy financial backing.
- The second scenario is that UFC buys them out. If Zuffa was to buy out MMA Fighting, it probably would be a wise investment. After all, it’s not like we don’t know the current politics of the MMA media landscape. Those who play by Zuffa’s rules get the access and those who are independent don’t. UFC has been playing the media game for a while of a ‘hands off’ approach publicly. Well, there’s nobody left to challenge them, so why should they worry about media impropriety at this point? UFC buying out MMA Fighting would essentially be buying a turnkey operation and everything running smoothly as usual.
- The third scenario is that an independent money mark buys out MMA Fighting. Candidates would include Crave (Sherdog), Break Media (Cage Potato), or SBNation (Bloody Elbow). Each buyer would bring some strengths to the table as the new owner of the site. With that said, never underestimate the fragile egos at play with MMA media writers, especially when the money decreases in this already-cutthroat business. This third option would be the best one for MMA Fighting, but it would lead to some expected cuts and I would expect some political infighting behind the scenes. It certainly wouldn’t be boring now, would it?
Whatever happens to MMA Fighting, the bottom line regarding the health of MMA media in 2011 is not great. Yahoo has reportedly pulled back some in terms of $$$ expenditures for MMA reporting but is still a big player. MMA Fighting needs stable backing to remain a player. However, the trend in MMA media circles is that the money supply for backing is dwindling, not growing. Zuffa is running more shows, which means more travel for writers who simply don’t have enough $$ to travel all over the place. The MMA sites aren’t generating enough cash to keep up with the breakneck speed of activity. Much like UFC fans are currently having to do with PPVs, the sites are having to cherry pick which shows they can cover and what they can afford. Times are turbulent right now. I’m not bullish or bearish about the current state of affairs.
The wildcard in all of this is FoxSports.com and how much money Fox Sports is willing to pony up to recruit top writers. That and the politics of what the writers could or couldn’t say on that platform.