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Solving K-1's Promotional Dilemma

  • Written by Dave Walsh

K-1K-1 was at one time the undisputed king of the Kickboxing world, with the brand emerging from Japan and helping to bring the sport into the limelight. A sport which was at one time fractured and confusing due to the multitude of rule sets and championships all of a sudden brought structure and uniformity to the ring. Most Kickboxing events held globally still use “K-1 Rules,” even if they have no affiliation to K-1, and the reason is because K-1 made itself a household name. Sure, K-1 didn’t always do things from a pure sport perspective and should be considered mostly an entertainment company that ran sporting events, the formula worked and made them one of the most powerful brands in combat sports, ever.

The past few years have seen that brand slip from combat sports royalty into a mockery. Fighters were owed money, events became more and more sporadic and a once-reliable brand started to become a joke. So when EMCOM’s “Mike” Kim was awarded the company and made big promises, there was some optimism among the Kickboxing community of what could be. Part of the problem was that the once-strong brand was now known in many circles as a tainted one associated with screwing fighters and being bankrupt. Even if the K-1 brand was under new management and was treating fighters fairly, the lead-up to the last few K-1 events I’ve seen a lot of, “I thought they were dead” and “they don’t pay their fighters” talk. For K-1 to recover they would need to have an absolutely sterling record over the next few years, and sadly, things are looking a bit rough around the edges.

It isn’t treating fighters unfairly that is the problem, per se, as much as it is general lack of organization and composure. The build-up to the K-1 Los Angeles show was a case study of how to do a lot of things correctly while building upon a foundation of sand on the shore. Without a solid foundation, anything you build, no matter how well it is constructed, is bound to fail. Los Angeles is not a bad spot to promote in, but the arena selected was not exactly a prime location and was simply too large. I understand having big aspirations and wanting to put a best foot forward, but if you know you cannot fill an arena at least 75%, you quite simply do not book that arena as it will look awful on television.

Then there was the idea of making this an event only featuring US-based fighters, while a lot of fans wanted to see some of the bigger European stars fighting on the event. If there were some famous LA-based fighters on the main card, it might make more sense, but there simply weren’t. Randy Blake as the main eventer on the card would have made sense in Tulsa, where he is a local star, but in Los Angeles his drawing power is about on par with mine. Usually I would urge promoters against bringing in expensive, foreign talent, but in the case of K-1’s comeback event, it was needed as a sign of strength and unity.

Sure, there were a lot of fighters in contractual limbo due to the Glory buy-out of It’s Showtime, but running some MAX Superfights with some of the fighters they had under contract like Andy Souwer, Artur Kyshenko and so on would have been a gesture beyond a starless event. There was a whole lot of money spent on promoting the event, but it is like going fishing with all of the best gear, in a lake where there is plenty of fish but not bringing any bait. Sure, you might catch a few, but it is pure luck and all of your equipment can’t help you. Rick Roufus was a draw in France in the late-80’s and early-90’s and Might Mo has never been a draw in the United States and while Seth Petruzelli is an interesting gamble, it came across as cheap. If you wanted a MMA fighter on the card, Cro Cop was under contract and is still extremely well-known from his UFC run.

I’m sure most of you are reading this now and saying, “Monday morning Quarterbacking is easy,” and yes, it most certainly is. The only problem with this was that at the time, we here at LiverKick were doing our best to discuss these concerns with K-1 and at the time these ideas were brushed off as they had the “best in the business” organizing the event, people who really “knew what they were doing.”

Now we get to watch one of the most powerful and meaningful brands in combat sports flounder like the fish at the end of the Faith No More video for Epic. Of course, there is no beautiful piano music playing over this, just the Benny Hill music. The K-1 World MAX tournament that went down this weekend was yet another case study in failure. The final card for the event was either not assembled or not made public until days before the event, most of the promotional work was based in Greece, which is helpful to draw a live crowd, but the whole rest of the world simply did not care. If you do not get information out into the wild, do not expect people to care about it. If the UFC put on an event and didn’t have a card out to the media until the day of the weigh-ins and didn’t push any of their fighters to do media would anyone watch it?

The tournament itself was amazing, the fights were all great for the most part and the fighters went above and beyond what their job was. So the problem was not the product, the product was actually quite appealing, it was that the product was inaccessible and obscured through lack of promotion. It was mildly depressing watching the complete lack of traffic on LiverKick throughout the weekend when it would usually be doubled, or watching the live stream and seeing the number of viewers being 600 throughout most of the event.

Say what you will about Ishii, but he understood how to build up stars, how to utilize those stars and how to sell an event to the public. Even if he was Japan-centric, the brand that he created and worked hard at still appealed to fans across the world. The product that K-1 has right now is fine, as long as they can keep exciting fighters under contract and as long as they keep finding new fighters, they will have that going for them, but until they can figure out how to get their product out to fans and help rehabilitate the brand’s name, it will be a slow, festered death for the once-king.

For K-1 to not only thrive but survive they need to rely on tried-and-tested promotional ideas while integrating new and exciting methods of promotion that come with an internet-based world. We all want you to survive and to be king again, K-1, but you have some work to do.

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