(Say what you will, but I just don’t see how Fedor and Brett Rogers could possibly top this unless someone’s eye pops out of the socket.)
With Strikeforce making their debut on CBS this Saturday night there’s no way to avoid comparing their network TV efforts with those of their CBS predecessor, EliteXC. There are some notable differences between the two, of course. While Strikeforce’s event is headlined by the world’s best heavyweight taking on an undefeated former EliteXC fighter, EliteXC’s first CBS show had Kimbo Slice vs. James Thompson in an ugly, sloppy, ear-exploding affair that didn’t exactly help win over the skeptics in the national TV audience. True, we don’t know yet how good a fight Fedor/Rogers will turn out to be, but I’m going to go ahead and say, advantage: Strikeforce.
Another area Strikeforce appears to have the edge is in advertiser appeal. Kelly Kahl, executive vice president for primetime programming for CBS, says that ad spots are already sold out for Saturday night’s show, adding “I’d say this was probably a quicker sellout than the EliteXC shows.” Boom. Gary Shaw? That muffled sound you hear outside is Scott Coker driving by your house, honking his horn and shouting, “How you like them apples?!”
Advertising sales are one thing, but ratings, that’s the name of this game. For their first show on CBS, EliteXC peaked at 6.51 million viewers and a 4.1 rating among those rascally men aged 18-34. EliteXC’s final show, the ill-fated “Heat” that saw the legend of Kimbo get derailed by a weak jab, much to Jared Shaw’s dismay, pulled in almost identical numbers.
So the questions we find ourselves asking are:
1) Can Strikeforce beat these numbers?
2) Can they do it by a sufficient enough margin to prove that even on network TV it really does make a difference to have fighters who are actually, you know, main event quality?
3) What kind of numbers will it take for CBS to really get serious about being in the MMA business?
You could argue that, at least in some ways, EliteXC helped lay the groundwork for whatever success Strikeforce enjoys this weekend. But even after two shows EliteXC couldn’t move their numbers much, and they faced a similar competition from college football that Strikeforce will also have to contend with. Let’s just hope that the ratings here prove to CBS that this thing can really go somewhere when you have people who know what they’re doing.